A 3 year old Russian drummer prodigy

There is a 3 year old Russian drummer who seems to be defying the rules of neuroanatomy. There just isn’t enough neural maturation to be able to play this well, and he appeared equally able to hit with his right hand as his left hand- except for dropping the drum stick on one occasion.  Even young Mozart was 5 when he first blast onto the international scene, but then again, perhaps we would have seen Mozart when he was younger if there were an equivalent of Facebook and YouTube back then.

It would be interesting to do some central auditory processing tests (including binaural fusion) with this young fellow to see how he scores, and if his parents are willing, some fMRI,  or when he is older, PET studies.

Being a guitar and clarinet player I thought that anyone could play a drum kit- how’s that for arrogance? When I first sat down behind a drum kit (and I was in grad school at the time), I just locked up and couldn’t even play a simple rhythm- it’s not as easy as it looks.

And of course, changing my hat now from a neurophysiology “voyeur” to something that I know a bit more about- hearing loss prevention- I hope that this little guy’s parents will consider the health of his hearing. I hope to see him being an incredible musician in 30 years and not wearing hearing aids.

It is never too early to begin to wear hearing protection.   Last week’s blog showed that the first 5-10 years appear to be the greatest  danger period for losing one’s pure tone hearing sensitivity and then it begins to plateau or become an asymptotic hearing loss.  Yet, by the time that we see a pure tone hearing loss on an audiogram, there is a lot of cochlear and neural damage that has already occurred.  So this 3 year old prodigy is triply at risk- greatest chance of having the greatest pure tone threshold decrease, probable neural degradation, and having another 80 or 90 years yet to go for noise and/or music exposure.

I don’t want to sound alarmist but this 3 year needs help which I hope he gets when back in Russia.

ETY SX earplugs. Photo courtesy of www.Etymotic.com
ETY SX earplugs. Photo courtesy of www.Etymotic.com

Even non-custom hearing protection such as the ETY or ER20 XS  earplugs will provide the appropriate balance between too little sound attenuation and too much (which can result in loss of monitoring and associated wrist and arm damage).  And when his ear canals stop growing (about age 3), his parents should consider custom ER-25 earplugs.  The rest of the auricle continues to grow and mature until age 12 but the ear canal itself reaches adult proportions by age 3.

The trick with drummers is that too much hearing protection will remove the essential monitoring of their music- wrist and arm strain and injury can easily occur due to overplaying.

And while we are talking about monitoring, we still have a few tricks up our collective audiological sleeves. A number of in-ear monitor manufacturers (such as Sensaphonics and Futuresonics) market a product called bass shakers.  The name of the product may vary, but the product is a small hockey puck sized disk that is actually a sub-sub-woofer loudspeaker or vibrator.  This very low frequency vibrator or shaker can be bolted to the vertical seat post on the drummer’s chair, attached to the drummer’s seat, or simply bolted to a 1 square foot piece of ¾” plywood and placed on the floor near the drummer and the bass player.

This device “deludes” the drummer (and bass player) into thinking that the music is louder than it really is. They have better awareness of their music but at a lower sound level.  Rock and Roll needs to be loud; but Rock and Roll does not need to be intense.

And even at age 3, it is not too early to introduce in-ear monitors. Even if the parents don’t want to splurge on a custom made pair for their young prodigy, many in-ear monitors come with polymeric foam ear inserts of varying sizes that can be used.  With counselling, the young musician will learn to play with these monitors where the sound level is set up to 6 dB lower than what would have been the case with conventional floor wedges or monitors.

When the young prodigy is away from their music, now due to the wonders of the 1950’s invention of the transistor, portable music is ubiquitous. I recall the “Walkmans” of the 1980s, the portable CD players of the 1990s, and the mp3 format ipods/iphone/mp3 players more recently.

One of the features of portable music players is that the volume generated is a function of two independent elements- the volume control setting on the mp3 player and the earphone used.   While we cannot always control the volume setting on the mp3 player when the young ones are out-of-site, we can control the earphones that are being used.

This post is not an advertisement but again I need to point out another Etymotic Research product.  This is the ETYKids earphones.  These earphones ensure that the maximum sound that reaches the young person’s ear is well within the allowable levels and this is done without distortion.   There is a range of earphones in the marketplace that simply use peak clippers that engage with a certain level output. While this may be protective, the sound quality quickly degrades at high levels.  The ETYkids earphones ensure that the sound levels are safe AND that the sound quality is maintained; they merely reduce the sensitivity rather than peak clip the high level elements (and they are only $39 a pair).

ETYKids earphones that generate safe levels without distortion. Photo courtesy of www.Etymotic.com
ETYKids earphones that generate safe levels without distortion. Photo courtesy of www.Etymotic.com

I hope that this young Russian prodigy hooks up with an audiologist in Russia who can help to ensure that this young guy can still hear and play for years to come.

About Marshall Chasin

Marshall Chasin, AuD, is a clinical and research audiologist who has a special interest in the prevention of hearing loss for musicians, as well as the treatment of those who have hearing loss. I have other special interests such as clarinet and karate, but those may come out in the blog over time.