From the Mailbag: 'Bonk' Sounds And Hearing Protection

This week we dip into the Mailbag and answer a few popular questions. 

Part 1

First up, some one is concerned that, My hard mallets make a bonk sound when I hit the Gong.

By 'bonk', I take it to mean they can hear the mallet striking the Gong. This is certainly a common thing when using harder mallets. There's often a contact sound we can hear when being right in front of the Gong. It can seem loud, but that's because we are inches away from it. These type of sounds tend to disperse quickly and are rarely audible a few feet away [an exception would be very hard rubber mallets or wooden sticks]. 

I record all of my gigs/sessions and have never really heard a bonk sound from any of my mallets on the recordings.

Another aspect of this is, what if the harder mallet that makes a bonk sound also makes the sound that you want? By switching to a softer mallet, you may not get the sound that you are after. 

Part 2

Another person asks, Do you use hearing protection when you play?

That's a great question. I'm a big advocate of using hearing protection, as years ago when I was playing in hard rock and prog bands with massive amplifier rigs, no one ever thought of protecting their ears. As a result, I have tinnitus, a continual ringing in my ears. I wish we had known enough to protect our ears back then.

Currently, I use hearing protection when rehearsing/practicing drums and drum set, or when gigging out in a band. I have various types depending on the situation: over the ear headphone style, and in ear plug style.

When playing a Gong Meditation Session, I don't usually wear any sort of protection, as I don't play that loudly [not like playing on a drum set!]. Nothing I play is as percussive as, say, hitting a snare drum rim shot, or crashing a cymbal. 

I rarely play amplified, and if I do and need monitor speakers, I prefer to not have them blasting away [I tend to use ear protection in amplified situations]. Most of the gigs I play are acoustic, so I control my own stage volume. I also adjust for the size of the venue. If I'm playing a very small space, I play much quieter than I would in a larger space.

That said, I always bring hearing protection to concerts I go too, especially ones that I know will be loud [I wouldn't have made it through TOOL without my ear plugs]. I also make it a point to use them when running the lawnmower, using power tools, or in other loud sound situations I find myself in. It's amazing how everyday situations can be extremely damaging to your hearing.

You only get 1 set of ears. When in doubt, use some set of hearing protection.

Addendum 2/21/2020: In a case of synchronicity, someone posted this on Facebook the day after I posted this blog:

“I have a 38” Paiste Symphonic gong, which I absolutely love, if I play for longer than 20min I tend to struggle with ear pain.I don’t play the gong very loudly at all, lots of gentle sweeping strokes usually. Is it just me? Am I doing something very wrong?” 

My response is: 

This is very unusual. I have played Gongs for over 40 years with no sort of ear pain. I only use ear protection if I’m in an amplified situation and the volume becomes consistently LOUD.

It's usually not the Gong that is the problem. Some people are just more sensitive to different types of sounds. They may also be more sensitive to specific frequencies or specific Gongs. It might also have something to due with the specific room the Gong is being played in. The space may have some sort of ‘resonant frequency’ that the Gong is hitting, and this frequency is magnified. I would suggest trying the Gong is a different room/s to see if they get the same problem.

I would suggest the OP try using a different type/size of Gong to see if that has the same affect. If it does, I would perhaps consult with an ear specialist to see if something else if going on with their ears.

~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry Water /Play Gongs™

Over the past 9 years and 3 different blogs, I've written almost 500 blog posts. That's a lot of my time and energy devoted to putting my thoughts and ideas out there on the internet for you to read. If you've enjoyed reading them, and have gotten value out of them, please consider a donation. You'll be helping me keep writing for hopefully another 9 years. Thank You ~ MB.


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