Musician's Hearing and Musculoskeletal Health
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.
We have developed policies and procedures to guard against injury and illness in the study and practice of music, as well as to raise the awareness among our students, faculty and staff of the connections between musicians' health, the suitability and safety of equipment and technology, and the acoustic and other health-related conditions in the university's practice, rehearsal, and performance facilities.
It is important to note that the primary factor in your health and safety is you and depends largely on your personal decisions. You are personally responsible for avoiding risk and preventing injuries to yourself before, during, and after study at Western. The policies and procedures developed by the Music Department do not alter or cancel any individual's personal responsibility, or in any way shift personal responsibility for the results of any individual's personal decisions or actions in any instance or over time to the university.
Anyone who practices, rehearses or performs instrumental or vocal music has the potential to suffer injury related to the activity. Students are encouraged to supplement information obtained in their lessons, master classes, and guest lectures regarding musicians' health and safety issues by utilizing some of the resources listed on this website.
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. Instrumental injuries may include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and bursitis.
Likewise, the demands placed on singers' voices are vast. Singers can be forced to cancel a recital or tour, take a break, or undergo a medical procedure due to problems with their voice. Vocalists can suffer from vocal fatigue, anxiety, throat tension, and pain. Musicians use their bodies in specific and highly trained ways, and injuries can occur that can have lasting impact on performance ability. 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.
Incorrect posture, non-ergonomic technique, excessive force, overuse, stress, and insufficient rest contribute to chronic injuries that can cause pain, disability, and the end of a musician's career. Additional factors such as nutrition, smoking, drug use, noisy environments, and proper training (or the lack of it) all play a role in a musician's ability to perform at her/his best.
(adapted from "Protecting Your Hearing Health" by NASM-PAMA)
- 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. You must avoid overexposure 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 dB (your 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.
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 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 (controlling volume levels in practice and rehearsal, avoiding noisy environments, turning down the volume) reduce your risk of hearing loss. Be mindful of those MP3 earbuds. See chart above.
The use of earplugs and earmuffs helps to protect your hearing 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 learn more and take care of your own hearing health on a daily, even hourly basis. It is important to follow basic hearing health guidelines. It is also important to study this issue and 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 relationship to your program of study, consult the appropriate contact person at your institution.
Hearing Conservation Policy
As good hearing is crucial to musicians, and data collected in the average music school practice room, teaching studios, and rehearsal rooms found average intensity values that were greater than OSHA action levels for a hearing conservation program, therefore Western Washington University Department of Music has instituted a Hearing Loss Prevention Program for all students. Occupational hearing loss is insidious, slowly advancing for many years before individuals are aware of their impairment. This type of hearing loss is not medically treatable and is permanent.
All new students will attend a yearly instructional program that includes motivational information about:
- Anatomy & physiology of hearing
- How acoustic overexposure damages the ear
- How this damage affects hearing
- How to prevent the damage
- How to use hearing protective devices
In addition, all faculty will be instructed in the importance of the program and on ways they can be instrumental in the prevention of hearing problems in students. Faculty will also be encouraged to have their own hearing tested annually.
Hearing Healthcare Specialist
Hearing Health Clinic
2940 Squalicum Parkway, Suite 205
Bellingham, WA 98225
Ear Plug Sites
Vocal Health Specialist
Martin Nevdahl, BS, MS, Speech-Language Pathology
Vocal chord analysis and stroboscopy of the vocal folds
More Vocal Health Resources
- NASM-PAMA Advisories on Neuromusculoskeletal and Vocal Health
- Advice for the care of your voice from the Texas Voice Center
- Winter Health Tips for your Voice
Protecting Your Musculoskeletal Health
- Musculoskeletal health is essential to your lifelong success as a musician.
- Practicing and performing music is physically demanding.
- Musicians are susceptible to numerous musculoskeletal disorders.
- Some musculoskeletal disorders are related to behavior; others are genetic; still some others are the result of trauma or injury.
- Many musculoskeletal disorders and conditions are preventable and/or treatable.
- 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 and its limits, and avoid “overdoing it.”
- Maintain healthy habits. Safeguard your physical and mental health.
- Day-to-day decisions can impact your musculoskeletal 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 learn more and take care of your own musculoskeletal health on a daily basis, particularly with regard to your performing medium and area of specialization.
- If you are concerned about your personal musculoskeletal health, talk with a medical professional.
- If you are concerned about your musculoskeletal heath in relationship to your program of study, consult the appropriate contact person at your institution.
Musculoskeletal Health Specialist
Contact the Music Office: 360-650-3130
- Conable, B. What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body, (GIA Publications, 2000)
- Dawson, W. J. Fit as a Fiddle: The Musician’s Guide to Playing Healthy, Rowman and Littlefield/MENC, 2008.
- Horvath, J. Playing (Less) Hurt
- Klickstein, G. The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness (Oxford, 2009). Available at the WWU Music Library)
- Norris, R. N. The Musician’s Survival Manual (International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, 1993).
- Watson, A. The Biology of Musical Performance and Performance Related Injury, Scarecrow Press, 2009.
Hearing Health Resources
Musculoskeletal Health Resources
- A Painful Melody: Repetitive Strain Injury Among Musicians
- Musicians Health.com
- The Alexander Technique
- Andover Educators, body mapping
- A comprehensive Musicians Healthcare article
- Life Foam Seat Cushions
- Ergo Sit-Rite Cushion