Conferences, Technique, Technology

OhioMTA 2012 Conference (2): Music Performance and Biofeedback, by Kathleen Riley

The next session was called: Understanding the Physiology of Music Performance Through Biofeedback, by Kathleen Riley.

Kathleen Riley is a pioneer in using technology she refers to as “biofeedback” to monitor movement and muscles in order to help musicians eliminate pain, tension, or discomfort in their shoulders, arms, backs, etc.  She began her session with a quote:

“Technique is the knowledge o the most economical way to produce adequately what the mind conceives artistically.”  – E. Robert Schmitz, from the 1935 book The Capture of Inspiration.

Dr. Riley discussed relaxation and the music — and the fact that although no muscle is ever completely relaxed, there is a resting point.  She discussed that we need to examine how much tension we really need when we play.  How can we release unneeded tension and follow-through on our movements?  

The biofeedback technology works through a device that clips to the performers belt, and has wires going to pads that are placed on the muscles of the arm and shoulders.  The software on Dr. Riley’s computer reads the information from the pads and displays a graph showing the periods of playing and resting for the right and left side of the performer.  Dr. Riley also had two cameras set up on either side of the piano, and the software was designed to show the correct video below each graph, so the viewer can easily see what is happening both on the inside and outside as the performer plays.

Dr. Riley showed that through biofeedback technology, she is able to see tension that is not showing externally. She has been able to help pianists and other musicians identify that source of their tension (oftentimes, musicians think the source is elsewhere in the body than it actually is) and re-learn how to play in a way that would not lead to injury.

During the Q&A time after the session, Dr. Riley mentioned that some colleges/universities have been able to get this technology for their music departments.  Dr. Riley herself trains individuals on how to use and properly interpret the biofeedback information.  She feels that biofeedback is an important new technological development in music wellness and is the perfect solution for when we can not externally see the source of tension!  This technology is fascinating, and it is great to hear that it is being utilized to help musicians!

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