The Importance of Ear Plugs for Drummers...
We hope this article doesn't fall on deaf ears (quite literally) because there are a lot of musicians out there seriously endangering their hearing. It's utterly incredible how few musicians take care of their ears, you may not feel like the coolest person in the practice room or at a gig if you whip out a set of ear plugs, but talk to any single person who suffers from hearing loss or tinnitus, and we'll virtually guarantee you that they will recommend the use of ear plugs for musicians.
Every single drum teacher around the UK should be insisting on the use of ear plugs from the students very first lesson, it's a great habit to get into and drummers seriously need to be started early with ear plugs. We (as drummers) are in a fairly unique positions compared to other members of a band because our instruments actually produce their own sound (excluding E-Kits obviously). This means that sound levels are already at a dangerous level for your hearing, especially if you're good at rim shots.
We're also unable to move away from a loud sound source whilst performing. This means that if you've got a guitar stack aimed at your head during a gig, you can't do anything about it in the middle of a song. Make sure that all guitar amps are pointed away from you, believe us, there's no quicker way to ruin your hearing than having a constantly loud sound source directed at you without ear plugs.
So what are your options? There are LOADS of options ranging from just under a pound to £150 for custom moulded ear plugs for drummers.
Option #1: Foam Ear Plugs
If these are all you've got, they are certainly better than nothing but are a pretty low tech way of protecting your hearing. You can get these on virtually every high street in places like Boots, but these aren't always intended for use by musicians. Your best bet is to visit a music shop and buy ones that are made specifically for musicians use as they are sometimes made of more dense foam and offer better protection.
We're not a fan of these types of ear plugs because they can be fiddly to get in, block out sound regardless of frequency and with the advance in technology don't offer a great choice for musicians. They are however an excellent solution for keeping in your wallet if you find yourself at a gig unexpectedly. They're fine for construction workers etc, but you want to enjoy your music rather than muffle it.
Option #2: Ear Muff Style
These are the same kind of things that you will see construction workers wearing when they're operating pneumatic drills. They're very quick and easy to take on/off and usually offer excellent reduction in dB levels. However, they're not very practical for wearing at a gig as they're aren't necessarily the coolest things on the planet. They tend to be fairly expensive if bought from music shops (usually around £30), your local B&Q or DIY shop might have some for under £10 which should do just as good a job.
Option #3: Filter Based Models (The Preferred Option for Us)
These are by far the best choice in our opinions, they are quick to get in/out, and best of all have a special filter fitted to them. This filter actually filters out the most dangerous frequencies (particularly high piercing treble from snare, cymbals & guitar) and drops the sound levels by up to 25dB.
The real beauty of these ear plugs is that they don't just block out the sound, they filter them. This means they're ideal for wearing to gigs (whether you're watching or performing) as you don't lose such a broad range of the audio frequencies that you would with the cheap foam alternatives. There are plenty of models around that look like the ones pictured on the right, but we actually use the Elacin ER20 at the moment. We really can't recommend these ear plugs enough as they're relatively cheap (£15 max), last for a while (you should replace them every 3 months ideally) and are very easy to get in and out.
Option #4: Custom Moulded
These are the king of the hill when it comes to hearing protection. You actually need to go and get a mould taken of your ears and they build the ear plugs from those moulds. You get the advantages of the filter technology with a mould that is perfect for your ear which means you have some of the best protection that money can buy. You are able to choose how much filtering you want in the ear plugs (they range from 15dB - 25dB I think) which means you can really get the best of these ear plugs.
The big downside is that they're comparatively expensive for the amateur musician or young musician whose ears might be growing. They'll usually set you back around £170 but on the other hand, would you rather spend £170 on protecting your hearing or £170 on a hearing aid in 5 years? I think we all know the answer to that question.
If you're a new drummer, get some ear plugs and get into the habit of wearing them. Drummers don't have the luxury of moving away or turning down our instruments, guitarists don't need them to practice in their bedroom but YOU DO!! If you're a teacher, you have a moral (if not legal) responsibility to educate your students that ear plugs are as essential as drum sticks when they come for a lesson. If you're a parent, make sure your child wears some earplugs, they may not like it, but you make them go to the dentist don't you?
Ear plugs have moved on a lot in terms of technology and there's a lot of excellent alternatives to the standard foam earplugs that are cheap and do an excellent job. However, just because you're wearing ear plugs doesn't mean you're invincible, you need to be sensible about sound levels.
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