Biomedical Engineering


Vetter, Frederick J

Advisor Department

Electrical, Computer, and Biomedical Engineering




biomechanics; oboe; flute; music; music performance; ergonomics


When first learning to play a wind instrument, beginner musicians are taught how to hold their instrument and correctly position their body. They are taught how to sit, where to put their hands and fingers on the keys, and how to hold their arms. This initial lesson on posture and hand positioning is often short, as one quickly moves on to learn the embouchure and breathing techniques that allow sound to be produced. As a musician progresses in skill, positioning is emphasized more, and they learn that it can affect their risk of strain or injury and improve their sound quality. Throughout a musician’s lifetime, one may often find themselves in pain in one area of their body or another. This can normally be prevented by modifying or correcting their body in an optimal position to play as well as to prevent strain and pain. Common points of pain for a musician include the neck, shoulders, lower back, and wrists, depending on the type of instrument and other variables.

Musicians have developed several methods to teach the best positions to play instruments. Most of these methods are developed by experimentation, to decide what position feel the best and minimizes the pain they are receiving when they play. One such method is body mapping, which in general terms, allows a musician an understanding of their body and allows them to better learn to apply it. One can consciously correct their body position to produce more efficient and graceful movements. The evidence of success is a reduction of pain and improvement of playing ability and sound quality.

“The Biomechanics of Music Performance” is a study explaining the reasons why body mapping and the recommended positions for holding instruments are effective. An engineer’s perspective is used to explain the basic concepts of physics and biomechanics in a musician’s motion and details the related anatomical workings. The study has been narrowed to two specific instruments, the flute and the oboe, and focuses on the neuromuscular involvement of the upper limbs and body.

With both instruments, there are risks for many injuries similar to those seen in computer overuse. This includes carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and more. For example, for a flutist, concentrating on the extension of the wrist and ulnar deviation in the right arm is important, and physics can explain why the optimal position of the right elbow can change the amount of pain that is produced in the right wrist. Similarly, oboists often experience strain in their right wrist and hand, and again, this can be alleviated by adjusting the angle of wrist extension and ulnar deviation.

Through “The Biomechanics of Music Performance” the mechanisms of musical performance will be examined and accepted positioning will be studied to prove and explain their effectiveness. Through a new perspective on the subject, the goal is to introduce concepts to a new audience to increase the understanding and ability of musicians and their body positioning and movements.