By Charlie Doom

Right now sound waves are crashing against your eardrum. The small bones of your inner ear — the malleus, incus and stapes — begin to buzz, causing the fluid membranes of the cochlea nerve to quiver. This thrills the hair bundles of stereocilia to send signals to your brain which, playing a game of connect-the-dots with your memories, perceptions and environment, translates that jiggling cochlea jelly into information.

Information about who and what is in your surroundings, and where.

These evolutionary inner-ear capabilities helped your stone-age ancestors save their hairy asses from being eaten. And, incidentally, they are the same capabilities that still help your hairy ass from being run over by a bus.

The information we receive from sound is one of the most important tools in our biological toolbox. Sound helps you orient yourself in a crowded room, distinguish the difference between good tone and bad tone (very important) and “see” things that are out of view.

For instance, I hear a G chord being played on an acoustic guitar three cubicles back and to the right of me. I don’t even have to look to know where or what the sound is coming from because at some point in my life I learned what an acoustic guitar sounds like and, more specifically, what a G chord sounds like. My familiarity with the surroundings (a.k.a. spatial awareness) helped me instantly figure out that my co-worker, Eric, sits three cubicles back and to the right of me and that he is known to strum on the Boulder Creek acoustic guitar at his desk while checking out some of our acoustic guitar lessons.

All of this information was received, relayed and organized in less than 1 second and without much conscious thought on my part.

Protect Your HearingThe most interesting aspect of the scenario is that the only sensory input I received was auditory, yet I was able to figure out exactly what, from whom and where the sound was coming from. I got all of that information from a little piece of greasy flesh called The Ear. Oh, and his guitar is black.

Take some time and think about what you’re really hearing and what is taking place the next time you’re writing a tune or even sitting in silence. It won’t take you long to realize how much more there is to sound than just what you’re hearing. After all, there’s a reason why music can stir your emotions, why an alarm makes you nervous and why the sound of a cranked Marshall fueled the conception of an entire generation.

Above all else, if you’re going to use your ears make sure you’re taking all the necessary precautions to protect them – especially us guitarists. We’re prone to hearing loss and a life-long case of chronic, amp-at-eleven induced tinnitus is enough to make you go mad — literally.

Hearing is one of your most valuable assets and once it’s gone, it don’t ever come back.

5 Ways to Protect Your Hearing:

1. Listen to your iPod at 50% volume.
Keeping your music levels at 50% in your headphones, earbuds or monitors is an easy way to keep your ears safe. Anything over 100dBs for more than 15 minutes is a surefire way to do some potentially permanent damage.

2. Wear ear plugs when you’re jamming with the band.
We all know how good it feels to hear the thunder of your amp and the crash of the cymbals, but how good will it feel when you can’t get to sleep because of the constant ringing in your ears? Tinnitus doesn’t go away. A pair of good earplugs can make sure it never arrives.

3. Keep your windows rolled up when driving at high speeds.
Sounds simple enough, except when you don’t have air conditioning. Just because it’s wind doesn’t mean it won’t blow your hearing to smithereens.

4. Have “Quiet Breaks”
When you’re listening to music or jamming out at loud levels, take a quiet break every 15 minutes or so. This allows your ears some much needed rest and ensures that you don’t run into the danger zone (see Tip #1).

5. Don’t Stand So Close to your on-stage monitor or amp
Just ask Pete Townsend or Jeff Beck what happens when you don’t heed this tip….

Famous Guitarists With Permanent Hearing Damage:

This list would contain almost every guitarist you can name, but here are a few that really stand out. Click on the thumbnails to read their stories.

Eric JohnsonJeff Beck
Kevin ShieldsPete Townshend

How Good is Your Hearing?

The last time we got our hearing checked was by the school nurse. That’s not good. Take The Punch-In’s (non-scientific) Guitarist’s Hearing Test and see how well you score!

For more information on your amazing sense of hearing check out this article’s references:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (1997-2010)
(n.d.) How Hearing and Balance Work

World Health Organization (2010)
(n.d.) Facts About Deafness

American Tinnitus Association (2010)
(n.d.) ATA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions

House Ear Institute (1946–2010)
(n.d.) Protect Your Hearing Health

Squidoo (2010)
(n.d.) How Not To Listen To Your MP3 Player! : Author, Speechsrl