A musician, like an athlete or indeed any worker, can incur career-threatening injuries whether through professional or recreational misuse of their body.
60% of music students and 90% of professionals suffer from musculoskeletal problems of varying degrees of severity.
There are precise regulations governing the prevention of occupational health problems (in Italy, Legislative Decree 81/2008: legislation in force concerning the health and safety of workers), and the music industry is no exception. In reality, the issue of prevention is of international interest and certainly does not concern just one country or one international organization (such as the European Community). Such issues are addressed by engineers and physiologists of physical exercise and sport. Questions concerning tools, techniques and adequate operational regimes can almost all be addressed but self-evidently require a synergy between scientists and practitioners of the relevant occupation. The results achieved tell us that it is, for example, possible to make quantitative comparisons in a music school between the different postures of students and teachers in relation to different types of chairs, and to provide biofeedback that allows an instrumentalist to minimize effort. And certainly, the application of scientific research to everyday life can only lead to improvements in the physical well-being of musicians.
An elementary look at the physiology of the human body reveals that some organs of the human body (eg heart, brain, and muscles) receive or produce electrical impulses that are transmitted to the cells of that tissue. These nerve impulses regulate the passage of ions across the target cell membrane which in turn induces an electrical response to the impulse itself that thereby promotes the activity of the organ tissue. This passage of ions across the membrane generates an electric field that is recordable with appropriate instruments, for example, an electrocardiograph machine for the heart or an electroencephalograph machine for the brain. Thus the activity of muscles can be recorded through surface electromyography (sEMG) and investigated in order to evaluate the functioning of the muscle itself, whether it proves to be healthy or shows signs of an incipient malfunction arising from an anomalous mode activation, and perhaps only detected under conditions of excessive workload or non-recoverable fatigue.
Some European laboratories (including the LISiN of the Polytechnic of Turin) are addressing these topics and have published scientific articles on the acquisition and interpretation of sEMG signals. The research is at a relatively preliminary level but is potentially very promising, and it adds to a field that is progressing ever more rapidly in institutions worldwide.
At the G. F. Ghedini Conservatory in Cuneo, for example, in the 2017 Art Season, a violinist played in a concert while the map of the electrical activity of his trapezius muscle was projected onto a screen in real time.
A matrix of 128 electrodes applied to the dorsal aspect of his forearm transforms the cutaneous electrical signal into a color-coded map (blue = null activity; red = intense activity) and allows viewers to “see” the activity of the extensor muscles of the wrist and fingers during the execution of efforts and movements. The image is provided in real time and allows the subject (guided by an experienced teacher) to correct his posture or the muscular activity of a limb, and to compare teaching methods, chairs, accessories, tools, and postures that are quantitatively different.
For those who wish to learn more about the subject, we recommend the magazine “Medical Problem of performing artists”
Bejjani FJ, Kaye GM, Benham M., Musculoskeletal and neuromuscular conditions of instrumental musicians, Arch. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 1996; 77: pp. 406–413
Zaza C., Playing related musculoskeletal disorders in musicians: a systematic review of incidence and prevalence, CMAJ 1998; 158(8): pp. 1019–1025
Afsharipour B, Petracca F, Gasparini M, Merletti R., Spatial distribution of surface EMG on trapezius and lumbar muscles of violin and cello players in single note playing, J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2016; 31: pp. 144-153.
Cattarello P., Merletti R., Petracca F., Analysis of High Density Surface EMG and finger pressure in the left forearm of violin players Medical Problems of Performing Artists, September 201; pp. 139-151.
Cattarello P., Vinelli S., D’Emanuele S., Gazzoni M., Merletti R., Comparison of chairs based on HDsEMG of back muscles, biomechanical and comfort indices, for violin and viola players: A short term study. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2018; 42: pp. 92-103.
Special thanks for his precious collaboration to prof. Roberto Merletti, PhD, Prof. of Rehabilitation Engineering (Neuromuscular System Engineering Lab, LISiN, Electronics Dept., Politecnico di Torino).