Drummers are extremely susceptible to hearing loss problems. Acoustic drums can be very loud and well over safe levels for hearing health. Playing it safe with your hearing is a good way to go if you are a drummer, regardless of if you are new or a seasoned drummer.
Hearing Loss From Drumming Can Happen Quickly or Slowly
As a drummer who deals with both hearing loss and tinnitus, I’ve learned the hard way just how important hearing protection can be. When I was younger and newer to the drums, I pretty much never wore ear plugs or did anything to protect my ears. Of course, I regret that now, but at the time it didn’t seem like a big deal. I remember times where I would jam with friends in a garage, with full amplification on the guitars, vocals and bass, and didn’t do anything to protect my ears.
It also didn’t help that as a fan of heavy music I spent a lot of time at shows with extremely loud amplification. I’ve seen several bands that could probably take a good claim on being the loudest bands ever, from Motorhead to Primitive Man (in a smaller venue) and everything else in between.
And then on top of that, there were the shows I’ve played in myself as a drummer which were just as loud as anything I’ve been to as a spectator.
The reason I didn’t think it was a big deal is because when your hearing is still good, you don’t notice the things that make you feel like it’s getting worse. When I was young, ear ringing after loud shows would go away after a couple days and I’d be fine. I also didn’t have any distortion or issues with certain frequencies feeling harsh on my ears.
I didn’t notice that there was a slow decline until around age 30 when I realized I couldn’t hear certain mid-range frequencies in my ears anymore and that ringing in my ears took longer to go away. Eventually I even got the point where I now have constant ringing in my ears, known as tinnitus – and that developed even after I started taking ear protection more seriously.
Long story short, I’ve spent a lot of time around really loud music and being a drummer has been a large part of it. Even though I do a good job with ear protection now, I didn’t so much when I was younger, and it has caused me hearing problems for sure.
Most Musicians Will Experience Hearing Issues If They Play Loud Music
It’s not just drummers that are at risk. Basically any musician that spends a lot of time around loud music or amplification can run into hearing issues.
It’s been found that consistent exposure to any sounds over 85 dB can contribute to hearing loss. That’s not very loud when you start measuring sound levels. I have practice pads that sound more quiet that can reach over 85 dB if they are played hard enough. An acoustic drum kit can reach 115 dB or even higher, which is pretty loud.
How To Protect Your Ears as a Drummer
Luckily there’s plenty of ways to protect your hearing. You just need to commit to doing so. When I was young, there was a stigma about wearing ear protection at shows and stuff, and I really hate that notion now. I don’t know why that ever was a thing. When I go to shows now, sometimes they are handing out ear plugs at the door, something I never saw 25 years ago.
As a drummer, you should wear hearing protection each time you play, and especially if you play live.
Hearing protection can be as simple as a cheap pair of foam ear plugs. To this day I still find a basic pair of foam earplugs do the best job of protecting my ears. I’ve gotten to the point where I keep a bottle of foam ear plugs in my car so I always have them on hand, both for myself and friends when needed. I also keep a bottle of the same at my studio in my drum bag.
There are also plenty of hi-fidelity ear plugs on the market now as well. Eargams ear plugs are one example of highly rated hi-fi ear plugs. They are designed to preserve the quality of the sound while reducing sound levels to safe volumes.
Check out our list of recommended ear plugs for drummers if you are looking for more options.
In ear monitors are very popular since they can provide both hearing protection and monitoring at the same time. However, you need to be careful with these since cranking up the volume to unsafe levels can still cause hearing issues. The same goes for headphones if you wear headphones while playing drums.
I use the Vic Firth Isolation Headphones when I’m playing my acoustic drum kit. They provide monitoring as well as hearing protection, which is great. I’ve even been in situations where the volume was loud enough to warrant using ear plugs underneath those headphones for double the protection.
Protect Your Ears, There’s No Cure for Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
If you do manage to damage your hearing, there’s usually no going back. So it’s important to be very protective of your hearing while you still have it. If you are new to drums or have been playing for a while and don’t use ear protection, I’d really recommend reconsidering while you still have your hearing. It becomes a much more stressful issue once hearing loss and tinnitus starts to develop, and in many cases can be avoided.