There’re a lot of factors that’ll affect how loud a drum kit is.
So, how many dB can a drum kit hit, and how loud are drums really? On average, an acoustic drumkit can reach between 90dB to 130dB, on a sound meter at drummer’s ears levels.
According to the OSHA and American Academy of Audiology, noise levels above 85 dB are dangerous over 30 minutes of constant exposure and noise levels above 120 dB are dangerous over 30 seconds.
Drummers should always be wearing hearing protection when you are playing. Here’s a guide on how to choose one suitable for your drumming environment.
For parents looking to protect their young children who are about to embark on drumming, read this buyer’s guide to the best ear protection for young drummers.
I cover more about how loud drumkits are (in dB) below:
How loud are individual drum components?
As arranged by noise levels taken at ‘drummer’s ears level’ (i.e. what you’ll experience, if you’re drumming without any hearing protection):
|Drum Kit Component||(average) Noise Level (dB)|
|Snare Drums||105 dB|
|Bass Drums||105 dB|
|Ride Cymbal||105 dB|
|Crash Cymbal||110 dB|
|Hi Hat||117 dB|
|Snare Drums (rim shot)||120 dB|
|Level at which hearing can be damaged||85 dB|
Do note that these numbers are averages and should be used as a guide. There are many factors that’ll affect how loud your drum kit really is – size of your drum shell size, diameter of your cymbals, sound absorption capability of your surroundings, whether you’re using drum mutes or low volume cymbals, how hard you’re drumming, etc.
Here’s a comparison of different snare drums to give you an idea of the range we’re dealing with:
You can download a free noise meter on your phone from NIOSH (iPhone) or search for the DecibelX app to get a better rating of your set up.
How loud are normal activities?
As a gauge, here’s how loud other ‘regular’ activities are:
|‘Regular’ Activity||Noise level (dB)|
|Rustling Leaves||20 dB|
|Quiet Library||40 dB|
|Normal conversation||60 dB|
|Vacuum Cleaner||70 dB|
|Alarm Clock||80 dB|
|Hair Dryer, Blenders, Power Tools||90 dB|
|Rock concerts||115 dB|
|Jet Planes at take off||120 dB|
|Fireworks, Gunshots||140 dB|
Impact of loud music on hearing
Don’t get me wrong, I love music. It allows us to express ourselves beyond words and gives us an opportunity to spread emotional messages that could potentially last forever.
That said, loud music no matter how enjoyable can damage our hearing.
According to the OSHA and American Academy of Audiology, exposure to noise levels above 85 dB for over 30 minutes of constant exposure can cause damage to your hearing. The average rock concert is about 115 dB, and hearing damage starts with over 3 minutes of exposure.
Noise levels above 120 dB are dangerous over 30 seconds. And you may experience pain at 125 db.
Can drums make you deaf?
As mentioned in the intro, an acoustic drumkit can reach between 90dB to 130dB (on average), on a sound meter at drummer’s ears levels.
Long term direct exposures to drums can lead to permanent noise induced hearing loss. I don’t wish to ever lose my ability to enjoy drumming and music. And I hope you don’t either.
According to the CDC, some symptoms of hearing loss include:
- tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- hypersensitivity to certain sounds (eg. feeling pain when you hear certain sounds)
- sounds start to be muffled
- difficulty or increasing inability to hear high frequency sounds
Get your hearing screened or arrange for a checkup with a professional healthcare provider if you suspect you might be suffering from noise induced hearing loss.
What it feels like to slowly lose your hearing…
As drummers (and percussionists), we are constantly exposed to unhealthy levels of sounds. Long term exposure to high decibels of sounds can lead to noise induced hearing loss.
If you’ve ever experienced ringing in your ears after a session or muted hearing after a live performance, you probably have experienced some form of temporary hearing loss.
Such experiences may have gave you the false impression that your ears would always be able to recover. Unfortunately, that’s not true. At high enough sound levels, you may never recover from hearing loss!
Famous musicians like Lars Ulrich (Metallica), Chris Martin (Coldplay), Eric Clapton (inductee in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) and Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath) suffer from varying levels of hearing loss due to their exposure of excessive decibels in their careers.
If you can’t imagine now being able to hear, drum and jam, watch this:
Why drummers should protect their hearing?
If you want a long career in drumming, or want to always be able to enjoy music, protect your ears. Although most musicians seem aware of the impact of loud music on their hearing, a good 79.4% don’t seem to be aware of hearing protection devices.
You should always have hearing protection on when you’re drumming, especially if you are on the set for 30 minutes or more in a single session. If you’re looking for a place to start, here’s my guide on how to choose suitable hearing protection devices.
A simple, no frills pair of foam earplugs could already provide a good level of hearing protection.
I personally use the Etymotic Research ER20 XS which are relatively affordable and easy to carry around. But there are many options out there. Pro drummers like Lars Ulrich who suffer from tinnitus are strong proponents of hearing protection too.
How to reduce loudness of your drums
If you’re here because of complains from your neighbors, read our guide on how to muffle your drums for practice. A quick and easy method would be to look for drum and cymbal mutes. But we provided 10 solutions (in our guide) to reducing the loudness of your drums which could help improve ties with your neighbours.
*I’ve found this to be especially important if you’re still stuck in lockdown. Staying at home makes people grumpy and folks tend to get ticked off when we practice our drumming.
What is decibel (dB)?
Decibel is the measure of sound intensity, it measures the amplitude of sound (aka how loud a sound is).
In the sound space, decibel is a logarithmic unit – i.e. the decibel scale doesn’t increase in a straight line.
For example, 60 dB is not twice as loud as 30 dB. Instead, a 10dB increase is about twice as loud. This means that 60dB is about 2x2x2 (add 3x10dB) = 8 times as loud.
If you want to learn more about the science and math behind calculating sound in decibel, read this.
An acoustic drum kit will hit between 90dB to 130dB on a sound meter. This is above the suggested safe level of 85 dB, and 30 minutes of constant exposure may lead to permanent hearing loss.
If you’re practicing on an acoustic drum kit, or performing with a live band, do protect your hearing with a hearing protection device. A no frills high fidelity earplugs won’t damage your wallet, have a pair on hand whenever you’re drumming.
To learn more about noise induced hearing loss, read these: