Supporting Healthy Young Musicians
A Healthy Performer Case Study
The Junior Royal Academy of Music’s Healthy Young Musician programme provides the next generation of young musicians with the knowledge, awareness, and tools to support and enhance their health and wellbeing.
Research into the health and wellbeing of music students within higher education has been of particular interest in recent years; suggesting a range of physical, mental, and emotional challenges (Perkins, 2017). Given that the average age at which professional musicians begin their musical education has been reported to be around twelve years old, it has been suggested that many musicians begin to form inhibiting health-related habits and behaviours from a young age (Nagel, 1987).
Within the general population, over half of mental ill health starts by the age of fifteen, with 75% of problems developing by age eighteen, further pointing towards the need for intervention during adolescence (Davies, 2014; Kessler et al., 2005). Considering physical health, a recent study found that within Western Europe, 52% of students studying in senior conservatoires reported experiencing a performance-related musculoskeletal disorder, suggesting that earlier education is needed to inform music students on how to better care for their physical wellbeing (The PLOS ONE Staff, 2021).
There is, therefore, a clear call for health intervention programmes for adolescent musicians in order to more effectively support the health and wellbeing of young students.
Junior Royal Academy of Music places the welfare of young students aged twelve to eighteen as a top priority. The Healthy Young Musician course runs with the aim of enabling student musicians to more effectively optimise their health and wellbeing. Highlighted by Perkins et al. (2017), key environmental enablers for wellbeing in a senior conservatoire setting are relationships and networks, in addition to performance success and enjoyment. Healthy Young Musician therefore delivers open group sessions, seeking to enable adolescent musicians to better understand that their experiences are not isolated, hopefully increasing the chances of them experiencing social support amongst the student body.
All sessions consist of an introduction to theory, engaging in an activity, and application to performance. Creative and engaging theory-led presentations drawing from a range of disciplines are delivered to young musicians on a variety of topics in order to help increase awareness and spark discussion amongst the class. To connect this knowledge to practice, a range of tools including Alexander Technique, meditation and mindfulness are employed to further emphasise the role of psychophysical connections within healthy music practice. Instruments are then brought into the session so that students are able to experience the effects of combining physical and mental tools in relation to their performances.
Sessions run weekly throughout the year and cover a range of topics and skills, including:
- Physical, emotional, and mental health: what they are and breaking stereotypes
- Mental Skills: Goal setting, self-talk, imagery, arousal regulation
- Tools: Self-confidence, self-compassion, motivation, growth mindset
- The role of positive psychology in music
- Performance anxiety management
- Coping and emotional regulation
- How to support yourself and others: Active listening
- Instrument-specific advice: Preventing physical injury
- Managing perfectionism
In addition to Healthy Young Musician sessions, weekly active listening sessions take place which provide a non-judgemental, non-advisory talking service for young people to discuss any problems they may be experiencing. This also acts as a signposting opportunity to help guide students toward relevant support services as required.
The PLOS ONE Staff (2021), Prevalence and associated factors of playing-related musculoskeletal disorders among music students in Europe. Baseline findings from the Risk of Music Students (RISMUS) longitudinal multicentre study. PLoS ONE 16(10): e0258608. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0258608
Nagel JJ (1987), An examination of commitment to careers in music: implications for alienation from vocational choice. Diss. Abstr. Int. 48, UMI: 871218.
Perkins R, Reid H, Araújo L, Clark T, & Williamon A (2017), Perceived enablers and barriers to optimal health among music students: a qualitative study in the music conservatoire setting, Frontiers in Psychology, 8 (968), 1-15. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00968
Davies SC, Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer (2013), Public Mental Health Priorities: Investing in the Evidence [Internet]. 2014. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file /413196/CMO_web_doc.pdf
Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE (2005), Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry [Internet]. 62(6):593. Available from: http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?doi=10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.5