If you ever have a conversation with an older drummer, one of the first things they’ll tell you is that you need to protect your hearing. While most musicians suffer from hearing loss over time, drummers struggle with it particularly.
Drums are one of the loudest instruments you can play, and the effects of not protecting your ears can be devastating in the long run. So, we’re going to talk about everything ear-related. I’ll discuss why ear protection for drummers is so important as well as give you some practical tips on keeping your ears safe.
Why Protecting Your Ears is So Important
Your ears are one of the parts of your body that don’t heal. Once your hearing is gone, it doesn’t come back. That’s a scary reality for drummers, and most of them only realize it later on in their lives.
It’s so important to keep your ears safe because it will prevent you from losing some, or most, of your hearing down the line.
Drummers need to be extremely cautious as most full-sized drum kits are known to produce between 90 and 130 decibels of sound. The higher dBs are typically from snare drums and cymbals which are the things that drummers usually hit the hardest.
According to the CDC, anything over 70 dB over a long period of time can start causing damage to your hearing. So, you’re already in the red zone whenever you play the drums.
Thankfully, ear protection for drummers has become more popularized in recent times. People are becoming aware of the fact that hearing loss is irreparable. Hearing protection for drummers can be found very easily.
While most of the drummers that were banging it out in the 80s and 90s have experienced some form of hearing loss, this probably won’t be the case with the modern drummers of today.
Once you’re aware that you need to keep your ears safe, it only takes a few quick fixes to your environment and you’ll be good to go.
Practical Tips to Protect Your Ears
Out of all the musicians in a band, the drummer should take the most precautionary measures to protect their hearing. Whether you’re practicing at home, playing a live gig, or recording in a studio, the drums will most probably be the loudest instrument. So, here’s what you can do in each of those settings.
Unfortunately, practicing your drums at home is where the most hearing loss can happen. This is because most practice spaces are in small rooms where the sound of the drums will bounce off the walls.
The sound will be incredibly loud if the room is not insulated. It will be even louder depending on the material of your walls.
The first step to take in protecting your hearing is to sound insulate the room as much as you can. This doesn’t need to be an expensive task. You simply need to put the drums on a carpet, block the gaps between the floor and the door, and somehow cover all the corners in the room.
Once you’ve done that, the sound levels will drop slightly. The sound of your drums will also be more pleasing to hear.
You should also always wear some sort of drum ear protection, whether that be headphones or earplugs.
Live shows are the next setting where ear damage happens. While the drums are always going to be very loud, the main reason that drummer’s ears get damaged in this environment is that the band mix on stage is too loud.
On most occasions, bands will have wedge monitors that will run all the sounds of the instruments and vocals back to them on stage. It’s very common for a drummer to raise the volume of a wedge monitor to compete with the drums in front of them.
As the drums get louder, the speaker volume gets louder as well. This is a prime example of how your ears will get damaged.
There are two things you can do here. The first would be to wear some sort of earplugs. They will drop the sound levels, but you’ll still be able to hear everything clearly.
The second thing would be to monitor the band through in-ear monitors instead of a wedge speaker. This is the preferred option on most occasions.
There’s a story about the band, Deep Purple, playing a show that was so loud that a few fans dropped unconscious. At the time, they held the world record for the loudest live gig with the sound levels sitting around 117 dB.
While most gigs aren’t as extreme as that nowadays, many of them have decibel levels above 100. Be careful!
While it’s less likely to damage your hearing in studio environments, it’s still possible. Typically, everyone in a studio will be wearing headphones. While you’re in the studio, make sure to wear headphones at all times. That will ensure that there is no possibility of damaging your ears.
Just make sure that the mix in your headphones isn’t too loud. If you’re playing drums, you need to ensure that the drum mix is coming through clearly through the headphones so that you don’t need to raise the volume too much to hear everything else.
Tools for Protecting Your Ears
Moving on to different types of drummer ear protection, there are 4 main types of ear protection tools that you can use. Each has its pros and cons, so choose one according to the environment you’re in.
Earplugs are the cheapest and easiest option you can go with. You can find these in any hardware store, and they’re typically just a set of rubber pieces that you can fit into your ears. It’s very easy to find a pack of cheap ones that will last a fairly long time. They drop the sound levels by 31 dB when you have them in.
You can also find earplugs that are designed specifically for musicians. There are different types of earplugs that tell you how many decibels of sound they drop when you’re wearing them. These PRS Hi-Fidelity earplugs are fantastic ear protection for drummers that drop up to 22 dB of sound.
I know many drummers that find using earplugs quite uncomfortable. While the comfort of an earplug largely depends on how it’s designed, another option is to use earmuffs. Earmuffs have the same shape as headphones, so they rest on top of your ears instead of inside of them.
When you’re playing drums for an extended period of time, using earmuffs will be more comfortable most of the time. They don’t look too attractive on stage, so I’d only suggest using them for practicing at home.
One of my favorite sets of drum ear protection earmuffs are the Vic Firth Kidphones. They also drop up to 22dB of sound. Although they’re designed for children, they work perfectly well for adults as well. They’re basically a set of headphones with no wire, purely designed to protect your hearing.
The great thing about using earmuffs is that you can use earphones underneath them if you want to play along with songs. That wouldn’t be possible with earplugs.
In-ear monitors are the industry-standard tool for musicians and drummers to use nowadays. But do in-ear monitors protect hearing? Well, it depends on what type of monitors you get. All in-ear monitors are designed to fit snuggly in your ears and block out a bit of sound.
However, the cheaper a pair of monitors is, the less sound they’re likely to block out. So, you’ll need to invest in a good pair if you want to have a good amount of ear protection.
In-ear monitors range heavily in price. You could get a relatively inexpensive pair, or you could sell your kidney to get one of the top pairs on the market. One of the best options is the Shure SE215 pair. They only cost about $100, and they’re one of the most commonly used pairs of in-ear monitors out there. They also drop up to 37 dB of sound, making them more effective than the previous sound isolation options.
They offer most of what you need in terms of sound. More importantly, in this case, they block off a fair amount of noise, meaning they’re great ear protectors for drummers.
If you want in-ear monitors that have higher-quality sound, the Shure SE535s are another great option. In-ear monitors are a huge deal in the modern music world, so make sure to do your research to find the best option for you.
Headphones are also a great option to go with for hearing protection. Similar to earmuffs, they’re often more comfortable than sticking things inside your ears. The only problem is that most headphones don’t actually provide that much sound isolation.
If you buy a pair of headphones that don’t isolate sound, you’re going to end up pushing the volume while drumming and damage your ears over time.
The biggest rule to follow is to get a set of headphones that have a closed-back design. Open-back headphones don’t provide any sound isolation, so they’re typically not great options for drummers.
One of the most popular pairs of headphones for drummers are the Vic Firth SIH2s. These headphones are specifically designed to protect your hearing while providing decent sound quality. They drop up to 25 dB of sound. The sound quality is the greatest compared to professional headphones, but it’s good enough to get the job done.
If you don’t want to constantly wear ear protection, there are some alternative options you can go with. The first and most obvious alternative would be to play on an electronic kit instead of an acoustic kit.
You can easily adjust the volume of an e-kit so that it’s not loud enough to damage your ears. You can also play with headphones to make it easier to hear everything. Just make sure not to raise any volumes over 80 dB.
If you’re sticking with your acoustic set, you could swap the heads and cymbals out with low-volume cymbals and low-volume drum heads. The two best options would be the Zildjian L80s and the Remo Silentstroke heads.
You can buy those together in an affordable pack. They drop your drum sound by 80%, making them a hugely beneficial product for protecting your ears. They’re mainly used as practice tools, so know that they won’t work too well at a gig.
If you don’t want such a permanent solution, you could use temporary drum mutes when you’re practicing. The Evans SoundOff mutes are a great example.
Hearing protection is something every drummer should think about from day one. If you haven’t been protecting your ears when playing drums, now is a better time than ever. It’s vitally important to understand that your hearing won’t come back once it’s gone.
So, make sure to wear ear protection whenever you’re playing the drums. Whether you’re practicing at home or performing at a live gig, think about how the sound is affecting your ears. If things are too loud, make an adjustment that will soften them down.