Too loud Practicing in basement

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Too loud Practicing in basement

Postby congavalde » Tue Dec 17, 2013 11:20 pm

I love practicing my congas in my basement, which is has 9 feet high ceilings. The problem is, my ears ring after I play around, and I am afraid I am doing damage to them; maybe too loud in the little space. Same thing with my timbales. Not so much with bongos.

I can put towels over the drum heads, but am still developing my skills and think that hitting the heads directly will help me with that. I can alter my hand pressure to hit more softly, but am still developing technique so I don't necessarily want to hold back. I am thinking of using earphones to block out the sound. Any other suggestions?
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Re: Too loud Practicing in basement

Postby jorge » Wed Dec 18, 2013 5:05 am

You are absolutely right. Just practicing congas at home with no mic, no backing music and no band can be loud enough to damage your hearing permanently. In the past few months I have done loudness measurements using a noise dosimeter and find that I can reach the OSHA maximum daily (8 hour) noise dose in 15 minutes practicing at home, and in 5 minutes onstage playing in an unamplified rumba. And we are good musicians and play to the room at reasonable volume, I am not talking about the "concussionists" you may encounter in the park. I have been playing over 40 years and have moderate (45-55 dB) hearing loss and tinnitus. Claves and cata are the loudest but conga slaps come close. Although the research is not definitive, it seems that impact (percussive) sounds in general do more hearing damage than steady tones of equal loudness. Just a few slaps now will make my ears ring more than usual.

Playing soft is an option when practicing. You can greatly improve your technique without playing loud, and that is an important technique to learn. Learning to project your sound without straining is an important skill as well, however, and you do need to practice that too, or you will get tired and poop out after a few songs if you ever have to play without a mic with a live band, or on a rug onstage, or in a big hall without amplification, or outside in a comparsa or in the park.

I recently started using hearing protectors every time I play, and that makes a huge difference. At first it was very difficult to stay in time because the hearing protectors I had used block most of the high frequency sounds that carry the timing cues. There are available musicians' earplugs that allow you to hear all the frequencies with relatively flat response, just not as loud. The 3 main options are Etymotic Research ER20 generic musicians' earplugs, custom earmolds with Etymotic Research ER15 filters, and ACS custom earmolds with Pro17 filters and Pro10 filters. I have also tried ER9 and ER25 filters in the custom earmolds, Etymotic MusicPro electronic musicians' earplugs, and a variety of generic earplugs available in music stores. My preference, by far, is the ACS Pro17 with custom earmolds. I now use them in the Afrocuban rumbas every week at the Zinc Bar in NYC, and have gotten used to playing with them in.

They would seem to be relatively expensive, I paid $185 for the custom earmolds and the filters complete. I would consider that very inexpensive, however, compared with the $3,000 - $6,000 cost of the hearing aids which I have been pricing and trying out recently. And none of the hearing aids I have tried have been even close to acceptable in sound quality. Hearing aids are not covered by health insurance, you pay out of pocket unless you are a veteran.

Once you lose your hearing, it is irreversible, so Congavalde you are asking the right question at the right time.
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Re: Too loud Practicing in basement

Postby rhythmrhyme » Wed Dec 18, 2013 5:41 pm

I've been using custom fit ER15's for years. Sometimes old school cuban or african players will give me a hard time about it, but I think this feedback is based more on macho bravado, and a bit of ignorance, than the facts. I got into the habit of using hearing protection as a kid when I played kit, they were essential for practicing on a kit and I just used full-on foam "deci-damps" back then.

Playing congas will make my ears ring, no doubt. ER15's provide enough protection while allowing me to hear the subtleties of what I'm playing. Playing with an west african ensemble is even worse - screaming djembe's and pounding dun's will make a person deaf in a hurry! There were times when using the ER15's didn't seem like enough in that setting. Funny thing I found, opening my mouth allows sound in as well - if I'm struggling to hear with plugs in I'll sometimes do this.
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Re: Too loud Practicing in basement

Postby congavalde » Sat Dec 21, 2013 1:41 am

Thanks, I will definitely use some kind of sound blocking device. Will try what I have first (Beats earphones, etc) but if it doesnt do the job, will look into the expensive, custom made stuff.

I am also ordering/looking for some soft towels to put on conga heads while I work on patterns, etc. This was from a book with good tips, so will follow this wisdom.

Also, maybe muffle underneath somehow with towels perhaps to absorb the sound (?) Will experiment.

I wonder if the congueros back in the day eventually had hearing loss, they played outside I believe, which lessens the impact on their eardrums.
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