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Northwest Missouri State University


Vocal Class (Photo by University Photography)

Health and Safety for Musicians

The following information is based on documents provided by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) with the Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA).  As a member of NASM, the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Northwest Missouri State University is concerned that all students in music classes, regardless of their major or performance area, practice healthy habits when using their hearing, vocal, and neuromuscular physiology.

Disclaimer: The information presented here is generic and advisory in nature. It is not a substitute for professional, medical judgments and should not be used as a basis for medical treatment. If you are concerned about your health, or think you may have suffered injury, you should consult a licensed medical professional.


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Hearing Health

Hearing health is essential to your lifelong success as a musician. Your hearing can be permanently damaged by loud sounds, including music. Technically, this is called Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL). Such danger is constant.

Noise-induced hearing loss is generally preventable, but you must avoid over exposure to loud sounds, especially for long periods of time. The closer you are to the source of a loud sound, the greater the risk of damage to your hearing mechanisms. Sounds over 85 decibels, about the level of a typical vacuum cleaner in intensity, pose the greatest risk to your hearing. Risk of hearing loss is based on a combination of sound or loudness intensity and duration.

According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, recommended maximum daily exposure times 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 1/2 volume) – 1 hour
  • 100 dB (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

Certain behaviors such as controlling volume levels in practice and rehearsal, avoiding noisy environments, using of earplugs and earmuffs, and turning down the volume can reduce your risk of hearing loss. The use of earplugs and earmuffs helps to protect your hearing health.  Maintain healthy habits; safeguard your physical and mental health.

Day-to-day decisions can impact your hearing health, both now and in the future. Since sound exposure occurs in and out of school, you also need to take care of your own hearing health on a daily, even hourly basis. It is important to follow basic hearing health guidelines and to study this issue to learn more. If you are concerned about your personal hearing health, talk with a medical professional. If you are concerned about your hearing health in your music classes, consult your instructor or the chair of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts.

Vocal Health

Vocal health is important for all musicians and essential to lifelong success for singers. Understanding basic care of the voice is essential for musicians who speak, sing, and rehearse or teach others. Practicing, rehearsing, and performing music is physically demanding, and so musicians are susceptible to numerous vocal disorders.

Many vocal disorders and conditions are preventable and/or treatable.  Sufficient warm-up time is important.

  • Begin warming up mid-range, and then slowly work outward to vocal pitch extremes.
  • Good posture, adequate breath support, and correct physical technique are also are essential.
  • Regular breaks during practice and rehearsal are vital in order to prevent undue physical or vocal stress and strain.
  • It is important to set a reasonable limit on the amount of time that you will practice in a day.
  • Avoid sudden increases in practice times.
  • Know your voice and its limits, and avoid overdoing it or misusing it.
  • Drink plenty of water in order to keep your vocal folds adequately lubricated
  • Limit your use of alcohol, and avoid smoking.

Day-to-day decisions can impact your vocal health, both now and in the future. Since vocal strain and a myriad of other injuries can occur in and out of school, you need to take care of your vocal health outside of classroom and practice activities. Avoid shouting, screaming, or other strenuous vocal use. Maintain healthy habits; safeguard your physical and mental health. If you are concerned about your vocal health, talk with a medical professional. If you are concerned about your vocal health in your music classes, consult your instructor.

Neuromusculoskeletal Health

Neuromuscular and skeletal health is essential to your lifelong success as a musician. Practicing and performing music is often physically demanding and musicians are susceptible to numerous musculoskeletal disorders. Some musculoskeletal disorders are related to behavior while others are genetic; still others are the result of trauma or injury. Some genetic conditions can increase a person's risk of developing certain behavior-related disorders. Many neuromuscular and skeletal disorders and conditions are preventable and/or treatable.

Prevention is helped by good daily habits.

  • Sufficient physical and musical warm-up time is important.
  • Good posture and correct physical technique are essential.
  • Regular breaks during practice and rehearsal are vital in order to prevent undue physical stress and strain.
  • It is important to set a reasonable limit on the amount of time that you will practice in a day.
  • Avoid sudden increases in practice times.
  • Know your body's limits, and avoid "overdoing it."  
Day-to-day decisions can impact your neuromuscular and skeletal health, both now and in the future. Since muscle and joint strains and a myriad of other injuries can occur in and out of school, you also need to take care of your own neuromuscular health on a daily basis particularly with regard to your performing medium and area of specialization.  Avoid activities that require heavy strain on muscles, bones and tissues.  Maintain healthy habits; safeguard your physical and mental health. If you are concerned about your neuromuscular health, talk with a medical professional.  If you are concerned about your neuromuscular health in relation to your music classes, consult your instructor or the chair of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts.

Additional Resources

The following resources contain further information on health and safety for musicians:

Websites

Publications

  • Conable, Barabara. What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body: The Application of Body Mapping to Music. Chicago. IL: GIA Publications, 2000.
  • Klickstein, Gerald. The Musician’s Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Norris, Richard N. The Musician’s Survival Manual: A Guide to Preventing and Treating Injuries in Instrumentalists. International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, 1993.