Let’s face it: Hearing loss is the greatest fear of every musician. Although you may not notice the implications of listening to excessive noise instantly. In the back of your mind, you know that if you do not take care of your ears, your hearing capabilities may be reduced. This issue is even more prevalent for drummers. While you are holding a steady groove, you keep smashing your toms, snare, and cymbals to make the audience go wild, your ears may not be enjoying the experience as much as you do if you are not protecting your ears. Some drummers use no hearing protection at all (not recommended), some use headphones (not optimal, but better than nothing), and some use earplugs for drummers (recommended). A study by the Percussive Arts Society discovered that 57.6% of professional drummers suffer from tinnitus, and 44.2% of amateur drummers do too. There is a high chance you will suffer from tinnitus unless you act today. We do not want to scare you, as ears do have the ability to heal themselves. However, that is only to a certain extent. The rate of healing is determined by many factors, including your genetics and overall health. Once the damage has reached a certain point, then we speak of permanent damage, as the repair process cannot keep up with the rate of ongoing damage. Perhaps you have used earplugs for drumming in the past but were not satisfied with them because you noticed you could not hear the subtle tones when playing, for example, ghost notes. Nowadays, ear protection for drumming is affordable, practical, and essential. Before we get more into ear protection devices for drumming, let’s first understand the warning signs of hearing loss and the implications of being exposed to constant loud noises. Let’s get started, shall we?
HOW DO I RECOGNIZE THE EARLY WARNING SIGNS OF HEARING LOSS?
Hopefully, you do not have any hearing problems already, or you are curious about what you need to look for. Worry not, as there are luckily many early symptom warning signs related to noise-induced hearing loss. We have all heard of tinnitus, which is the buzzing or ringing you may hear after being exposed to loud noises for a certain period. As the accumulation of damage can go unnoticed until it is too late, it is crucial to make efforts to reduce hearing damage as soon as you can. Below are some of the warning signs you should be aware of:
- Your ears hurt from the noise you are exposed to
- Your ears feel like it is stuffed of blocked
- You or others around you notice that you have started to speak louder than usual
- You hear a buzz or ring in your ears
If you are already experiencing any of these symptoms, then it is worth seeking medical advice or help. A doctor or audiologist can perform a hearing test on you so that you have a professional assessment of your hearing. From there, you can make changes to protect your ears as much as possible.
WHAT IS EXCESSIVE NOISE?
We have used the term excessive noise earlier in the article, but what does that mean? Excessive noise is generally defined as exposure to 85+ decibels of sound over 8 hours. The louder the noise, the less time you should be in that environment. The longer you stay in such a setting, the higher the probability you will suffer permanent, irreparable ear damage. Let’s go over the following table.
As you can see, listening to loud sound is terrible for you. According to OSHA’s permissiblenoise exposures table, you should not stay in an environment for longer than one hour when the sound level is 105 decibels (be sure to wear ear protection if you are in such situation!).
Now we have a bunch of numbers that we cannot do much with. Let’s get some recognizable scenarios to give these numbers some meaning. Below are the sound levels in decibel of various environments, taken from a report by the EKU:
Weakest sound heard
Whisper Quiet Library
Telephone dial tone
City Traffic (inside car)
Train whistle at 500′, Truck Traffic
Level at which sustained exposure may result in hearing loss
90 – 95dB
Loud Rock Concert
12 Gauge Shotgun Blast
Death of hearing tissue
Loudest sound possible
A rock music concert can peak at 150 decibels – louder than a jet engine!
SOUND LEVELS OF MUSIC
Normal piano practice
84 – 103dB
82 – 92dB
|85 – 114dB|
90 – 106dB
85 – 114dB
Tympani & bass drum
|Symphonic music peak|
120 – 137dB
Rock music peak
HOW DOES NRR CHANGE DECIBELS OF EXPOSURE?
As discovered in the previous section, when hearing protection is worn, your level of exposure to noise when wearing hearing protection is based on the NRR rating of the device being used. Keep in mind, however, that while the NRR is measured in decibels, the hearing protector being used does not reduce the surrounding decibel level by the exact number of decibels associated with that protector’s NRR. Example time*: you are rocking it a rock concert where the noise exposure is 100 decibels, and you are wearing dBud earplugs that have an NRR 20 decibels on their closed position, your level of exposure would not be reduced to 80 decibels. Instead, to determine the actual amount of decibel deduction applied, you take the NRR number in dB, subtract 7, and then divide by 2. At the rock concert, your noise reduction equation would look like (20-7)/2 = 6.5. So, your noise exposure at the show would be 93.5 decibels instead of 100 decibels. Another example*: you are at an afrobeat gig playing claves like there is no tomorrow. The noise exposure at the performance is 80 decibels, and you are wearing your dBud earplugs. We know that the noise reduction with them is 6.5 decibels ((20-7/2)). So, your noise exposure at the gig is 80-6.5 = 73.5 decibels.
WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT HEARING LOSS?
If possible, stay away from loud environments. As an amateur or professional drummer, you will hear loud music for extended periods – it is inevitable (think of shows, your concerts, other people’s concerts, or rehearsals). However, you can still build habits that can help you prevent hearing loss as much as possible. The most obvious one would be wearing drummer ear protection devices like dBud. Besides that, you can:
- Avoid listening to music on a loud level with headphones or music earplugs (modern phones typically show a warning when you try to go for the loudest audio setting).
- Take a break – give you ears some time to rest and repair between intense listening session.
- Avoid standing in front of speakers at music venues.
- Again, wear drumming hearing protection devices shows, regardless of whether you are playing or listening.
WHAT IS THE CORRECT SOUND ATTENUATION FOR DRUMMING?
Depending on your environment, you will need a totally different sound attenuation. As a gentle reminder, sound attenuation (also known as acoustic attenuation) is a measure of energy loss of sound propagation. Remember the examples we analyzed in how does NRR change decibels of exposure? We realized that every environment has variables that alter the decibel production. Besides that, the musical setting also changes the tones of your toms and cymbals. When you are recording in the studio, you are not playing as loudly as you would at a heavy metal concert. As a result, you need earplugs for drummers that has the correct filters for the attenuation.
The usual problem with earplugs for drummers is that they kill both the volume and the sound. Uneven attenuation across high and low tones leads to a muffled and distorted sound.
dBud, however, is different. Every dBud has two settings – the closed and open setting. The closed setting has a very flat attenuation of around 30dB across the entire frequency spectrum. This means less distortion of the sound coming through to your ear, and it gives you the clearest possible sound experience, with significantly reduced volume.
In the open setting, however, the acoustic filter is designed to alter the attenuation curve so that it lets frequencies of typical human speech through with less reduction, while other frequencies are reduced to a higher degree. This means that background noise is toned down, while you’re still being able to hear and communicate with people around you.
We now know the importance of protecting your ears as a drummer, as being exposed to loud constant noise will result in permanent ear damage. If you have never tried wearing ear protection devices while playing the drums, try it today! If you have in the past and were not satisfied with the sound quality, give them another shot. Drummer ear plugs have progressed significantly over the past few years while the prices have dropped. Get yourself a pair of dBuds because:
- They have a volume slider for two levels of noise reduction (SNR values: -11 decibels and -24 decibels).
- They provide clear sound with their intelligent acoustic filtering
- They have no electronics – no need to worry about batteries or charging.
What are you waiting for? Protect your ears today!