Berklee Today: Playing for Life

Jeannie Gagné and Neil Olmstead
January 15, 2010
Jeannie Gagné, associate professor, Voice Department, and Neil Olmstead, professor, Piano Department
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

As greater demands are placed upon today's vocalists and instrumentalists, physical injuries have become more prevalent. The ability to deliver a diverse repertoire ranging from Mozart to Bird to Aretha and the need for improvisational skills in various styles and ensemble settings often take precedence over a healthful, noninjurious technique. Indeed, many musicians may consider a slight ache or pain normal until it becomes unbearable or, worse, threatens to halt a career.

Music schools and conservatories have long been a hotbed of student injuries from overuse or improper technique. In a 2000 survey of college music students, 87 percent experienced instrument-related injury. In a 2009 study of 330 university freshmen, 79 percent reported a history of playing-related pain. Berklee-trained musicians encounter the same issues. Conducted in April 2009, a survey of nearly 400 Berklee students found that 78 percent reported pain, numbness, or discomfort while practicing or performing on their instrument.

For some professional musicians, injuries have disrupted or ended careers. Many famous vocalists have experienced significant vocal damage or loss of range after pushing to sing through strain and fatigue. A growing awareness of the problem has inspired a cultural and academic shift toward promoting healthy instrumental and vocal technique and practice. Ideally, musicians should be able to play and sing injury free for life.

Read more about avoiding injuries in Berklee Today.