Tag Archives: health

Performance Preparation

A Holistic Approach to Performance Preparation

“Feeling nervous before a performance is normal,” says Dr. Richard Cox, a musician, music educator, and psychologist at the Colorado School of Professional Psychology.

A certain amount of “concern” is probably good, normal, and useful, Cox continues, but anxiety is a physiological hindrance to good performance.

When the nervous system registers “anxiety,” it has already started the process of trembling, shallow or rapid breathing, perspiring, and stomach discomfort.

If these physiological symptoms are present, the first note will not be at its best. Cox suggests in his book Managing Your Head and Body So You Can Become a Good Musician that the psychology and physiology of anxiety can be greatly reduced by paying attention to these basics steps:

Mental Preparation

  • Anticipation–This is a matter of mind imaging. Close your eyes and visualize the music on the page, you with your instrument, the group or accompanist with whom you are playing, and the audience. Create a small picture show in the front of your brain. If you have a difficulty doing this, close your eyes, find a “center spot” in the middle of the inside of your forehead, and picture the entire situation as if it were a cartoon being shown frame by frame.
  • Relaxation–The body responds to anxiety by tightening up. If you have difficulty relaxing naturally, there are simple exercises that help. For example: Sit in a comfortable chair, or lie flat on a bed. Close your eyes. Breathe slowly and regularly, very deeply, and count slowly from one to 10, breathing in and out very slowly on each count. Talk to yourself. Tell yourself that with each breath you will become more and more relaxed.
  • Performing in your mind–By going through the performance step by step you can anticipate surprise feelings. It is very much like anticipating the next note when we play. The best way to play the next note correctly is to anticipate how it will be executed and how it will sound within the context of the last note and then the next several notes.
  • Center on the message–It is important to remember the message we wish to send to the audience. The audience will not remember the “wrong” notes nearly as much as they will remember the communication. Think through how the music will send the desired message. Then by keeping that message in mind, we can allow the technical performance to call upon years of practice and musical preparation. Many great musicians memorize the actual music straight from the printed page in their head, while humming it, and actually doing the fingering manually, then they put it all together in their mind, and only then on the instrument.
  • Center yourself–Get in touch with your emotions. If you are preoccupied, the music will show it. It is absolutely necessary to “get lost” in the music, otherwise you become a show person, not a musician. The “centering” technique discussed under Anticipation will work here. Deep meditation is also helpful as this aspect of mental preparation requires whole brain activity. You should be keenly aware of the intellectual and emotional demands upon you and the alertness and confidence you have stored up during practice. Fifteen minutes of meditation with relaxation, twice daily, is a tonic that cannot be equaled by medicine!

Physical Preparation

  • General health–Keeping one’s body in tone is essential to best performance. After all, the instrument is only an extension of your inner self. If you feel well physically, you will communicate better. It is surprising how many musicians abuse their bodies with inadequate exercise, too much caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, illegal and prescription drugs, and excess weight.
  • Nutrition–You are what you eat. Food plays a far more important role in good performance than most musicians acknowledge. Too much sugar, excessive caffeine, and excess fats are only a few of the things to avoid. Regular eating is difficult for professional musicians due to performance times, travel, and scheduling. However, it is important to keep your blood sugar level under control and within normal limits at all times.
  • Sleep–Loss of sleep produces serious effects. In fact, tiredness is only a symptom of the real problem–dream deprivation. When we do not sleep regularly, we develop sleep habits that skip important phases of sleep. One of these phases is the stage in which we dream. Dreams are essential for the repair of our entire thought process system. It also is particularly difficult for many musicians to obtain enough sleep before midnight. Research has shown that one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight. Some performers turn to medication and drugs to help them, but sleep that comes as a result of chemicals is not natural and does not produce the same beneficial results.

Other Considerations

  • Beta Blockers–All medicines are drugs and have both beneficial and harmful effects. Medicines containing beta blockers are used by some musicians to control stage fright. However, these medicines work by blocking certain impulses to the heart and can have profound effects upon the heart and nervous system that controls the entire cardiovascular system.
  • Other Medicines–The side effects of common medicines can dry you out (diuretics), make you drowsy (antihistamines), make you jittery (some cold and flu medications), cause nausea (some antibiotics), and some keep you awake. There are thousands of side effects of medicines you need to take into account. Medicines can also become a habit, both psychologically and physically. Be sure to discuss all the side effects of any medication you take, whether prescription or over-the-counter, with your doctor.
  • Doctors–Be sure your doctor knows you are a musician and understands that treatments and medications can effect your ability to study and perform. When undergoing surgery, if at all possible, request local anesthetic. General anesthesia puts the nervous system of the whole body to sleep and usually requires considerably more time to “bounce back.”
  • Dentists–If you are a wind instrument player, remind your dentist that your lips need to be treated gently. Even small changes in tooth structure, muscular ability, dry mouth, and myriad other considerations can effect your playing.
  • Your Brain & Music–Thinking about how your brain functions when you produce music will help you balance your artistic interpretation with your technical abilities. The two sides of your brain are called “hemispheres.” The left side is known for its analytical functions–putting the technical aspects of playing together. It is where we have logic and order. Right brain activity is emotive, artistic, romantic, and creative. Learning to truly listen to and appreciate what music does to the psyche and the soul is important to the right side of the brain. When the brain is functioning as a whole–connected by the structure that bridges the hemispheres, called the “corpus callosum”–you are in a great place to artistically perform with correct technique.
  • The Whole Person–The concept of wholeness, or holistic thinking, encompasses the mind, the body, and the spirit. It includes what you think, what you do, how you feel, what you believe, how you relate to others, and many other aspects of your total being. The concept seems rather esoteric at first, until you see how you fit into it. You cannot appreciate the role of music in everyday life, and your role as a musician, until you understand the meaning of the whole person. Once you grasp that concept it will be amazing how much easier it is to communicate with others and allow your music to touch the lives of others.

Adapted from Managing Your Head and Body So You Can Become a Good Musician, by Dr. Richard H. Cox, Colorado School of Professional Psychology Press, Colorado Springs, CO, 2006.

Air: The Life Blood of Wind Instrumentalists and Singers

by Donald L. Banschbach of Local 10-128 (Chicago, IL)

Whether you’re a wind instrumentalist or singer, you have probably heard the phrase “use your diaphragm” many times throughout the course of your career from teachers and fellow musicians. This instruction concerns the constant flow of air supported by the group of muscles that musicians and singers employ for optimal sound in their performances. To support air flow, singers and instrumentalists use forced inspiration and forced expiration of breath, essentially turning the human body into an air pump.

How It Works
Air pumps, like the human respiratory system, draw in air from the atmosphere and expel it into a container such as a balloon. The human trunk is divided into two large cavities, the thoracic cavity, which contains the lungs and heart, and the abdominal cavity, which contains the stomach and intestines. The diaphragm, a large dome-shaped muscle, separates these two cavities.

Using forced inspiration, the musician’s diaphragm lowers the floor of the thoracic cavity, while increasing the volume inside the cavity. At the same time the muscles between the ribs (external intercostals) elevate the rib cage. The dual action enlarges the thoracic cavity, sucking air into the tiny alveoli sacks filling the lungs with air—think of the action of an air pump with the diaphragm as the plunger.

At this point in the breathing process, the musician or singer is ready to force air through the mouthpiece or vocal cords. The human girdle (made up of the transversalis abdominis, external and internal oblique muscles) now forces the stomach and intestines against the lateral side of the diaphragm. This reduces the size of the thoracic cavity. Simultaneously, the internal intercostals (musculature between the ribs) lower the ribs, reducing the size of the rib cage. This joint action is similar to squeezing your hands together forcing the air out of a balloon.

The volume of air used for forced inspiration and forced expiration, is known as the musician’s vital capacity. This volume, measuring in cubic centimeters (cc), varies from clarinet player to tuba player or rock singer to opera star. Females generally average 3,000 cc of lung capacity and males 5,000 cc. Variations in vital capacity between individuals or across the sexes does not seem to hinder performance levels. However, a musician’s height, weight, and age can affect vital capacity. It is the general opinion of the medical community that regular physical exercise increases vital capacity. Forced inspiration and forced expiration, as used by wind musicians, increases the capacity. This exercise of the lungs increases oxygen in the blood stream, blows off carbon dioxide, and is a contributing factor to the health of the musician.

Avoiding Improper Technique
When the diaphragm is used correctly, the abdomen will project forward or push out, while the musicians inhales. A “heaving chest” occurs when a musician or singer fails to use the diaphragm properly. It is a sign that the diaphragm is not being used to full capacity since the breath will jerk the rib cage upwards instead of expanding the stomach. While this heaving action makes it possible for the musician to achieve some degree of vital capacity, there is a major problem with this type of breathing. The external intercostals, in between the ribs, are acting on their own and cannot achieve the airflow required for maximum musical performance. A formula for the proper muscle use in inhaling and exhaling might read as follows:

Forced inspiration = diaphragm + external intercostals assisting

Forced expiration = abdominals + internal intercostals assisting

To get a better sense of how to use the diaphragm properly, place the tips of your fingers on your belly and inhale. As you inhale, your belly should expand as the air enters your lungs and your fingers should feel as if they are moving away from the body. As you exhale, the belly should cave in and your fingers travel inwards.

Practice breathing, separate from when you are rehearsing music, to accustom the body to correct breathing for optimal performance.

9 Tips for Healthy Outdoor Summer Gigs

After a long winter of indoor gigs and stuffy practice rooms, you’d jump on any chance to finally play outdoors. But, before you head outside to enjoy these fun opportunities, take a little time to consider how to stay healthy in the heat and sun. Here are nine things to consider:

1) Venue review. Be sure to check out your stage ahead of time. Considering the time of day of your performance, will you be playing in direct sunlight, partial shade, or completely protected? Check what type of power supply is available at the venue and what precautions have been taken to protect the gear (and yourself from shock) in the event of sudden storms. Also, will there be electrical fans provided, or could you bring your own?

2) Gear check. To reduce the possibility of electrical shock when playing in an outdoor environment, always check your equipment beforehand. Replace any cables, particularly mains, that have nicks or look tattered.

3) Great covers. Ideal clothes for an outdoor gig are sun protective, light in weight and color, loose-fitting, comfortable, and can wick away the sweat. If your fabric offers little sun protection, consider using an additive like Sun Guard, which increases the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of any clothing for several (up to 30) washes. Wear layers if the temperature is likely to change. If you will be in direct sunlight, wear a hat—preferable one that will shade your head and the back of your neck.

4) Lather up. Apply sunscreen before you arrive to all skin not covered by UV protective clothing. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends Broad Spectrum sunscreens with SPF values of 15 or higher. It should be applied 20 minutes before you head outside and reapplied at least every two hours, more often if you’re sweating. Use a “sports” sunscreen that is waterproof so it doesn’t run off your skin and into your eyes. Don’t be fooled into believing that your facial makeup’s SPF protection is enough to protect your face. You would need seven times the normal amount of foundation to get the SPF factor on the label.

5) The right shades. Don’t forget your sunglasses. Time spent in the sun without eye protection can lead to eyestrain, as well as long-term eye diseases such as cataracts. Be sure to read the labels when purchasing sunglasses. They should state that they block at least 99% UVA and UVB radiation, or look for the phrases “UV 400 protection” (block light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers) or “meets ANSI Z80.3 blocking requirements” (standards set by the American National Standards Institute). Polarized lenses cut down on glare, but can actually make it more difficult to read iPads or other screened devices. Wraparound glasses offer the best protection, but at least look for a pair with lenses large enough to go down to your cheek bone and wide temples to protect side exposure.

6) Hydration, hydration, hydration. The human body is 66% water, while the muscles are up to 75% water and lungs are 90% water. If you are sweating on stage, you are probably losing between 0.8 to 1.4 liters (roughly 27.4 to 47.3 oz.) per hour. So pack a small cooler of water bottles and keep one within reach at all times. Avoid alcohol, sugary, or caffeinated drinks. For prolonged or heavy sweating, you should also keep a sports drink handy to also replace electrolytes.

7) Plan ahead. If possible, plan your performance so that you limit your time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense. If you want to wander around the festival or watch other performers, try to stay in the shade before your set. Also, don’t overdo it. Make sure you have adequate breaks in your set, and scope out a cool, shaded place to take them.

8) Healthy eats. Eat a healthy meal at least one hour before your performance is to start. Include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and avoid the salty, high-fat junk food found at most concerts and festivals.

9) Listen to your body. If you feel thirsty, you are not drinking enough water. A headache is also a warning sign that you are becoming dehydrated. Light-headedness, confusion, nausea, cramps, rapid heart rate, and profuse sweating are symptoms of severe dehydration. Get out of the sun and seek medical care immediately, if they do not go away.

Dentistry for Musicians

by Caroline Blouin, DDS and Member of AFM Local 406 (Montreal, PQ)

Your passion for playing your instrument or singing means that you practice every day, year after year. Then, suddenly, nothing feels right. Changes in sensation or “feel,” over-development of the muscles of the mouth, constant, prolonged pressure on the mouthpiece—or chin rest in the case of violin and viola players—and tooth movement can lead to physical problems that compromise playing technique, sound, or the formation of the embouchure in wind instrument players.

Musicians are likened to high performance athletes, using as many muscles and anatomic structures as a marathon runner. But, musicians are more than high performance athletes. They develop oral musculature in unusual and specific ways by exerting prolonged, repetitive pressure on the teeth and temporomandibular joint (TMJ), often from an early age. In the event of pain or injury, a musician must be able to regain his full ability to play or sing.

When providing oral/dental, head, and neck care to musicians, especially wind players, the dental surgeon must be especially attentive. The doctor should have an understanding of the importance of the teeth, the TMJ, and the specific musculature involved in playing the instrument, in order to provide care that is tailored to each musician patient’s condition.

The Incidence of Oral Problems in Musicians

In order to profile the incidence of oral problems in musicians, a questionnaire was submitted to 158 musicians. Responses showed that 26% of the musicians surveyed experienced discomfort and problems. Some reported being unable to play their instrument due to dental, joint, or muscle problems related to the teeth, head, or neck.

Types of Dental Problems Are Encountered

Among musicians who reported discomfort and problems, 28% experienced problems related to wearing orthodontic appliances or tooth movement. Pain in the mandible (lower jaw) and TMJ affected 22% of respondents. Tooth and gum pain affected 11% of respondents, while 6% were bothered by tooth wear and grinding of the teeth (bruxism). Mouth ulcers accounted for 6% of the problems encountered, while muscle strain or focal dystonia (failure of a muscle to respond) affected 3% of musicians surveyed. Twenty-four percent of musicians reported other various types of problems, including tension migraines, hyperacusis (lack of tolerance to normal environmental sounds), recovery time after oral surgery (transplant, implants, or tooth extractions), replacement of one or more teeth that are vital for forming the embouchure (fixed or removable prosthetic appliances and dental implants), aphonia (loss of voice), sore throat (pharynx, larynx), soft palate, pain and cracks in the teeth caused by the instrument vibrating against the teeth, and temporary loss of feeling or sensitivity in the lips.

Based on the results of the questionnaire, we conclude that musicians are affected by specific dental problems that can interfere with their ability to play, either temporarily, or for an extended period of time. These findings are consistent with those of other studies conducted on various origins of the dental problems encountered by musicians, which are often related to performing repetitive movements for long hours in stressful performance situations.

Perfect Harmony Between Musician and Dentist

While most respondents told their dentists that they played an instrument, few had asked their dentists to make a model by taking a digital or physical impression of their mouth, an essential precaution in the event of an accident (for example, a recent model of the teeth could be used to reconstruct a fractured tooth as accurately as possible). The slightest change in the position, shape, and location of the teeth could alter airflow or even the position of the tongue or mandible, which would alter how the embouchure feels and, consequently, the sound produced by the musician. Providing dental treatment without taking a musician’s unique features and specific needs into account, may mean that the mouth simply doesn’t close the way it did before. This could be detrimental to playing and even threaten or end an instrumentalist’s career.

Preventive Dental Care and Treatment

There are various ways to prevent or treat the different dental problems faced by musicians. These include lip shields, therapeutic aids to minimize discomfort during orthodontic treatment, treatment to improve occlusion (bite), chin rests for a violinists, or customized mouthpieces for trumpet players. Musicians should complete personalized questionnaires with their dentists to identify needs, expectations, and deficiencies so that the facility in playing and sound are optimal, comfortable, and easy. As often as possible, musicians should bring their instrument to the dentist’s office for consultation and treatment. This allows the dentist to help pinpoint problems and create a prosthetic appliance tailored to instrumentalists’ specific needs.

Wind players, consider this: having a model made of your dental arches every year is an inexpensive way of safeguarding your sound. And, it might be a good idea to entrust your preventive dental care and treatment to dentists with interest and expertise in conditions affecting your profession.

Dr. Caroline Blouin has her own private practice (www.centredentairecharest.com) in Quebec City. She also holds a Diploma of Advanced Studies (1st Prize for Violin) from the Conservatoire de musique de Québec, as well as a Post-Master’s Professional Studies Certificate from Temple University in Philadelphia. She is completing training in Paris and Montauban to obtain a European Diploma in Performing Arts Medicine (Music). She is studying under the mentorship of Dr. Pierre Dana, renowned Parisian doctor of dental surgery, and specialist in the treatment of wind players. Please address your questions and comments to: drecblouindentimusi@gmail.com or (418) 647-4238.

How to Take Care of Your Eyes

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is a result of research conducted across a number of health-related Web sites. The AFM does not endorse any specific remedy for eye problems and urges members to consult a medical practitioner before deciding on a course of action.

Eye problems are an often-overlooked health issue for professional musicians. The effort eyes make to read sheet music or follow the conductor while peering around an instrument can lead to a number of common, but treatable, complaints.

Unfortunately, opticians aren’t always sensitive to the specific concerns musicians have with their eyes. For instance, a one-size-fits-all approach to correcting vision may not work when there are so many different tasks eyes perform in an average day. A musician who logs off the computer, drives to work, performs for an evening, then goes home to watch the “Late Show with David Letterman” on TV, before reading in bed, ideally might need different glasses for each task. Fortunately, opticians who are used to treating increasingly widespread computer-related eye disorders suggest their advice can also help working musicians.

A typical complaint of professional musicians is eyestrain. Its cause is similar to that which leads to the same diagnosis in computer users. The eyes just aren’t meant to repetitively scan the small text of a music score or computer screen at a distance of two or three feet for long periods of time. Close focusing and repetitive scanning can even lead to a condition called “spasms of accommodation.” This is when the eyes’ overworked muscles spasm and are no longer able to adjust when a musician looks at something far away. Everything distant becomes blurry because the muscles have lost the ability to focus. Another more serious consequence of eyestrain is ocular migraine, a condition believed to be caused by a spasm of blood vessels brought on by eyestrain and which leads to visual disturbances. Opticians consider eyestrain a form of repetitive stress injury, which takes time to develop and a long time to treat.

Two other eye problems that commonly affect musicians were identified in a study conducted by Dr. Paul Alan Harris and published in a 1988 edition of The Journal of the American Optometric Association. Harris studied orchestra members in situ and found that peculiar working conditions led to diagnoses of astigmatism (abnormal curvature of the lens) and anisometropia (a large difference between the refractive power of the two eyes). Specifically, different vision problems arose depending on which instrument was played and where a musician sat. For instance, Harris found that a bass clarinetist, who habitually tilted his head back to play and looked left to view sheet music and conductor, had a significantly astigmatic right eye.

Whether you wear corrective lenses or not, there are several actions that can be taken to reduce the risk of eye trouble:

  • Wear the correct lenses to play. A pianist’s glasses that are good for reading books might not be suitable for reading a score. She’ll have to have another pair to read the music; if not, she’ll probably find herself leaning forward in order to get the notes in focus. Modern lenses have been developed that can help musicians. Three of these are “progressive bifocal” lenses, “trifocal” lenses, and “variable focus lenses,” sometimes called “computer glasses.” The days when only grandpa wore bifocals might be over; opticians are prescribing these multi-task lenses even for young children these days.
  • Lubricate your eyes. One trick to avoid eye problems is also very simple: blink! Concentrating on a score during a recital might mean a musician forgets to blink, and when the cornea dries out, eyes can start to ache. Musicians who wear contact lenses are prone to dry eyes, especially if seated close to air conditioning ducts in an orchestra pit, so they should either make liberal use of artificial tears, or wear their glasses when performing in the pit.
  • Adjust the music stand correctly. The top of your sheet music should ideally be at or just below eye level to avoid straining. If the stand must be below eye level, it is better to lower the eyes than tilt the head. Avoid eye problems caused by neck rotation by placing the stand directly in front of you. Also, if you have a choice between wearing glasses or contact lenses, the latter might be preferable as they allow for better peripheral vision which in turn can reduce the need for neck movement.
  • Find an optician who understands. A musician’s eyes are arguably as important as his or her hands. If you think you have work-related eye trouble, find an optician who is sensitive to this issue or who works with other musicians. One professional musician suggests going as far as to bring your instrument, music stand, clip light, and sheet music (preferably a complex score with lots of minute instructions) to the clinic so the optician can get to know your working conditions and individual needs.

Huh? You May Already Have Hearing Loss

Following a recent live music event, I interviewed a longtime musician who joked that his years of gigging have made it more difficult to carry on a normal conversation. I patiently repeated my questions, trying to speak in an abnormally loud voice. When I asked if he’d ever considered using musicians’ earplugs the man laughed at the absurdity of such an idea. Unfortunately, hearing loss really is no laughing matter, especially for musicians.

The auditory system is one of the body’s most delicate sensory systems, and when you are frequently exposed to excessive sound levels, the system can be easily damaged. Though many people associate musician hearing loss with rockers (20% of whom have some hearing loss according to one Norwegian Institutt for Klinisk Medisin study), any type of musician is at risk. Often, only when noticeable hearing loss has already occurred, do musicians take the problem seriously.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sets guidelines for the maximum time you can safely be exposed to various sound pressures measured in decibels (dB). Below is a table with approximate ranges of safe exposure for various instruments.

Hearing Loss chart


As you can see from the table, the dangers are real and occur with a wide range of instruments and genres of music. Following are some tips to reduce the danger of hearing loss.

  •   Purchase and wear musicians’ earplugs. They are superior to traditional earplugs because they offer “flat” attenuation, while traditional earplugs tend to filter more sound from higher frequencies, resulting in a muffled sound.
  •   As you can see from the table, each instrument has a wide volume range. When possible, practice more softly, or play your electrified instrument “unplugged.”
  •   To reduce your overall exposure to sound, take precautions in your daily life. Avoid any environment where you need to raise your voice to be heard. Wear earplugs or earmuffs when mowing the lawn or operating other loud machinery, and turn down the volume on your television and iPod.
  •   During rehearsals take frequent, 15-minute silence breaks.
  •   When you have a break during your gig, take a moment to step outside and give your ears a rest.
  •   Spread out so you are not being blasted by the musician next to you. Also, move away from on-stage monitors and amplifiers.

For more information on musician hearing loss and additional tips visit House Research Institute at www.hei.org or Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (HEAR) at www.hearnet.com.

Prevent Voice Damage

Doctor Explains How to Prevent Voice Damage

Bob Dylan never had the most beautiful voice among musician, but listening to him today it’s easy to hear his voice has gotten even coarser over the years. With the release of his newest album, Shadows in the Night, Dylan is coverings songs made famous by singers like Frank Sinatra. Not exactly the easiest songs to sing with a voice like Dylan. Seeing how getting older can affect the voice of all musicians, we’re glad Vulture reached out to otolaryngologist Dr. Milan Amin, director of the NYU Voice Center, for an explanation and more importantly, if there is any way to fix it.

Amin listened to some of the new album Shadows in the Night and compared it with Dylan’s earlier hits from the ‘60s. “The top part of Dylan’s pitch range has dropped, so he can’t access that.  When he’s trying to go up in his pitch with certain words and phrases, the voice gets rough. The other thing is that his whole tone is lower.

Amin explains that vocal cords are basically muscles underneath layers of collagen and a watery substance called hyaluronic acid. “As you get older, you lose muscle bulk. The layer starts to lose both collagen and hyaluronic acid, so the entire vocal fold sags, just like skin would. How you produce voice is by having the vocal folds come in contact with each other and blowing air past them, so if the vocal folds can’t contact each other, then you can’t produce as strong a sound.”

Amin right away points out smoking can only hurt, and being in dirty bars for so long filled with smoke certainly didn’t help either. He points out that performing on a rigorous schedule for so long will wear down the vocals. He also attributes it to late night performances, lack of sleep to rest the vocals, and even eating before bed causes acid reflux which can inflame the voice-box region.

Amin makes a great analogy comparing it to a person’s joints. “You get a little ding and they don’t work like they used to. The surface lining of the vocal cords ends up getting little nicks, so they can’t vibrate like they should.”

Luckily, and very importantly, this isn’t irreparable. Unlike most other muscles in your body where you need to use them to build strength, the vocal cords can’t do that. As Amin points out, “singers would have these huge, fat vocal chords and wouldn’t be able to breathe.”

The most common solution is simple airflow exercises and behavioral modifications to make sure they aren’t damaging their voice. There are also surgical measures, as Amin explains, “You can inject materials that will essentially give the vocal folds more body. That can give you better contact between the cords and better volume. If you give the cords better volume, they can increase their pitch range.”

For all you musicians out there, take this as a warning. Listen to Dr. Amin on how to prevent voice damage. You need to protect your voice and be careful, or you will lose it. If you have an tips to share with how your keep your voice healthy, let us know in the comments below.

Don’t Let the Flu and Colds Get You Down

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February is generally the peak month for flu activity. This season has been dominated by H3N2 viruses, which generally lead to more severe illness. The first defense against the flu is to get a flu shot and you should have done so last fall. However, because the circulating viruses have drifted from the original virus, the vaccine may end up being less effective than in previous years.

While colds can occur any time of year, they tend to be more prevalent and spread easier during the cold months, when people congregate indoors. There are steps you can take to lessen your chance of infection or reduce the length of the time you are ill.


Most flu viruses are not spread directly
by airborne particles from coughs and sneezes, but by contact. Therefore, hand washing is a critical defense in illness prevention. When you are in a public place wash your hands often and avoid touching any part of your face. Carry hand sanitizer for those times when proper hand washing is not possible.

Bar soap is itself an effective breeding ground for all sorts of viruses and bacteria, so stick to liquids when washing up. Hand towels should be changed often for the same reason and, when in public restrooms, use disposable towels or air dryers.

Frequently clean surfaces such as stair rails, telephones, countertops, desks, music stands, and doorknobs. Likewise, clean your mouthpiece each time you handle it and avoid touching the part that will make contact with your lips.

Germs survive better in stagnant air, so whenever possible open the windows and air out your home or practice room. Also, avoid breathing smoke. Smoke is a respiratory irritant and can actually increase your susceptibility to viruses. If you have no choice but to play in a smoke-filled room, be sure to step out for some fresh air during breaks.


Despite our best efforts the average American adult catches about two to four colds a year and 30 to 50 million Americans will come down with the flu. It is almost inevitable that you, or someone close to you, will become sick during the season. Here are some tips to help you get well sooner.

The first step is to determine whether you are dealing with a common cold or influenza. Flu is a contagious illness that can spread quickly from one person to another. It affects the nose, throat, lungs, and other parts of the body, causing mild to severe illness. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu complications, which lead to more than 3,000 deaths each year. Most deaths are in persons 65 and older.

Cold symptoms usually include a runny nose, sneezing, and coughing. Influenza often includes a more severe form of these same symptoms with the addition of one or more of the following: fever, extreme tiredness, sore throat, headache, and muscle aches.

If you think you are coming down with the flu, there are prescription medications, such as Tamiflu, which may reduce the time you are sick, but they must be taken within the first 48 hours of the appearance of symptoms. Beyond that, you may take over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms and make you more comfortable.

There are currently no medications that will cure either colds or flu, but there are other ways to help your body recover. First of all, stay home as much as possible. Not only does your body need plenty of rest, but you also don’t want to spread the illness to the rest of your group or other musicians. Drink plenty of liquids, avoiding alcoholic beverages, which are actually dehydrating.

There are many different types of cold and flu viruses and the length of illness varies. Generally, you should be feeling better in about one week. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms: high or prolonged fever; difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; pain or pressure in the chest; near-fainting or fainting; confusion; or severe persistent vomiting you should seek medical care immediately.

Aside from these tips, follow a healthy diet and get enough rest all year long to help build your resistance and shorten recovery time.

Less Is Best When Treating TMJ Disorder

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article uses research from several resources including the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at the National Institutes of Health (www.nidcr.nih.gov). The AFM urges musicians to seek professional medical advice when dealing with health issues.

If you are a musician suffering from temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain and/or dysfunction you are not alone. One study showed that 75% of the population experiences one or more TMJ disorder symptom in their lifetime and those numbers are even higher among musicians.

The TMJ connects the lower jaw, called the mandible, to the temporal bone at the side of the head. If you place your fingers just in front of your ears and open your mouth you will feel the joints. These joints are flexible, allowing the jaw to move smoothly up and down and side to side for speech, singing, chewing, and yawning.

When the mouth is open, the rounded ends of the lower jaw, called condyles, glide along the joint socket of the temporal bone. They slide back to their original position when the mouth is closed. A soft disc lies between the condyle and the temporal bone to absorb shock. This combination of hinge and sliding motions makes the TMJ among the most complex joints in the body.

There are three basic types of TMJ disorders—myofacial pain (discomfort in the muscles that control jaw function), internal derangement of the joint (displaced disc, dislocated jaw, or condyle injury), and arthritis. You may suffer from more than one of these conditions at the same time.

Any musician could be affected by TMJ disorders, but violists, violinists, wind instrumentalists, and singers, seem to be more susceptible due to the stress they put on the TMJ. Other musicians may develop TMJ disorder because of poor posture or anxiety, especially if they tend to clench their jaw or grind their teeth at night. Other causes of TMJ disorder include arthritis, jaw injury, or muscle fatigue.

There is a wide range of TMJ disorder symptoms, which include radiating pain in the face, jaw, or neck; jaw stiffness; limited jaw movement or locking jaw; painful clicking or popping when opening and closing the jaw; or a change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of other conditions, such as sinus and ear infections or toothache, making TMJ difficult to diagnose. A health care provider may use X-rays or MRI images, in combination with medical and dental history, for proper diagnosis.

There is no certified medical TMJ specialty, so finding the right care can be difficult. Look for a health care provider who understands musculoskeletal disorders (affecting muscle, bone, and joints) and who is trained in treating pain conditions and able to understand your special needs and stresses as a performing musician. Performance Arts Clinics are often a good source of advice, particularly when pain continues over time and interferes with your career.

Complex cases, marked by prolonged, persistent, and severe pain; jaw dysfunction; coexisting conditions; and diminished ability to work, may require a team of experts from various fields, such as neurology, rheumatology, pain management, and others, for diagnosis and treatment.

For most people, TMJ problems will go away on their own. So, it is best to start with conservative treatments. Patients may be advised to make it a habit to take frequent breaks while rehearsing, relax facial and jaw muscles frequently during the day, avoid chewing hard foods and gum, apply ice packs, avoid extreme jaw movements (for example, yawning or loud singing), and learn relaxation techniques.

Even for persistent TMJ, most people do not require aggressive treatment. Short-term use of over-the-counter pain medicines or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), may provide temporary relief. When necessary, your physician can prescribe stronger medications to ease the symptoms.

Your doctor or dentist may recommend a stabilization splint or bite guard, especially if nighttime teeth grinding is suspected. These plastic guards fit over the upper or lower teeth and should only be used for a short period of time and should not cause pain.

Other irreversible treatments, such as orthodontics to change the bite, surgery, and implants are controversial and should be avoided. If your doctor recommends them, be sure to seek a second opinion.

For more information on TMJ disorders and support visit the TMJ Association website (www.tmj.org).

Vision Protection: More Than Meets the Eye

There are plenty of obvious injuries that can result from repetitive music practice and playing. Carpal tunnel, tinnitus, and neck pain are just a few injuries musicians should look out for. One commonly overlooked problem area is the tool used to read music—the eyes.

Factors that put musicians’ eyes at risk for injury and strain include focusing on small notes on a page for long periods of time, frequent reading with inadequate light, dry eyes, and playing loud and high pitched notes on wind instruments, which can double eye pressure.

The eyes weren’t meant to repeatedly scan small text such as musical notes for an extended length of time. Doing so overworks the muscles in the eyes to the point where they begin to spasm and cause vision to blur. This is called eye strain and it can sometimes lead to ocular migraines

Prevention is the best way to curb eye strain. One simple way to relieve stress on your eyes is to blink or carry eye drops. When the cornea becomes dry, the eye begins to ache. Blinking lubricates them. If you wear contact lenses, you are more susceptible to dry eyes. Consider wearing your glasses to gigs or when you rehearse. Also, be mindful of having proper light and taking appropriate resting breaks when your eyes begin to fatigue.

Janet Horvath of Local 30-73 (St. Paul Minneapolis, MN), author of Playing Less Hurt: An Injury Prevention Guide, and associate principal cellist for the Minnesota Orchestra, says a major cause of eye strain stems from the strenuous, uncomfortable positions musicians sit or stand in when playing in a group or with a music stand. Horvath suggests, when practicing at home or with a group or orchestra, make sure the room is brightly lit; that you aren’t too far away from the sheet music; and that you aren’t craning your neck to see the pages.

If you practice with a music stand, be sure to adjust it to eye level or slightly below and place it where you won’t have to turn your body or crane your neck to see the notes. Maintaining a neutral head and neck position is a key element to reducing the occurrence of eye strain. If you share a music stand with another musician and are used to craning your neck to one side, try switching places to create a better balance. “Studies show there is a higher rate of astigmatism in musicians,” says Horvath. “Some musicians often have to play in chronically asymmetrical positions and the amount of eye movement and head movement when tracking an object, like notes on a page, should be balanced.”

Those who wear corrective lenses should consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist on what types of product is most helpful for a particular performance situation. Horvath actually brought along her stand and a page of sheet music to her eye doctor appointment to illustrate the distance at which her eyes had to work when playing with the orchestra. “If you can take the instrument, that’s even better,” says Horvath. “The doctor wouldn’t know it’s quite a few feet away, it’s not book reading distance and not long driving distance.”

Horvath recommends progressive lenses for musicians in their 40s and 50s. These “allin- one” lenses pack every scenario, reading, driving, and watching TV, into one convenient pair and lack the lines that bifocals and trifocals have.

Since space issues are a common problem in orchestras, it’s important to make your conductor and orchestra aware of any discomfort or difficulty seeing the sheet music. Work with your stand partner to find the best placement of the music, where it is comfortable for both of you. Sometimes, simply turning a chair in a different angle is preferable and works better than twisting your pelvis, core, or neck to view the sheet music. “The most important thing is figuring out your head and neck angle and how you are tracking the music,” says Horvath. “This is essential to avoid injury to body, spine, and shoulders too.”