Musicians Health and Wellness
The WWU Department of Music prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of its students. Below you will find information on performance health, neuromusculoskeletal, musculoskeletal, and hearing health. We encourage students to regularly check this page as wellness information may be updated quarterly.
March 2: An Introduction to Hearing and Body Health
Western musicians are encouraged to join us on March 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center Concert Hall and via Zoom for the Winter 2022 Wellness and Musicians Event: An Introduction to Hearing and Body Health.
Commitment to Wellness
Starting in 2021-2022 the Department of Music will host a Wellness and Musicians event each quarter covering a variety of topics.
Students are encouraged to also explore the 8 dimensions of wellness website and the wellness resources available through the Counseling and Wellness Center.
Student Driven Health
Students should note the most important factor in student health and safety is largely personal choice and awareness, communication, and self-care. Policies and procedures developed by our department do not supersede individual/personal responsibility while at WWU or over time.
In addition to reviewing the information below, students are encouraged to speak to their applied instructors and conductors about safe practicing and performing habits.
All musicians have the potential to suffer injuries related to practicing, rehearsals, or performance. These injuries could have a lasting impact on performance ability and quality of life.
Performers need to be aware of vocal and musculoskeletal health issues that can affect them. Musicians at all levels of achievement can suffer from repetitive stress injuries, neuromuscular conditions or dystonias, and psychological issues including severe performance anxiety.
Vocalists can suffer from vocal fatigue, anxiety, throat tension, and pain. Further issues can arise and are covered in the next section under neuromusculoskeletal health.
Instrumental musicians are at risk for repetitive motion injuries or physical problems related to playing their instruments; and if they are also computer users, their risks are compounded.
Below you will find an overview on neuromusculoskeletal and musculoskeletal health. We encourage all students to review the NASM Protect Your Neuromusculoskeletal and Vocal Health Every Day .
The neuromusculoskeletal system refers to the complex system of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and associated nerves and tissues that support our body’s physical structure and enable movement.
Our references documents use the term “neuromusculoskeletal” to encompass not only overt physical movements and overall body alignment, but also the small internal movements our bodies make, for example, to produce breath and modify vocal sounds. Vocal health is a component of neuromusculoskeletal health.
In arts medicine terminology, “overuse” is defined as a practice or activity in which anatomically normal structures have been used in a so-called “normal” manner, but to a degree that has exceeded their biological limits. Overuse produces physical changes in our muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc., and that’s when we experience symptoms, such as pain and discomfort.
“Misuse” is when we use our bodies to perform physical tasks in abnormal ways – and sometimes to excessive degrees. When we misuse certain bodily structures, we put them under stress. This can lead us to experience symptoms such as pain and discomfort.
Abuse in this sense is related to both overuse and misuse. We abuse our own bodies when we perform an activity not only excessively or improperly, but also in a conscious, willful manner, over a sustained period of time. A common example is “playing through the pain" or "the show must go on." We don't want you to play or sing through the pain. Please talk to your instructors or someone you trust.
Basic Protection for All Musicians As musicians, it’s vital that you protect your neuromusculoskeletal health whenever possible. Here are some simple steps you can take:
1. When possible, avoid situations that put your neuromusculoskeletal health at risk.
2. Refrain from behaviors that could compromise your neuromusculoskeletal health and the health of others.
3. Warm up before you practice and perform.
4. Take regular breaks from practice and rehearsal. A good rule of thumb is a 5-minute rest every half hour.
5. Limit excessive practice time.
6. Avoid excessive repetition of difficult music, especially if progress is slow.
7. Insomuch as possible, avoid playing and/or singing music that is beyond your physical abilities or outside your natural range.
8. Refrain from sudden increases in practice and playing time.
9. Maintain good posture in life and when you practice and perform music. Be mindful of alignment, balance, and weight distribution.
10. Use external support mechanisms, such as shoulder rests, neck straps, and flute crutches, when necessary.
11. Maintain good “mental hygiene.” Get adequate sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise.
12. Refrain from recreational drug use, excessive alcohol use, and smoking.
13. Do your best to limit and control stressors. Plan ahead.
14. Give yourself time to relax.
Here’s some extra advice for safeguarding your voice:
1. Drink plenty of water, at least 8 glasses a day.
2. Limit your consumption of caffeine and alcohol. Protect Your Neuromusculoskeletal and Vocal Health Every Day: Information and Recommendations for Student Musicians – NASM/PAMA IV-11
3. Don’t smoke.
4. Be aware that some medications, such as allergy pills, may dry out your vocal tissues. Be aware of side effects and talk to your doctor if you have questions.
5. Avoid dry air environments. Consider using a humidifier.
6. Avoid yelling or raising your voice unnecessarily.
7. Avoid throat clearing and loud coughing.
8. Opt to use vocal amplification systems when appropriate.
9. Rest your voice, especially if you are sick. Your voice and your body need time to recover.
Issues Affecting the Body
We encourage you to review the Protect Your Neuromusculoskeletal and Vocal Health Every Day to read about neuromusculoskeletal issues that can affect your body and voice such as muscle strain, neuropathies, carpal tunnel syndrome, vocal strain, and vocal fold abnormalities.
Below you will find an overview of hearing health information adapted from the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) hearing health orientation.
We encourage all students to read the NASM Protect Your Hearing Every Day: Information and Recommendations for Student Musicians.
- Hearing health is essential to your lifelong success as a musician.
- The closer you are to the source of a loud sound, the greater the risk of damage to your hearing.
- The risk of hearing loss is based on a combination of sound or loudness intensity and duration.
- 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 music.
Sounds Over 85 Decibels
Most experts agree that prolonged exposure to any noise or sound over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.
Examples of 85 decibels or higher:
- Phone/MP3 player at full volume
- Blow dryer
- Amplified concerts
- Police siren
Two important things to remember:
1. The longer you are exposed to loud noise, the greater the potential for hearing loss.
2. The closer you are to the source of loud noise, the greater the risk that you’ll experience some damage to your hearing mechanisms.
Evaluating Your Risk
When evaluating your risk for hearing loss, ask yourself the following questions:
1. How frequently am I exposed to noises and sounds above 85 decibels?
2. What can I do to limit my exposure to such loud noises and sounds?
3. What personal behaviors and practices increase my risk of hearing loss?
4. How can I be proactive in protecting my hearing and the hearing of those around me?
It’s too loud (and too dangerous) when:
1. You have to raise your voice to be heard.
2. You can’t hear someone who’s 3 feet away from you.
3. The speech around you sounds muffled or dull after you leave a noisy area.
4. You experience tinnitus (pain, ringing, buzzing, or roaring in your ears) after you leave a noisy area.
1. Use earplugs and earmuffs to protect your hearing health.
2. Be mindful of the volume of your music, movies, and videos.
3. Be mindful of the sound at bars, restaurants, and concerts.
5. Use earplugs at amplified concerts when needed and be mindful of where you are sitting.
6. Remember to take breaks during a rehearsal. Your ears will appreciate this quiet time.
Further Hearing Research
The Western Washington University Music Department as required by the National Association of Schools of Music is obligated to inform students, faculty, and staff of the health and safety issues, hazards, and procedures inherent in music practice, performance, teaching, and listening both in general and as applicable to their specific specializations. This includes but is not limited to basic information regarding the maintenance of hearing, vocal, and musculoskeletal health and injury prevention. This also includes instruction on the use, proper handling, and operation of potentially dangerous materials, equipment, and technology as applicable to specific program offerings or experiences.