RULE 11: Protect Your Ears




This week's tip hits close to home, as protecting my ears was something I admittedly put off until much later in life. I spent years of high school and college NOT protecting my ears. I'd play in drum line for hours each week, take several music classes during the day, practice my drum set when I got home from school, and would blast music any chance I got. I was a kid! Ear plugs?? No way man!

The result?

Today, I have a moderate/heavy case of Tinnitus (ringing in the ears). It's bad. If you've ever been to a loud concert and then come home to fall asleep in a quiet room, you may have experienced this ringing sensation. It's often a distinct pitch, usually at a high frequency. 

For me, it's almost always present. If I actively think about it (like right now as I write this article), I can hear it. But, because I live with it, I usually am able to tune it out as often as I can. However, if I'm in a really quiet environment, the tinnitus is much more noticeable. As a result, I have to have some kind of sound playing each night when I fall asleep, otherwise the ringing will make it almost impossible to fall asleep. 

The bad news about all of this is that, as of 2016, even audiologists will admit that little is actually known about what's REALLY going on in the ears. Further, there is still no cure for tinnitus yet. Worse yet, there's actually no way to DETECT or MEASURE tinnitus (it can only be self-reported). Once you experience hearing-loss, that damage is permanent. 

Because there is no cure for tinnitus, the best thing we can do as musicians is to protect our ears as much as humanly possible. Our ears are EVERYTHING. Period. Without them, we wouldn't be able to make music. 

Here are a few ways that you can be smarter about protecting your ears:


Just DO IT. The most difficult part about protecting your ears is that transition period when you begin wearing ear plugs for the first time. In the beginning, you'll HATE how everything sounds. You miss the clarity, you miss the sensitivity, and you miss knowing EXACTLY how you sound in the room you're in. During shows, you'll want to take them out. But, commit to "roughing it out" for a few shows. I promise that in time, you will come to actually prefer wearing plugs. Not to mention that your ears will thank you later in life (and later that evening).


By far one of the smartest investments you can make as a musician is to invest in a nice set of musician's earplugs! These ear plugs are different than standard "cheap" plugs because 1) They're custom molded to your ear, giving you a perfect fit, 2) You can select the right filter for your needs (9db, 15db, or 25db), and 3) The filters actually make the sound CLEARER, unlike cheap earplugs that give you a muffled, distorted sound. 

The process: I'd recommend getting your ear plugs through a company called Westone. I've used them for the past 10 years and can highly recommend them. Make an appointment with a speech and hearing clinic (if you can't find one, check your local college). Explain that you'd like to get musician's earplugs and they'll know what to do. The price is around $150-180 and the entire process usually takes about 2 weeks. This price may seem high, but you'll likely have the plugs for 5-10 years and trust me, they WORK!


  • Turn your on stage monitors down. Do you REALLY need it that loud?
  • Experiment with cymbal angles. The more flat you keep them, the less volume will travel to your ears. 
  • If you're able to wear in-ear monitors on your gig, DO IT. Think about how harmful it is to have a floor wedge on one side blasting just one of your ears. Not good.
  • Be super cautious during sound-checks. This is the time where mic's are feeding back and volume levels aren't set yet. BE CAREFUL and BE CAUTIOUS.
  • Yes... it bears repeating: WEAR EAR PLUGS... NO MATTER WHAT!


At the risk of sounding like an old man here, as I've gotten older I've realized the importance of protecting your ears even in non-musical environments. Here are some examples that come to mind: Fire Trucks, Police Cars, Tornado Sirens, Loud Announcement Speakers, Construction Zones, etc. all make very loud sounds. When these sound sources come up, just cover your ears until you're at a safe distance. You may feel like a doofus, but again, your hearing is NOT a renewable resource... you only get one pair of ears, so covering your ears is the SMART thing to do.


With the creation of smart phones, today many of us listen to music on our phones instead of through a nice sound system. Many don't realize that this is extremely harmful to our ears. As a result, we're now listening to music through crappy ear buds (which actually make us turn the volume UP in order to get a better sound), and this volume is going directly into the ear canal. Whenever possible, I recommend listening to music WITHOUT headphones (I have a nice portable speaker that I take with me on the road). This is much safer than wearing headphones. However, if you must wear headphones, I'd recommend investing in high-quality headphones that don't require you to turn the volume up to get a great sound.


To all music educators out there: PLEASE stress the importance of wearing ear protection to your students! I was blessed to have truly amazing teachers in my life, yet none of them ever REQUIRED that I wear ear plugs growing up. And I get it... it's not fun to wear ear plugs... but this habit needs to be created when students are young. Wearing ear plugs should be a requirement in all educational drumming environments (ESPECIALLY in the marching percussion world), otherwise students will never willingly choose to wear the ear plugs themselves. In other words, we need a NO PLUGS, NO PLAYING policy among drumming eductators. Yes, we need to explain the importance of protecting your ears, but we also need to actually put it into practice with our students. 



Thank you to Joe Crabtree for offering this week's 3-word tip for drummers: PROTECT YOUR EARS!

Joe Crabtree is passionate about the art and science of drumming. After taking up the instrument at age 11 it wasn't long before he knew that playing the drums was what he wanted to do for a living.  Joe taught and gigged from the age of 15 and after graduating from from Durham university with a degree in Physics he moved to London to peruse a career as a professional musician.

Joe honed his progressive chops as a member of the David Cross (King Crimson) Band, and Pendragon, before joining classic rock legends Wishbone Ash ( in 2007.  2 Studio albums, 4 live albums and a DVD later, he's still touring the world with the twin guitar band.

While on the road Joe used his spare time to develop software for drummers: PolyNome ( for the iPhone is a favourite of Dennis Chambers, Dave Weckl, Peter Erskine and many other great drummers, allowing them to program polyrhythms and stickings with ease.

OctopuSequencer and RhythMachine ( were written to inspire creative practice, generate interesting grooves, and figure out complex layered rhythms.

When he's not on the road Joe finds time to add to the many video drum lessons on his website ( while also writing a regular column for DrumHead Magazine (