There are a few things that amaze me in the modern world. For example, smoking. With all of the research available, why in the world would anybody choose to smoke?! And yet people do, all over the world. The tobacco industry makes billions of dollars off of humankind's stupidity every year.
Another thing that amazes me is a drummer who won't protect their hearing. And, trust me, I've heard - and used - all of the excuses. But the facts are plain and simple: loud sound, especially sustained and repetitive (can you say cymbals?) can quickly, seriously and permanently damage your hearing.
I'm writing this post for myself just as much as anybody else, but I sincerely hope you will take the necessary stops to prevent hearing loss (or further hearing loss) and tinnitus - the high-pitched ringing in your ears.
Let's take a quick second to talk about tinnitus (tin-eye-tuss). Have your ears ever started ringing after a loud noise or something like a rock concert? Imagine that noise never going away, getting worse, and getting louder. Some of my musician friends (who didn't do enough to protect their hearing) call it, "the chorus of hell." I've got a little tinnitus myself because I didn't start protecting my hearing soon or consistently enough, and it's a bad, bad deal. Worse, it's irreversible. There is nothing that any doctor or medication can do to fix it.
Your hearing is truly a once-and-done proposition. Abuse it and ruin it, and it's gone. Try watching TV for an hour with no sound. Or go to a restaurant with friends with earplugs in. Again, it's a bad, bad deal.
So, let's take a quick look at some things you can do to protect yourself and still fully enjoy music and drumming.
The people at Etymotic Research are awesome! I've never met any of them, but they have a wide range of products that are far superior to foam ear plugs. Their goal is to make plugs that evenly reduce all frequencies. Simply put, everything sounds the same, just softer.
A couple of downsides are the cost (mine were about $140), and the time it takes to get them. I had to go to an audiologist and have molds made of my ear canal (read: the Dr. pours goop into your ears).
These are very effective plugs, and provide the best result. They're comfortable, and easy to adapt to. (Bad grammar, I know...)
Similarly, in-ear monitors are essentially earplugs with tiny speakers in them, sort of like hearing aids. They aim to block out all of the natural sound and "feed" your ears only what comes through the speakers. This allows the user to drastically reduce the amount of sound the ears are exposed to while practicing and performing.
Again, in-ears are costly, but they are saving musicians' ears everywhere. Compared to the traditional setup of having open monitor speakers on-stage (which are often almost as loud as the main or "house" speakers) which have to compete with all of the natural sound on stage (like a drummer), having in-ears is truly a no-brainer.
A more affordable method, especially practical for drummers, is isolation headphones. It's the same idea as earplugs and in-ears in terms of blocking out (reducing) the natural sound to which the ears are exposed. And you can get them with speakers or without. This, of course, affects the price.
I've got a set of Koss isolation headphones that I use all the time. They're great for practice sessions, especially for metronome work and playing along with tracks.
The Bottom Line
Really and truly, I don't care which of these methods you use - even if you use 99 cent foam plugs - USE SOMETHING!! Protect your hearing. No matter how old or young you are, whether you have serious damage or no damage - start protecting your hearing now. And do it consistently.
Happy - and safe - drumming!!
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