Health and Safety for Musicians
The health of students, faculty, and staff at Valparaiso University is central to the longevity of our participation in and enjoyment of music. Musicians have some specialized concerns, especially in the areas of hearing health, musculoskeletal health, vocal health, and psychological health. There is much that an individual can do proactively to promote health and well-being. Below are guidelines pertinent to each of these four essential areas for musicians.
The information provided below is generic and advisory in nature. It is not a substitute for professional, medical judgments or advice. It should not be used as a basis for medical treatment. Any time that you have specific health concerns, consult with a certified or licensed medical or health care professional.
For issues related to physical health, contact the Valparaiso University Student Health Center: valpo.edu/healthcenter
Located in Promenade East building
55 University Drive, Suite 102
Valparaiso, IN 46383
Fax: (219) 464-5410
For issues related to emotional and mental well-being, contact Valparaiso University Counseling Services: valpo.edu/counseling
Located in Alumni Hall (North side of building)
1602 LaPorte Ave.
Valparaiso, IN 46383
Counseling Center (CC)
This document is adapted with permission from materials published by The National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and Performing Arts Medicine Association (PAMA).
As musicians, the health of our hearing is vitally important. Below you will find information and links to documents and resources that provide guidance about the approaches you can take to protect your sense of hearing and address concerns you may encounter with your hearing health.
- Noise-induced hearing loss is generally preventable. You must avoid overexposure to loud sounds, especially for long periods of time. Your hearing can be permanently damaged by loud sounds, including performing music and listening to live and/or recorded music. The risk of hearing loss is based on a combination of sound or loudness intensity and duration.
- Recommended maximum daily exposure times (NIOSH) to sounds at or above 85 dB are as follows:
- 85 dB (vacuum cleaner, MP3 player at 1/3 volume): 8 hours
- 90 dB (blender, hair dryer): 2 hours
- 94 dB (MP3 player at ½ volume): 1 hour
- 100dB (MP3 player at full volume, lawnmower): 15 minutes
- 110 dB (rock concert, power tools): 2 minutes
- 120 dB (jet planes at take-off): without ear protection, sound damage is almost immediate
- The use of earplugs and earmuffs helps to protect your hearing health. An audiologist can fit you for specialized musician earplugs, which may be worn during rehearsals and performance.
- Sound exposure occurs both in and out of school, so you need to take responsibility for caring for your hearing health on a daily basis.
- If you are concerned about your hearing health, talk with a medical professional.
- For more information from NASM-PAMA about hearing health, follow the link below:
The following link provides a more detailed chart with the dB level for many everyday sounds as well as a chart with the dB level for many instruments:
The Oregon Symphony Players Association has a helpful article about hearing health, including a chart with dB levels for a few specific instruments, chamber music, and symphonic concerts:
Maintaining physical health and wellness is important for all musicians. Instrumental musicians, however, are at a higher risk for various physical injuries related to repetitive motion injuries, teeth clenching, raised shoulder, carpal or cubital tunnel syndrome, skin problems, and other problems with muscle, fascia, bones, tendons, joints, ligaments, and nerves.
Risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries can be related not only to environmental aspects (temperature, confined space, equipment) and physical demands (awkward postures, forceful exertion, repetition, long-duration activities, contact stress like sharp edges), but also to personal characteristics of age, gender, physical fitness, nutrition, posture, use of addictive substances, psychological stress, and other diseases or health conditions.
Musculoskeletal health and injury prevention can be achieved by following these steps:
1. Always stretching and warming up before practicing or performing
2. Evaluating your technique with regard to reducing force and tension
3. Using large muscle groups when possible and avoiding fixed positions and postures
4. Taking breaks to stretch and relax. Short breaks should be taken every 10-15 minutes, longer breaks every hour. Two or more shorter rehearsals each day are more productive than marathon single sessions.
5. Even in performance, opportunities can be found to relax a hand or arm and to take a deep breath.
6. Pace yourself. “No pain, no gain” is a potentially catastrophic philosophy for a musician. Know when enough is enough, and learn to say ‘no’ to certain performances or lengths of performing that might result in injury.
7. Pain means stop! Playing through pain can worsen the injury significantly and delay the healing process.
Not only voice majors, but also all music majors and minors use the voice on a regular basis for speaking, singing, and rehearsing in lessons, ensembles, and sight-singing (musicianship) classes. Attention to this vital instrument is essential. Here is some advice for safeguarding your voice:
- Drink plenty of water on a regular basis throughout the day.
- Limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
- Don’t smoke.
- Be aware that some medications, such as allergy pills, may dry out your vocal tissues. Read side effects of your medications and talk to your doctor if you have questions.
- Avoid dry air environments. Consider using a humidifier.
- Avoid yelling or raising your voice unnecessarily.
- Avoid throat clearing and loud coughing.
- Rest your voice, especially if you are sick. Your voice and your body need time to recover.
- Sufficient warm-up of your voice is important. Begin mid-range, and then slowly work outward to vocal pitch extremes.
- Proper alignment, adequate breath support, and correct physical technique are essential.
- Regular break during practice and rehearsal are vital in order to prevent undue physical or vocal stress and strain.
- Avoid sudden increases in practice times. Build up your vocal endurance slowly through a daily practice routine.
Physical and Emotional Well-Being
For optimal performance, musicians must attend to their overall physical and emotional well-being:
- Get adequate rest to minimize fatigue.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a balanced diet. Include vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. Avoid or limit caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
- Maintain body hydration. Drink two quarts of water daily.
- Refrain from hazardous or recreational drug use.
- Make time to connect with friends and family.
- Learn and practice time and stress management techniques.
The following blogs and books contain useful information about and tips for dealing with performance anxiety and the psychological side of music:
- The Musician’s Way by Gerald Klickstein. Written in an accessible, conversational style, the book also features excellent sections on how to practice, overall health, and avoiding injuries.
- The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. In addition to discussing how the mind works and why we get nervous, Gallwey offers suggestions for how to deal with that nervousness, overcome it, and perform at your highest level.
- Audition Success by Don Greene. Greene chronicles the story of two musicians as they learn to prepare for important auditions. This book gives musicians a concrete set of skills to achieve the concentrated focus needed to be successful in this type of high-pressure performance situation.
- The Bulletproof Musician Blog – bulletproofmusician.com/blog
- The Musician’s Way Blog – musiciansway.com/blog
- Fearless Performance Blog (Jeff Nelsen) – jeffnelsen.com/blogs/fearless-conversations