It may go without saying, but long-term exposure to loud noise can do a number on your ears. Over 57% of pro drummers and 44% of amateur drummers have ringing in their ears (tinnitus). You’re almost four times more likely to have tinnitus than non-musicians. Even Lars Ulrich has dealt with ringing. As for general hearing loss, one study showed that it affected almost 40% of percussionists compared to 9% of the reference population.
Symptoms of hearing loss may include buzzing or ringing in the ears, feeling like the ear canal is ‘full’ or stuffed up, raising your voice when speaking to someone near you, or hearing sounds as muffled.
Some types of hearing loss can be reversed, so it may not be too late to fix the damage. But if you’re playing the drums regularly, what can you do to prevent it from getting worse? How do you turn down the volume on an acoustic instrument like the drums?
If you hope to keep drumming for years to come, here are a few things you should do to preserve one of your most important senses:
Whether you’re playing drums (over 100 decibels, or dB), rehearsing with other musicians (guitar amps can reach 120 dB), or hitting up a concert (rock shows can be 110+ dB), you should be wearing earplugs. Repeated exposure above just 85 dB can cause hearing loss. So if you don’t like how earplugs feel or you’ve convinced yourself it’s too late to protect your ears, think again. There are options!
*To get a more accurate number of how many decibels you’re reducing, take the rating on the product, minus seven and divide by two before subtracting from the decibel level you’re protecting yourself against.
High frequencies – like the sound of cymbals and snare drums – cause the most damage. Luckily, you can cut down on dangerous frequencies (and avoid bothering your neighbors) by making smart gear choices.
Are you rehearsing with electric guitarists? Crushingly loud amplifiers can also contribute to a drummer’s hearing loss. One solution is to ask your bandmates to turn their amps down; guitarists are often competing with the drums (and each other) for volume, especially in heavier genres like rock and metal. If this isn’t possible, move amps so they face away from you, and place them in front of the drums. This might make it harder for you to hear the music, so if you aren’t able to play quietly, it’s worth investing in in-ear monitors so you can hear everything clearly and adjust the volume yourself.
Give your ears a break. Be loud less often if possible. One study showed that the more hours played per week, the greater the likelihood of hearing loss (compared with the number of years playing). This doesn’t mean you need to stop drumming – especially for those who rely on making noise for a living – but let your ears rest in between rehearsals or gigs. If you regularly go to concerts or listen to loud music when you aren’t drumming, it’s definitely time to take a break.
Get your hearing tested if you’re worried about it. It may not be too late. Look up your local audiologist and save your ears!
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