Musicians are in a high-risk category for hearing loss issues. It is not rocket science: the long hours spent at your instrument, with a sound emission that is often beyond the recommended threshold, can cause serious damages.
Time will not heal many of these issues. Hearing damage and tinnitus can quickly become chronic at an early age unless you take precautions.
Acoustic drums and percussion are usually a lot noisier than other instruments, so drummers and percussionists should take extra care of their ears.
Sound Intensity and Drum Kits
Recommended levels of sound intensity are almost always indicated in decibels (dB).
Complete drum kits usually oscillate between 90 and 130 decibels, but many factors can affect their level of intensity.
The number of decibels will depend on the material, size, and depth of the drum. It will also be affected by how hard the drummer is hitting, the style of music, and the environment.
In particular, snare drums can emit between 90 and 120 decibels. This level equals the noise of a subway train or the sound level of a rock concert. Snare drums, however, are not the noisiest part of a drum: cymbals can emit between 110 and 125 decibels, equaling the noise experienced at a stock car race.
Bass drums, on the other hand, are a bit less noisy, emitting about 105 decibels, just like a leaf-blower or a snowmobile.
On top of that, when the human ear perceives any sound around 120 decibels, it could result in pain or discomfort.
Considering that the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) suggests 85 dB as a threshold to avoid issues with your ears, drummers are certainly at risk. Drummers can start damaging their hearing within minutes or seconds of exposure to the loud noises of an acoustic kit.
Other instrumentalists, such as rock guitarists, can experience the same issues (a rock amplifier can reach 120 dB).
Classical instruments such as the piano or the violin, on the other hand, are less noisy (between 60 and 70 dB the former; 80 to 90 dB the latter), but the risk is still present at rehearsals and concerts, as the sound intensity of a whole ensemble can reach 100 or more decibels.
However, drum kits are among the noisiest and least controllable instruments out there. After all, you can tweak a guitar amp down a bit, but you can’t really change the sound intensity of a cymbal.
A study has shown that 57% of professional drummers and 44% of amateurs experience tinnitus (ringing in their ears).
Don’t Underestimate the Symptoms
How do you understand whether there is a problem with your hearing? There are certain recurring symptoms you should be aware of.
- tinnitus (most commonly ringing, popping, or pulsing sounds in your ears)
- hearing of muffled sounds
- feeling the ear canal padded
- having the necessity of raising your voice when speaking.
If you experience these symptoms, check with a doctor or audiologist to help determine the cause and if there are any solutions. These problems are not always caused by excess noise.
If you think your issues are noise induced, then start taking action right away to stop the problem from getting worse:
Prevention is Key
Luckily, there are ways that can help to stop this problem from getting worse:
Drummers can count on a series of common-sense practices and useful tools to mitigate their exposure to loudness.
First of all, take breaks between sessions. If you give your ears enough time to recover from one session to another you can minimize the chances of developing permanent hearing issues.
Another useful practice is the use of earplugs or earmuffs.
There are different kinds of earplugs available on the market (foam, custom molded, triple-flanged), so you can choose what feels more comfortable for you. These devices are a great help, as they can reduce sound intensity by 15-30 decibels.
Some earplugs are designed to block only certain frequencies and they are great when playing cymbals or snare drums, as high frequencies are usually the most annoying to the human ear.
You could also opt for noise-isolating headphones or earmuffs to physically block the noise.
Another solution consists in choosing the right equipment.
Hot-rods, drum brushes or even lighter sticks will help you hit the drums with less power, resulting in smaller sound intensity.
Low volume cymbals are also present on the market. These cymbals minimize the high frequencies, making your practice way less dangerous for your ears.
You could also buy drum mutes to make the sound of your heads and cymbals less intense, or opt for quiet drumheads.
Electronic drums are much less noisy too. Even if you don’t want to use them during live gigs, you can always use them for practice, cutting off the time you expose your ears to unhealthy noises.
Last but not least, in-ear monitors can give you control over your volume also during live shows, doing a great favor to your ears.
The best way to prevent hearing loss issues when playing drums is to employ some common-sense practices and some noise-muffling devices.
Take enough breaks from rehearsals, concerts, or practice sessions. Employ tools such as earplugs and in-ear monitors, and don’t forget to live a healthy lifestyle.
Your general health is a determinant factor in hearing loss diseases, so stick to the main keyword here: prevention!