Why Do Singers Cover One Ear When They Sing?

Have you ever wondered why singers sometimes cover one ear when they sing?

Well, you’re not alone.

Singers covering one of their ears during a performance can seem perplexing to a non-muso. However, there are actually several reasons why a singer would do this:

Singers sometimes cover one ear to either hear themselves in a noisy environment, focus on their pitch or compensate for equipment failure. They’ll usually cover their right ear, as the left ear is more-attuned to the sound of music.

In this article, we’re taking a deep dive into each of the reasons listed above, providing a complete account of why (and when) singers would cover one of their ears during a performance.

Let’s dive in!

To Hear Themselves 

Singers use this technique to hear their own voices during performances. 

It’s extremely hard to even hear yourself even talk (let alone sing) when you have a full band playing behind you. 

Just imagine how distracting it can be when you’re at a concert or in a nightclub and attempt to hold a conversation with someone; this is the same dilemma that singers face on stage. 

Singers Will Use This Reason When:

1. There are no monitoring systems available

Many singers will make use of monitoring systems (such as in-ear monitors) to hear their own voice when performing.

However, monitoring systems aren’t always practical in certain situations (such as busking or playing in a small venue).

In this scenario, they’ll use the ‘cover one ear’ technique.

2. They’re in a noisy venue

Singers might also have an issue hearing themselves when they are in front of a large crowd. If you’re performing in front of a crowd, you’ll hear a lot of noise coming from in front of you.

However, even if a singer is using wedge-style monitors, it can still be difficult to hear themselves with a band behind them and a rowdy crowd in front of them.

3. They’re duetting with another singer

This technique is often used in smaller venues when two singers are duetting.

Again, the other singer’s voice might be too distracting or too loud, so covering one ear can help the performer hear their own voice. 

Band member preparing to perform

To Focus On Their Pitch

This point goes hand-in-hand with the previous one.

One of the key reasons why singers need to hear themselves is to make sure they’re hitting the right notes. 

Going back to our example on duets, It’s really important to make sure you’re hitting the right notes in a duo (otherwise, the harmonies will clash and result in a less-than-ideal performance).

Therefore, covering one ear can help a singer better-differentiate their own voice and hone in on their pitch.

Bonus Reason!

Singers will also use this approach to hear a “dry” version of their voice when using an earpiece.

This is where they’ll place an earpiece in one ear (which plays a pre-recorded track) and use the other ear to listen to their singing voice. This allows them to sing along to the track, but still hear their voice clearly.

This approach is most-often used in the recording studio.

Singers Will Use This Reason When:

1. They’re recording a new track

As mentioned above, singers will often use this reason to hear their voice clearly when recording a new song in the studio.

2. They’re singing in a group

From a duo to a choir, singers need to be able to hear their own voice and differentiate their own pitch from that of others in the group. 

3. They’re practicing

A singer might be looking to expand their range, or just train their ears to hear their pitch better.

The best technique for this is to cover one ear. This way, they can develop their ears to hone in on their exact pitch over time.

Equipment Failure

As you might know from our guide on why singers wear earpieces, in-ear monitoring systems allow singers to hear a customized version of the live mix.

For example, they might ask their sound guy to only let them hear their own voice and maybe one other instrument, like a soft guitar or a piano (whereas the audience hears the full band). 

Singers Will Use This Reason When:

1. Their in-ear monitoring system fails

When a set of in-ears fail on stage, singers will revert to the olden days of covering one ear.

This will allow the show to go on uninterrupted, without having to deal with the technology failure straight away. 

A live situation where it was noticeable that an earpiece stopped working completely is when Beyoncé performed at the Presidential Inauguration. She took out her earpiece in the middle of her performance because the earpiece failed, and she couldn’t hear everything properly:

2. The in-ear monitor mix is poor

Occasionally, a sound engineer will get the singer’s in-ear monitor mix wrong (meaning they can’t hear what they want to hear in their earpiece).

This commonly occurs when:

  • The monitor mix was set up in a hurry during soundcheck
  • The singer hasn’t had a chance to soundcheck and/or customize their monitor mix (such as at a festival)

If the monitor mix is way off, a singer will usually just take their earpieces out and resort to the ‘cover one ear’ technique rather than halting the performance to adjust the monitor mix.

3. The microphone fails

Now, most of the time singers would just stop performing until the microphone is working again. 

However, if it’s a small performance (such as a quiet bar gig), singers might want to go acapella and finish their song.

When doing this, they’ll enlist the trusty technique of covering one of their ears. 

male singer performing on dimly-lit stage

Which Ear Should Singers Cover When Singing?

Singers should cover their right ear when singing.

Interestingly enough, the left and right ears have unique advantages over one another. The right ear is better at hearing human speech, whereas the left ear is more susceptible to music and singing. 

There was an actual study carried out, where researchers tested the hearing of newborn babies:

Before this study, it was assumed that both the right and left are equal, like they hear the same things the same way. However, the outcome shocked everyone and now, singers can train better knowing the left ear is more sensitive to singing than the right. 

Wrapping Up

As covered in this article, there are several unique reasons why singers cover one ear when singing. We hope this article has provided a snapshot into the incredible detail that goes into a live performance.

If you’d like to learn more about how singers approach a performance, why not check out some of our other guides next?

About Author

I'm George; the founder of Indie Panda. I'm passionate about helping independent musicians realize the full potential of their talents and abilities through a strong work ethic, coherent project identity and a strong logistical foundation.