Why Drummers Use Headphones

Have you ever seen a band live or in the studio and noticed that the drummer was wearing headphones? All band members may wear headphones at some point or another, but drummers are way more likely to wear them than other musicians. This begs the question, why do drummers wear headphones?

Drummers wear headphones for a variety of reasons. They may be using them to hear a click track; they may be using them to listen to a mix of the instruments during a live performance or use them to protect their hearing. While these are some of the common reasons a drummer wears headphones, there are various others.

Read on to solve the mystery of why drummers wear headphones.

Why Drummers Use Headphones: To Listen to a Click Track

The drummer is responsible for keeping the entire band on time. Drumming on time is not easy to do, especially during live performances where there is a lot of adrenaline, making everyone wanting to speed up a bit.

That’s where a click track comes in handy.

A click track can be a metronome, or there may be other instruments on the music to provide some guidance. Its purpose is to give drummers a template to play along with to keep them on time. The clicks are fed through the headphones so the audience cannot hear them.

In today’s music world, when everything needs to be perfect, most professional drummers play with a click. However, this is not always possible in the chaos of live music.

Why Drummers Use Headphones: To Hear the Live Mix

Drummers play on a loud kit where there is a lot of noise and cymbal wash. These loud kits make it challenging to hear their fellow musicians.

In some instances, headphones send a mix of the other instruments straight to the drummer’s ears. This way, they can make sure everyone is on the same page and can take instrumental cues if they need them.

Why Drummers Use Headphones: To Protect Hearing

All musicians should be using some hearing protection when they are on stage.

While earplugs are effective in minimizing noise, headphones can absorb even more sound. They are also more likely to stay in place during vigorous drumming activity.

A good pair of headphones will also block out high-frequency sounds, so they protect the drummer’s hearing without eliminating sounds they need to hear. Cheap foam earplugs can also accomplish hearing protection.

Why Drummers Use Headphones: During an Audio Recording

All musicians use headphones during an audio recording, and drummers are no exception.

Drummers use headphones during recording for a variety of reasons. These are as follows:

Click Track

While drummers need to stay on time during a live performance, it’s even more critical during a studio performance.

When you’re in a live setting, music played at an accelerated speed may not be that noticeable. But once it’s down as a recording where people concentrate on the music, timing discrepancies become more apparent.

And if bands are looking to shop their recordings or make them available for public consumption, obvious timing mistakes will be a lot more detrimental.

Getting a Live Mix

If drummers record tracks live, meaning if they are playing along with their bandmates while recording, they will want to hear a mix in their headphones during the process. Listening to the mix allows them to listen to the music in real-time. As timekeepers, this will enable them to stay focused on the music.

Listening Back to Tracks

Drummers will also use headphones to listen back to tracks and see how they sound. While tracks can be played through speakers to everyone in the room, listening through headphones provides a different perspective on the sound allowing for more focus.

A drummer will want to use headphones to listen back to their tracks to make sure they sound okay before moving on to the next.

Mixing and Mastering

After musicians finish the recording, it goes through a mixing and mastering process.

Mixing involves getting all the instruments in a song sounding good and level with one another. Mastering is the process of getting the entire album cohesive, so all pieces are at an even volume with one another, and there is a fair amount of buffer between songs.

Find out more about mixing and mastering by reading this article.

The band members typically have a lot of input during the mixing process. It will be up to them to suggest effects that can be added post-recording and make sure all the instruments are even level.

During the mixing process, bandmates will be listening through speakers and through headphones to get different takes on the mix to make sure they sound good.

After completing the mixing process, the engineer masters it. The band may not be present during this process, but they will want to listen before the music is released. Musicians should do this final listen via headphones and through speakers.

For instance, my band likes to listen to our music through headphones, computer speakers, and car speakers before giving it final approval.

What to Look for in a Pair of Headphones

If you’re a drummer, a pair of headphones will be as essential as your drumsticks. With that in mind, here are some things you will want to look for when picking out a pair that’s right for you.

Type of Headphone

The three main types of headphones are as follows:

  • Over-Ear: These are the most common type of headphones. These headphones envelop your ear in sound without letting ambient noise get in. This style is best for noise cancellation.
  • On-Ear: These are lighter and less bulky than over-ear headphones, but they do not cancel out ambient sound.
  • In-Ear: These go directly into the ear. Musicians can only use them for listening to music or clicks and are not useful for noise cancellation. Of all three models, they will let in the most ambient sound.

Closed or Open Back

The “back type” refers to the casings around the earmuffs. Some cases are concrete, while some have vents.

Closed-back headphones have no vents and are ideal for bringing in sound while shutting out the outside world. They are also great for noise cancellation.

Open-back headphones have vents that let air in and out provide a more spacious sound that some prefer because it is more natural.

Wired or Wireless

It is obvious why people may prefer wireless headphones. They provide more freedom of movement, making them a must for drummers playing live on stage.

Wired headphones, on the other hand, provide better sound quality. That’s why they are preferable in a recording studio setting.


Now that we have solved the great mystery of why drummers wear headphones, here are some other drummer-related FAQs and answers that may satisfy your curiosity.

Why do drummers sit behind plexiglass?

Check out the video here to see when plexiglass does not work as it’s intended.

In some venues, you may see the drummer playing surrounded by plexiglass. The plexiglass contains and reflects the sound of the drums. That way, the sound will get to the audience as reflected sound rather than the direct sound.

Essentially, it turns the volume down on the drums when no volume knob is available.

Plexi-glass is better in smaller venues and areas where there are sound restrictions. It helps reduce noise to provide more balance among the instruments….and so as not to disturb the neighbors!

Why do drummers wear wristbands?

While all musicians are prone to carpal tunnel syndrome and other hand and wrist-related problems, this is most likely for drummers.

With all the vigorous activity, the movement can take its toll on a drummer’s hands. The vibration that occurs when a drummer hits their drums and cymbals travels up the nerve endings in the hands, wrists, and forearms, causing them to stretch out of shape.

Wristbands work to absorb vibration and compress the wrists to keep the nerves and tendons from getting strained.

Why do drummers cross their hands while playing?

 When you watch a drummer play, you will see them switch from an open-handed playing style to a cross-handed playing style.

Drummers will cross hands to allow them to play different drums and cymbals more comfortably. This position usually occurs when they play the hi-hat.

The hi-hat has a pedal at the bottom and can hit the top as a regular cymbal. It is typically placed on the drummer’s left side to allow the drummer to play the bass drum with their right foot and control the hi-hat pedal with their left foot.

Because drummers typically lead with their right hands, they will want to cross arms to play the top of the hi-hat with their right hand and the snare, located in the middle of the set, with their left.

Of course, this can vary depending on how the drummer feels most comfortable and whether the drummer is right-handed or left-handed. But when you see a drummer cross hands, it is typically for this reason.

Marissa Bergen

Marissa Bergen is a freelance writer from Los Angeles, CA. Passionate about everything from fashion to natural wellness, she especially enjoys writing about music and musical entertainment. When she is not busy writing, you can find her playing bass with her punk rock family band The CheeseBergens.

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