Can Playing with Musicians Out of Tune Give You a Headache?



  • I received an email question from a musician that I would like to share with this group. Here is the context and the question:

    "[A] guitar player was grossly out of tune. The way I was positioned on the stage allowed one of my ears to be pointed toward a monitor and the other ear pointed toward the audience... The sensation in the ear that was pointed toward the monitor "felt different" than the ear that was pointing toward the audience. This makes me wonder if there is more of a biological/acoustical component to the headaches people get from listening to out of tune performances and its not just tension headaches. Could it be that the cilia react in a way that displeasing when exposed to frequencies that are dissonant? Is it the way the frequencies hit the eardrum?"

    I have never experience such a complaint in my medical practice so I did a PubMed search and found no articles specific to musical intonation and headaches; however, I am sure band conductors can be driven to headaches though when members play out of tune during a performance.

    With that said, I actually did find an article that did note that hearing differences related to tinnitus or sensorineural hearing impairment (difference between hearing quality of ears) is linked to headaches with a 12.2% increase in headaches in patients with this disorder compared to 5.5% in patients with headache without this disorder. I am providing the link below to that abstract. So it just may be possible that some individuals may be prone to headaches by a neurological trigger stimulated by listening to out of tune performers within an ensemble.

    My request to readers of this thread is to please do let me know if any of you have experienced this effect.

    Here is the link:
    https://www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.ezproxy.libraries.wright.edu/pubmed/30003226



  • Thanks Dr-GO,
    If I read correctly, tinnitus and sensorineural hearing impairment would be present whether the performance is in tune or not, right?
    For me, I can listen to music that I don't like as long as it's in tune. I can't listen to music that's out of tune regardless of whether I like the song or not. It gives me a headache too.
    Dr.Mark


  • Qualified Repair Techs

    Interesting question. I know that if I have to listen to or play with others that are extremely out of tune it gives me a headache, but it’s a tension headache from grinding my teeth. One of the many reasons I repair instead of teach!



  • Hi Flugelgirl,
    Yes! I too get tension headaches from out of tune music but this is something more biological and from my internet searching, no research exists addressing this phenomenon.
    Dr.Mark



  • The headache could be mental anguish rather than a physical thing. I am not a Dr. Though, Dr's GO and Mark
    so I am owning that.
    I do know this, if I have to sit in front of the drums I sometimes end up with a headache.



  • @flugelgirl said in Can Playing with Musicians Out of Tune Give You a Headache?:

    Interesting question. I know that if I have to listen to or play with others that are extremely out of tune it gives me a headache, but it’s a tension headache from grinding my teeth. One of the many reasons I repair instead of teach!

    Stress triggering tension itself is the most common cause of headache, and flugelgirl, I believe you have identified the most likely reason for this headache response!



  • @Dr-GO

    I subbed in a dance band last summer -- playing second -- the venue had a hard back wall and the drummer was right in front of the back wall - i as in front of the drummer -- LOUD - i eventually had to cut up a handkerchief and stuff it in my ears --now i have the orange ear foam plugs in my mute case kit for such emergencies. It was painful. Not quite on topic -- apologies.



  • @BigDub said : if I have to sit in front of the drums I sometimes end up with a headache.

    The brass section in our band is the back row and the drums are always situated directly behind me. No headaches, just constant concern for my hearing. The good thing, though, is that I feel the rhythm from the tips of my toes to the top of my head.



  • @GeorgeB said in Can Playing with Musicians Out of Tune Give You a Headache?:
    The brass section in our band is the back row and the drums are always situated directly behind me... I feel the rhythm from the tips of my toes to the top of my head.

    Now that has got to be the longest path of radiating tremor I have ever heard in my clinical career.



  • @Dr-GO said in Can Playing with Musicians Out of Tune Give You a Headache?:

    @GeorgeB said in Can Playing with Musicians Out of Tune Give You a Headache?:
    The brass section in our band is the back row and the drums are always situated directly behind me... I feel the rhythm from the tips of my toes to the top of my head.

    Now that has got to be the longest path of radiating tremor I have ever heard in my clinical career.

    ☺ you should see me when we play at gospel church services...



  • I've never had a headache from playing with out of tune "musicians", but it is a pain in the butt.



  • @Bob-Pixley said in Can Playing with Musicians Out of Tune Give You a Headache?:

    I've never had a headache from playing with out of tune "musicians", but it is a pain in the butt.

    In these situations, I just learned to turn the other cheek!



  • @Dr-GO said in Can Playing with Musicians Out of Tune Give You a Headache?:

    @Bob-Pixley said in Can Playing with Musicians Out of Tune Give You a Headache?:

    I've never had a headache from playing with out of tune "musicians", but it is a pain in the butt.

    In these situations, I just learned to turn the other cheek!

    I'll bet that helps.


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