Muscle activity during the playing of an instrument is an important parameter for the identification of the first signs of musculoskeletal disorders. Various techniques exist to record the activity of the muscles, the most common being electromyography (EMG). In order to assess co-contraction in the forearm muscles while playing the piano, EMG measurements were used to quantify changes in active muscle stiffness during performance. We noticed significant but steady levels of co-contraction when playing scales at the keyboard, while significant variation in co-contraction, corresponding to faster note rates and increased loudness, was observed while performing repertoire. Co-contraction was not directly related to feelings of discomfort. Contrary to what many experts believe, results from this study indicate that the presence of co-contraction is fundamental to piano playing (Andison, 2011).
The infrared camera can remotely measure the temperature of the superficial muscles of the arm and hand of a musician performing at the piano. In a first study, we were able to demonstrate that infrared thermography can be an important tool in the study of piano playing by providing information on the evolution of muscle temperatures; the interpretation of the evolution of the temperature of muscle tissue has a potentially important role for understanding interactions between muscles, the effects of warming up and muscle technique during performance (Herry, Frize, Goubran, & Comeau, 2005). In a second study using infrared imaging, we examined the difference in heat temperature between pianists with pain related to piano-playing and pianists without pain. We found that there is a statistically significant difference in hand temperature between the two groups. In addition, pianists with pain had higher hand temperatures relative to their arms (Mohamed, 2011). These two studies demonstrated that tracking muscle temperatures can provide important information on physical warm-up and may help identify early signs of inflammatory musculoskeletal disorders. Our studies aim to capture the biomechanical significance of warming during piano playing and evaluate its impact on muscles, joints and the nervous system.
Future Project: Rigidity, relaxation, co-contraction and pluri-articulation problems are key notions in piano pedagogy. To play the piano, musicians can choose the big, powerful extrinsic muscles of the forearm or the small intrinsic muscles of the palm in order to vary the quality of their playing. Also, a concept as central as warming up is linked to many different meanings and phenomena. Our current work already focuses on these aspects and aims to capture the biomechanical significance of warming and evaluate the impact of piano playing on muscles, joints and the nervous system. Our next objective is to produce a book for researchers and piano teachers on the biomechanics of piano playing.
A number of musicians are affected by music performance anxiety and we still know little about the cognitive aspects related to that condition. In a first study, we examined the signs and symptoms that children (ages 8-12) and teenagers (ages 13-17) experience and the levels of performance anxiety they perceive. The biggest contribution of this research was to demonstrate an increase in anxiety with age, while differentiating between emotional anxiety and physical anxiety, and between boys and girls. A strong relationship between perfectionism and self-efficacy with anxiety indicated that students with high levels of perfectionism and low levels of self-efficacy are more likely to suffer from performance anxiety (Dempsey, 2015). A follow-up study looked into the impact negative thoughts can have on performance anxiety. Based on the framework of sports psychology, adaptive coping strategies were presented and the importance of the teacher-student relationship on developing a positive and healthier perspective towards performance was discussed (Mo, 2015).
There has been extensive research conducted on musicians and hearing loss showing that musicians are often exposed to sound levels above safe limits for prolonged periods of time. However, most of these studies were done with middle-aged (professional) musicians and they were all carried out before the proliferation of personal music systems (iPods, smart phones, etc.). The study we are conducting has three main objectives. First, we are examining the hearing sensitivity in music students (age 17–24) to determine if there is greater incidence of hearing loss among music students as compared to the average population. Secondly, considering the prevalence of personal music systems among young people, we are asking if this is a potentially significant contributor to hearing loss in student musicians. Finally, we are questioning whether there are correlations between the auditory threshold of music students’ hearing and the instruments in which they specialize, the amount of time they practise, the location in which they normally practise and the amount of time they practise/perform with other musicians (Comeau, Koravand, & Swirp, 2017).