I always wear ear plugs when I play drums. I was never a big fan of loud noise, and here I am, playing rock drums. Ironic isn’t it? Well, that’s what ear plugs are for.
Sound levels are measured in decibels. Decibel is logarithmic unit, so that an increase of 10 decibels means a sound wave has 10 times more energy. Using a decibel meter, I measured myself hitting a snare drum as hard as practical without trying to puncture the drum head. I got the sound level to 126 decibels, which is almost as loud as a jackhammer, but of course not continuous like a jackhammer. More measurements indicated that normal playing during rehearsal with an electric guitar and bass exposes me to about 100 to 110 decibels of noise.
This brings me to why wearing ear plugs is so important. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is the US government’s agency responsible for setting work safety standards, any sound of 85 decibels or above can be potentially harmful, depending on the duration of exposure. Sounds above 140 decibels might lead to hearing loss, no matter what the duration of exposure. A 90 decibel sound can lead to hearing loss if the exposure is for 8 hours or more per day. Beyond 90 decibels, the length of time is cut by half for every 5 decibel increase in sound level. For 110 decibels like in my rehearsal, it’s 1/2 hour.
The ear plugs I use cut down noise levels by about 20 decibels, so this brings my exposure down from 110 decibels to 90, which is good for 8 hours. And I don’t think I’ll ever play for more than 8 hours a day. Even if the ear plugs are off by 5 decibels, 4 hours per day is still within my safety margin. Stuffing tissue paper or cotton in your ears will reduce noise by about 7 decibels, which is good for less than 1 1/2 hours play time, not counting the incidental super loud snare drum or crash cymbal hit.
The exposure times I mentioned above do not guarantee hearing loss, but can lead to it. You might hear fine for 20 years of noise exposure, but then one day notice that you have trouble hearing, or worse yet, other people will start telling you that you don’t hear what they are saying. And there will be nothing you’ll be able to do about it then, so start wearing ear plugs now.
My personal preference for ear plugs, since I’m not into custom fitted ear plugs yet, is the Mack’s Earplugs brand. These ear plugs are essentially mailable silicon balls. I like them because they mold themselves to your ear’s shape, and they are not as visible as other types of ear plugs, especially from the front.