Health and Wellness for Musicians
Students participating in music classes, music ensembles and applied lessons, as well as faculty and staff within the music department, should be aware of the potential for bodily injury when listening, rehearsing, and performing music. Practicing good auditory health and musculoskeletal health are essential for maintaining an active and effective career in music. Students and faculty should review the following for information on mental, auditory and musculoskeletal health. Additionally, music students and faculty are encouraged to wear hearing protection in all rehearsals, applied lessons, and concerts.
The following information provides a brief overview to aspects of health and wellness for musicians. This information is not intended as a substitute for the expertise that health care professionals can provide. Students and faculty who may have concerns about their health should seek professional advice.
Partnerships between local health care professionals and the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts:
Richard W. Harrell, Ph.D.
President, The Hearing Clinic, Inc.
Lisa Broyden, MS, O.T.
Arts Medicine Focus: Therapy for Musician Related issues
See link below for a slideshow presentation from Lisa Broyden's 2016 Convocation Presentation:
Music Department Faculty Advisors for Health and Wellness:
Annie Stevens, Assistant Professor of Percussion
Brian Thorsett, Assistant Professor of Voice
Jon Caldwell, Visiting Assistant Professor of Music; Conductor of the Wind Ensemble
Ico Bukvic, Associate Professor, Composition and Multimedia
Hearing can be affected by more than just the loudness of sounds (decibels), but also the prolongation to sounds. Musicians should be aware of the decibel level of the sounds they are listening to as they rehearse or perform. Earplugs or earmuffs are recommended, especially in large ensemble rehearsals where decibel levels are extremely high. The following chart shows the decibel level of musical instruments. It should be noted that regular sustained exposure to dB levels over 90 may cause permanent hearing loss.
Sound/Noise Level (dB)
Normal piano practice--60-70
Fortissimo singer 3 feet away--70
Chamber music in small auditorium--75-85
Timpani & bass drum rolls--106
Symphonic music peak--120-137
Amplified rock music at 4-6 feet away--120
Rock music peak--150
What happens if musicians ignore the need for hearing protection?
Tinnitus affects millions of people and noise exposure is the number one cause. Tinnitus results in perceived sounds generated by the brain or central nervous system. For an example of these sounds, visit the American Tinnitus Association: https://www.ata.org/understanding-facts/symptoms
What can you do?
- Simple – turn it to the left
- Wear musician’s ear plugs
- Flat frequency response
- Reduction of up to 25 dB
- Wear standard hearing protection during any activity where you have to raise your voice to communicate
Professional hearing protection is recommended and an appointment can be set-up with the local Blacksburg audiologist, Dr. Richard Harrell. Dr. Harrell has fit custom earplugs for several Virginia Tech faculty and students.
For further information on auditory health, the following links are recommended:
- Oregon Symphony Players Association--www.concertgoersguide.org/backstage/noises.php
- Basic Information on Hearing Health- NASM--http://nasm.arts-accredit.org/site/docs/PAMA-NASM_Advisories/2_NASM_PAMA-Faculty_and_Staff_2011Nov.pdf
- Music students are required to stage manage and usher music concerts. Students who are able are asked to move pianos on stage, as well as percussion equipment, music stands, and chairs. The following guidelines should be adhered to when moving equipment.
- Stage Managers should take care when moving the piano. Always move the piano with the cover ON. Make sure the cover is never placed on the floor and never move the piano with the lid in the open position.
- Two people should always be present when moving the piano.
- Never carry heavy or awkward equipment alone; ask for assistance.
- When carrying multiple chairs (or other heavy equipment), lift from the knees, not the back.
Vocal Health and Awareness
Breathing is the life-blood of music making; vocal health is therefore an important aspect for all musicians, singers and non-singers alike. Understanding basic care of the voice is essential for musicians who speak, sing, and rehearse or teach others. Please refer to the NASM-ASM Student Information Sheet for suggestions on maintaining vocal health and establishing good practice habits.
For the singer, the body is the instrument; for instrumentalists, it is an extension; and for teaching artists it is the primary tool of communication. Thus, it is important musicians take great care in the warming up of their body. Here are some things to investigate and incorporate:
- Allow ample time to stretch and tap into proper posture for handling your instrument.
- Allow time for breaks to rest your voice, stretch again and check in with your posture.
- Keep a watch on the clock so you do not over practice or stress your muscles. Setting a reasonable limit to the amount of practice time you can maintain. Do avoid drastic changes in the amount of practice time.
- Avoided taxing use of the voice including shouting, screaming and talking in loud environments.
- It is important to maintain hydration while using the voice and body. Limit use of alcohol and avoid smoking.
- If you have any voice and/or body related health concerns, consult a medical professional.
As always, your voice mentor is a good resource for helping you set some of the above boundaries and establishing good habits.https://nasm.arts-accredit.org/publications/brochures-advisories/nasm-pama-hearing-health/
Taking Care of Your Thumbs: https://carilionclinicliving.com/care/hand-therapy-specialized-ot-tune-patients
Book: "Playing (less) Hurt" (An Injury Prevention Guide for Musicians by Janet Horvath)
This book is a readable and comprehensive reference work that addresses this need with specific tools to avoid and alleviate injury.
The Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA) is an organization comprised of dedicated medical professionals, artists educators, and administrators with the common goal of improving the health care of the performing artist. The Performing Arts Medicine Association was founded in 1989. Members join from around the world.
The nerves in your arms and legs can move and stretch. Nerves can become injured just like muscles and tendons. Scar tissue can build up and trap the nerves. This can lead to chronic inflammation and pain. To get the nerves moving again, you can do special stretches called neural glides (also called neural flossing or nerve stretching). Watch on Youtube Now.