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Small Band Hearing Damage

Small band performances in clubs, parties, weddings, or other venues can reach sound levels that are far above that of professional high caliber amphitheater acts. Since they are performed in small rooms and close proximity, 100 watts or so can go a long way. Practicing in a small area such as a garage or storage shed can be even more harmful due to the lack of disbursement space and sound absorbing material. The ignorance of amateur band members turning their amplifiers up beyond the rooms capacity complete the ingredients for avoidable permanent hearing loss. As sound levels increase, it becomes increasingly difficult for each musician to monitor their particular instrument prompting them to turn up even more. With sound levels that high in a small reverberant space, along with an inexperienced sound man, the chance of dangerous high frequency feed back occurring is almost inevitable. Changing a situation such as this can be near to impossible if there is only one band member that is genuinely concerned

The first step to solving the problem is to start monitoring your band with a decibel meter - this will give you credibility. If you are playing 8 hours a day, 5 days a week you are getting into risk as you go over 90 dBA. If you are playing 2 hours a day, 5 days a week you shouldn't be going over 100 dBA. Even if your only playing once a week for 2 hours 110 dBA is pushing it. Even though you get your levels down your still at risk of being accidentally blasted with a surge of feedback, so leave room for error. If everyone cooperates, you still face the fact that the minimum level is generally governed by the drummer.

You can turn everything else down but drum level can be a very sensitive issue. Some drummers have difficulty maintaining their style and attitude when asked to tone down. This can create a lot of conflict in the band. These drummers may either cop an attitude and refuse the request or they reluctantly tone down for the moment with compromised style then they're back to their full volume a few songs latter. It's as if they have absolutely no concept of dynamics. There is a lot of technique to using good dynamics. If the drummer is unwilling to change you have a serious problem.

No small time band is worth loosing your hearing over and its not just a hearing loss issue. Sound quality goes down hill when room saturation is reached. Effects, vocals, and other clean sounding instruments begin to sound dry and the overall mix becomes muddy. The drums may sound ok but the band as a whole sounds like garbage. Feedback comes into play as vocalists strain to hear themselves only to sing out of key. Wearing ear plugs can save your hearing but does nothing to improve the sound and leaves everyone else at risk. If you insist on keeping a drummer that will not or cannot control his volume, there are other options that most audiences will hear as an overall improvement.

The best solution is to dampen the drum kit at least for rehearsals. With the kit dampened the drummer can be free to play more aggressively, making up tone loss with style. There can be far too many disadvantages to virgin tone to justify it. It's flat out ridiculous for someone to refuse to cut their volume to a practical level just because they don't want to alter their precious tone. Another option or addition is to construct an acrylic shield. Unless the shield is high enough, symbols may still be heard over the shield and will still have to be dampened. However, anything helps. Cymbals can be more problematic than the drums themselves. Hanging small strips of cloth from the center nut of the cymbals is probably the best possible way to dampen the volume of a cymbal without loosing a whole lot of sound quality. However, the drummer will have to get used to hitting around the cloth. Studio drummers do this in order to obtain different sound qualities and cut sustain.

As for the drums small pieces of cloth or other absorbent material can be taped to the heads. Foam rubber can be placed in various areas inside the drum or hung from the heads inside. Rubber rings can be placed over the tops of the heads at least during practices. There are several internal muffling devices available and many are adjustable. As for the bass drum pillows, towels or whatever sound absorbing material you can throw in there will help. Shredded newspaper seems to work without loosing tone quality. However, don't over do it on the bass drum - you may even want to mic it even if you have dampened it. Lighter sticks should be used but failing to get a drummer to keep enough of them around usually turns this solution into a temporary one.

Just because the majority of drummers don't muffle their drums doesn't mean you have to follow the majority. Musicians tend to be dreamers and hope they are going to be on the big stage one day but odds are they are buying equipment that was never meant to be used in a small room. The reality is that most playing takes place in small rooms considering that most playing is only practice. The trend is that many of us are after big sound but big sound in a small room can be big noise. One mans amp may stand great by itself but when combined with the rest of the band it's a harsh reality.



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