From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Ergonomics Helps Music But the Players Prove Reluctant

As a general rule, there are three types of ergonomics controls that can be used in order to produce a lower risk of injury for a user: engineering, administrative or behavioral. The ideal is to use engineering controls that design-out the problems in the tools that can lead to injuries, or to make a tool easier to use for the user. But how do you redesign a tool like a musical instrument that has been used in its same state for centuries? Usually you don’t.

Rather than relying on changing the instrument, musicians, who are at risk for a number of injuries associated with their arts, might be taught different playing techniques for reducing injuries or encouraged to modify their practice schedules. Once injuries occur, some big names even opt for surgical solutions, including Willie Nelson and Ringo Starr who both were reported in 2004 to have had surgery on injuries associated with the repetitive nature of their craft.

But some instrument manufacturers have decided to take the more ergonomic approach — fixing the problem with the instrument rather than fixing the problem with the musician. For example, the Kansas City Star reports that Little Guitar Works produces a custom-crafted bass with a twisted neck to keep the musician’s wrist in a more natural position while playing. For pianists, Bluthner makes a grand piano that allows the left-handed musician to play the lead with his or her dominant hand.

Of course, reports the Star, not all musicians are game for these engineering fixes or for altering their playing style, and that reluctance can leave the musician at risk for injury. Alice Brandfonbrener, editor of the journal Medical Problems of Performing Artists, told the Star that, while most musicians treated for instrument-related injuries can recover, a good portion of them simply don’t. “They can’t do the thing they love, and then they get depressed, and when you’re depressed you don’t get better,” Brandfonbrener said.

One of the struggles to get musicians to use modified instruments or adopt modified playing and practice styles is that, in the eyes of a budding rock star, the modifications simply don’t seem or look cool. But some organizations are hoping to change that through education. According to Kris Chesky, director of education and research at the Texas Center for Music & Medicine, a division of the University of North Texas College of Music, one of the current goals of the center is to get injury-related education into every accredited music school. Chesky’s project has received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and the International Foundation for Music Research to assist with the program.

Sources: Kansas City Star; Texas Center for Music and Medicine