Athletes and the Arts: Help Your Musician or Dancer

Heres why performance artists need the same education, care, and training as sport athletes.
Athletes and the Arts: Help Your Musician or Dancer

Performing artists are athletes. Just like sport athletes they:

  • Practice or perform almost every day
  • Play through pain
  • Compete in challenging environments
  • Experience little off season
  • Face extreme competition
  • Face real risk of career-threatening injury

Yet, performing artists rarely have access to the injury prevention, nutrition and practice and competition guidelines afforded most sport athletes, even at the youth level. Performing artists (musicians, dancers, singers, conductors, actors, marching band members, etc., of all ages) and their instructors NEED this information, along with education and research associated with unique performance-related problems.

Why the concern? Because:

  • In one year, 64% of World Class Drum Corps had members who developed a stress fracture.
  • 50% of all musicians have some form of Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL).
  • 75% of orchestra instrumentalists will develop at least one musculoskeletal disorder from playing during their lifetimes.
  • 67% to 95% of pro ballet and modern dancers suffer at least one reportable injury annually.

Initiated in 2008 and formally launched in 2013, ATHLETES AND THE ARTS (AATA) is a multi-organizational initiative recognizing that athletes exist throughout the performing arts community and that established performance, wellness and injury prevention research for sport athletes also is applicable to performing artists. Health and wellness are generally foreign concepts in the performing arts community.

Youth football coaches educate about concussion prevention, youth soccer coaches teach proper heading techniques. Why shouldnt parents and instructors address wellness, hearing, and cross-training?

Practice and Performance in Perspective

Lessons from the SPORT world:

  • At some point the number of practice hours may hurt rather than help. Consider FOCUSED practice segments with different goals in each session. Rote repetition for extended periods of time has not proven successful.
  • Large ACUTE increases in the time spent physically practicing increases risk of injury. If the volume or intensity of practice must increase, do it gradually.
  • Cross-train Employ a mental or physical activity that allows the body to focus on something different. Emphasize both mental and physical rest and recovery.

How do these findings translate to you and your child? Consider:

Select appropriate repertoire Select rpertoire that challenges students growth but does not overwhelm them physically or musically.

Teach healthy practice strategies Encourage students to problem solve and avoid mindless practice. Break up practice sessions to enhance concentration and avoid overuse.

Observe, record and review the strength and posture needed during practice. Help students understand the value of core strength to posture and being strong enough to hold their posture (or instrument, where applicable) for long stretches.

Promote joy of performance Provide students a range of performance opportunities so

they feel comfortable in a performance setting.

Overuse / Burnout

Consider repetitive motion, a major source of injury in the sport world.

  • Approximately 150 pitches thrown per team in a professional baseball game.
  • Approximately 8,000 steps per field player in a soccer match.
  • Approximately 50,000 steps in a marathon.
  • Approximately 3 million musical notes in a full-length Broadway performance.

Youth in todays culture are driven to train early and extensively. Early specialization and extensive training creates well-documented risks of over-use injury, burnout, stress, and less enjoyment in youth sports.

The performing artist faces many of these same challenges but the specific research for this population is scarce. Consider the learnings from youth sport research when working with your child to make it FUN and minimize the risk of physical and mental overuse.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Be aware of exposure to both the intensity of the sound (measured in decibels (dB)) and its duration. Government standards for occupations with high noise exposure have a foundation exposure value of no more than 85 Decibels for an 8-hour period.. However for every 3 dB increase, time exposure is halved:

88 dB 4 hrs/day

91 dB 2 hrs/day

94 dB 1 hr/day

The dynamic range of music, live or recorded, can peak at or above 95 dB. Normal piano practice ranges from 60-90 dB, more intense, 70-105 dB. Hearing damage can occur (for both student AND instructor) when exposed to 94 dB for 60 minutes or less daily.

Consider educating yourself and your child about these issues and encourage an annual hearing test with an audiologist.

Health professional relationship / wellness coach

Establish a health professional relationship BEFORE an injury occurs. Create a student performance diary to document a typical week of practice, performance and other related activity. Perform in the office for your physician. A healthcare provider must understand the arts activity in order to counsel on prevention in the same way a physician would monitor mileage if one is suffering from shin splints.


Please know that is a resource for much of this information, including one-pagers that you can access on subjects ranging from hearing loss to performance anxiety and a variety of nutrition issues. Please use the website to educate yourself and your child to enhance their long-term wellness and performance.


Performing artists of all ages and genre are an underserved population related to medical coverage, care, injury prevention and wellness. These artists can benefit from a knowledgeable medical team that understand what they do (including the volume and intensity of their activities) in collaboration with a caring, innovative instructor who sees both the short-term and long term picture for a students development. Be as proactive protecting your singer or dancer as you are for your soccer or hockey player.

I believe music is healing and if you want to heal other people, youve got to heal yourself first. The healthier we are as musicians and the arts community in general, dancers and actors, the better the world will be. Jon Batiste

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