Overuse injuries and piano technique: a biomechanical approach



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Texas Tech University


Of the total number of musicians seeking medical help each year for injury, over half are pianists. Inappropriate playing technique is a contributing factor to the development of an injury. Pedagogues did not begin to concern themselves with the physiological aspects of piano playing until the twentieth century. Even then, recommendations for building technique were primarily based on the playing techniques of famous performing artists and were often idiosyncratic. These observations are opinion-based and are not applicable to all players; furthermore, in many cases they are biomechanically and ergonomically insupportable.

This dissertation is the first study to approach the combined motions comprising specific pianistic tasks from a biomechanical perspective, taking into account environmental, anatomic, and biomechanical constraints. Twentieth-century pedagogical views concerning piano technique are surveyed, and the debate concerning the appropriate use of exercises is explored. The kinesiology of the playing apparatus is detailed. A theoretical biomechanical norm is offered for seven different pianistic tasks: scales, arpeggios, trills, double-third scales, octave scales, broken chords, and broken octaves.

Mechanical factors of muscles and tendons and their responses to force application are described. Common sites and types of injuries suffered by pianists are also discussed. Advice for the prevention of keyboard injuries is offered based upon both empirical and quantified data from the medical, biomechanical, and ergononuc sciences. Certain practice habits and movements are identified as having the potential to cause injury.

The dissertation culminates with instructions for performing a qualitative biomechanical analysis of a given pianistic task on an individual pianist using checkHsts developed for that purpose.