Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

The Influence of Warm-Ups and Other Factors on the Perceived Physical Discomfort of Middle School String Students

Academic journal article Contributions to Music Education

The Influence of Warm-Ups and Other Factors on the Perceived Physical Discomfort of Middle School String Students

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to explore the influence of warm-up activities and fixed factors on the perceived health of public middle school string players. Participants in this study were 6th, 7th, and 8th grade string players (N = 158). Participants rated their discomfort while playing their instrument in a series of 32 items representing left and right sides of the body and encompassing various regions of the body. Descriptive statistics revealed that participants generally did not experience discomfort while playing their instruments. Neither warm-up frequency, type of warm-up activity, or warm-up duration impacted perceived discomfort. Only one fixed factor had a significant impact on overall discomfort. Sixth graders reported higher discomfort than 7th and 8th grade participants.

Playing an orchestral instrument is a physical act unlike many others. The control and repetitive motion of fine motor muscles required to play a string instrument can lead to pain and discomfort. Unlike professional athletes who may work with trainers on a regular basis, musicians spend most of their time alone, practicing for long periods (Paull & Harrison, 1997). The practice behaviors of young students first learning their instruments in a middle school orchestra are often unguided and seldom monitored. Ensuring student physical health can help lead to a life-long love of playing music and should be of paramount importance to teachers and researchers alike.

Many authors and musicians believe that warm-ups are an integral part of a musician's daily activities and can help limit performance based injuries. Klickstein (2003) states:

Dynamic warm-ups inspire everything that follows; they set an artist's body and mind in musical motion. Like sensuous opening ceremonies, warm-ups unwrap the heart, fire up the muscles, quicken the senses, and stir the imagination. Still, many performers neglect to warm-up consistently. For instance, when young musicians pick up their instruments, they can behave like frenzied racehorses charging out of their starting gates. Warming up may be the last thing on their minds. But it needs to be the first. Skipping over warm-ups can jeopardize musicians' health, (p. 50)

Statements such as this one exist throughout practitioner journals in music. Yet, there is little empirically based research in which the benefits of warm-ups are explicidy explored. Ample research exists that examines how or if music teachers use warm-up activities during their rehearsal time in the public schools (Brendell, 1996; Fiocca, 1986; Grimes, 1988; Sherril, 1986; Szabo, 1992). However, these studies focus on the use of warm-ups in choral and band ensembles. No research was found specific to the use of warm-ups in orchestral ensemble settings.

There is a growing amount of evidence that the use of systematic warm-ups may have musical benefits for students. Researchers have found that the use of warm-ups can improve an ensemble's intonation and tone quality (Millsap, 1999), harmonic recognition and attitude towards the overall ensemble performance (Grugin, 1999), and student understanding of musical concepts (Henry, 1992). However, these studies have focused on samples of students participating in band ensembles and not orchestra ensembles.

Researchers concerned with the medical problems faced by performing musicians have explored the health benefits of warm-ups (Brandfonbrener, 1997a; Brandfonbrener, 1997b; Fishbein & Middlestadt, 1988; West, 2003). These studies, which rely on self-reporting, suggest that warm-ups can alleviate pain and diminish the threat of physical injury among professional musicians. Although much of this research does focus on the medical problems faced by string players, the participants in these studies are professional musicians and not developing students.

The Use of Warm-Ups in Secondary Ensemble Classes

There is a wealth of studies that demonstrate how warm-ups are used in the public school music classroom. …

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