This is the third in a list of 6 fact sheets that can be copied onto your office letterhead and provided to musicians. There will be one that relates to each musician instrument, and this one is obviously (as can be seen in the title) about bass players and drummers. These are used in the Musicians’ Clinics of Canada (www.musiciansclinics.com) and I would appreciate citing the source of this information if you choose to use them as one of your clinic handouts. Like all information sheets this, and those that follow, can be used as part of the counseling session.
Even though it may be surprising to group bass players and drummers together, because of the similar location in a band, the types of noise exposure can be similar. In some cases, the environmental strategies to minimize the potential from hearing loss, are also similar.
• Humming just prior to, and through a loud sound such as a cymbal crash or rim shot, may afford some hearing protection. There is a small muscle in our middle ears that contracts upon the sensation of loud sounds. This contraction pulls on the bones of the middle ear, thus temporarily making it harder for sound to be transmitted through to one’s inner ear. Mother nature designed us with this, so that our own voice would not be perceived as too loud. If one knows about an imminent loud sound such as a cymbal crash, hum just before the crash and sustain the hum through the sound.
• Shakers are small, hockey puck sized speakers that can be wired into the main amplification system. These shakers can be bolted under a drummer’s seat, or screwed onto a 1 square foot piece of 3/4″ plywood board placed on the floor near the bass player or drummer. The musicians feel they are playing slightly louder than they actually are. The musicians are happy and their ears are happy.
• Plexiglas™ baffles can be erected between the cymbals and the bass players, but should not extend higher than the drummer’s ear. Such baffles can attenuate (lessen) the sound energy of the drums for the other musicians. Ensuring that the baffles do not extend too high, ensures that the drummer is not subject to his own high-frequency reflections, which may increase the potential for future hearing loss.
• In ear monitors are small in-the-ear devices that look like hearing aids connected to small wire cables. They can be plugged directly into to the amplification system. These not only afford some protection from overly loud music, but allow the bass players and drummers to monitor their music better. Frequently, the overall sound levels on stage during rehearsals and performances are quieter while using these monitors.
• Acoustic monitors are stethoscope-like devices that can be used by acoustic bass and cello players to allow them to better hear their own instrument. A length of thin hearing aid tubing plugs into one’s custom made earplug on one end and by way of a suction cup or similar attachment, it plugs onto the tail piece, bridge, or body of the bass. The bass musician can better monitor their own instrument which has the benefit of not overplaying. Wrist and arm strain is usually reduced with such a set-up.
• Drummers should be using the ER-25 earplugs. Too much ear protection can and does result in arm and wrist strain (due to overplaying) and not enough protection can result in continued hearing loss. The ER-25 (like its more mild form, the ER-15) is a uniform or flat ear protector such that the bass notes, the mid-range notes and the high-frequency notes are all attenuated equally. The balance of music is not altered.
• The human ear is much like any other body part- too much use and it may be damaged. The ear takes about 16 hours to “reset”. After attending a rock concert you may notice reduced hearing and/or tinnitus (ringing) in your ears. And if your hearing was assessed immediately after the concert, one would find a temporary hearing loss. After 16 hours however, your hearing should return to its “baseline” (hopefully normal) level. After a loud session or concert, don’t practice for 16-18 hours. Also, its a good excuse not to mow your lawn for a day or two!