From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Ergonomics Resources for Musicians

Ergonomics, for me, is an obsession. It is more than work, career, hobby, and interest together. I warn any of you out there choosing to make ergonomics your life work that you will not even be able to enjoy a simple Christmas concert without thinking ‘ergonomics’.

For example, Peter Budnick (President, CEO, and Ergonomist here at Ergoweb) and I went out with our spouses for an evening promising to be filled with holiday cheer good music. A group called ‘Cherish the Ladies’ was playing a delightful selection of traditional Celtic music and classical holiday songs. At an intermission Peter and I both made some comments about the quality of the show, but it was quickly apparent what we were really focused on:

Rachel: “Hey Peter, good show huh. Did you happen to notice the wrist position of the woman playing the drums? It was in constant and extreme flexion. I was thinking that incorporating a strap that would go over the back of the hand might help this.”

Peter: “Yeah, I saw that. Did you notice the accordion player? She is holding the accordion off to the one side. I have already thought of a design for a stand that could be used so that she didn’t have to counter balance the weight of the instrument.”

Rachel: “Good idea, do you think there’s much of a market for ergonomic accordion stands? I’m still not exactly sure what an accordion is!! But what about chairs. Did you notice that the one player had the chair switched in the middle of the piece and she put a towel down on it. I bet they don’t travel with their own, we should design an adjustable sit/stand with a special travel case.”

At this point, our spouses have rolled their eyes in disgust and are carrying on a completely different conversation. We managed to end the evening with thoughts for new drum sticks, cut out violins, watchless musicians (we’d hate the watch bands to further constrict the wrist–they’ll just have to figure out some other way to tell time), and 1 accordion stand.

The fact is, this is a real issue. Many instruments require what we think of as awkward postures to play. Considering that it takes hours of practice in these positions, it is not surprising to learn that many musicians suffer from the same types of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that are seen in workers on assembly lines. Sadly, these injuries have forced some very talented people to stop playing instruments.

The problem with awkward postures in musicians is that often the postures are a result of the instrument design. It is unlikely that a drastic change in the shape and design of the violin will come about as a direct result of awkward postures. In this case, it is often a matter of technique and training that may help keep musicians playing.

There are many books and journal articles that have been written about different techniques and postures that may be used to play instruments like the violin, guitar, piano, cello, and sax. Also available to musicians are products claiming to help avoid awkward postures such as specialized chairs or straps.

Here are a few resources for more information:

Musicians and Injuries

The Performing Arts Medicine Association

Journal of Hand Therapy, Vol.5/No.2, April/June 1992. Special Issue -Musicians’ Injuries

Fry, HJ. 1986. Overuse syndrome in musicians: prevention and management. Lancet 2: 728-731

Lederman RJ, Calabrese LH (1986). Oversue syndromes in instrumentalists. Med
Probl Perform Art 1:7-11

Markison, RE (1990). Treatment of musical hands: Redesign of the interface.
Hand Clinics, 6(3) 525-544

Quarrier, Nicholas. June 1997. “The Biomechanical Examination of a Musician with a Performance-Related Injury”. Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Clinics of North America, Volume 6, Number 2, p. 145-158

A. Samama, (1981), “Muscle control for musicians”, (Bohn, Scheltema and Holkema; Utrecht), p 1.

The musician’s survival manual : a guide to preventing and treating injuries in instrumentalists / by Richard Norris ; edited by Deborah Torch.
[S.l.] : International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, c1993. ISBN: 0918812747

In closing, I must say that despite our attention to posture and force, “Cherish the Ladies” is an extremely talented group who gave a very enjoyable performance, and I hope that the risk factors of their occupation will never force them to stop delighting audiences with their sound.