UH Moment

UH Moment: “Cello”

Add this occupation to the list of hazardous jobs:  musician.  This week's UH Moment explains.

Music may soothe the savage beast, but it can create injuries in the musician.

“When you have three hour rehearsals, and then chamber music rehearsals, and then practicing, naturally your muscles are going to feel kind of fatigued,” commented one young cellist participating in a University of Houston study.  “If I do that for too many days in a row, I definitely feel a little bit sore, a little bit tight and I don’t have the dexterity I would normally have.”   

A new study at the Center for Neuromotor and Biomechanics Research examines the posture and body movements of cellists to determine if interventions can lessen or eliminate muscle injury.

Muscles of the backMuscles of the back (click to enlarge)

“For cellists, one of the main problem is back injuries.  Seventy-five percent of cellists  experience a back injury in their career,” said Angela Robertson, a UH post-doctoral fellow.  “It could be the repetitive nature of the movements, the chair or something else.  That’s what we want to find out.” 

Robertson’s study is using a custom chair that adjusts to a musician’s height,  a large force plate to measure force distribution when the musician plays and special software to measure the musician’s movements.

“In the last movement in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony there are more than 6,000 left-hand finger movements required of cellists,” Robertson said.  “In the ‘Rite of Spring’ the cellist has to play more than 10 notes per second, so it’s like rrrrrrrrrrrrr really fast.”

Up to a dozen area cellists may participate in this study.   some of the thinking is that if you can support more of your weight in your feet that could ease tension in your back and potentially reduce injury in your back.   

“There are different ideas for how playing position changes might be able to improve someone’s ability to play without becoming injured,” she said.  “There isn’t a consistent way to measure or determine what would be best for a given person yet.” 

Human performance research is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.  I’m Marisa Ramirez. 

Telling the stories of the University of Houston, this UH Moment is brought to you by KUHF, listener supported radio from the University of Houston.