Research into the occupational health of music students has shown that, on entry to their studies, up to 25% of music students already have some kind of playing-related musculoskeletal injury, and 70% of these face the likelihood of an injury so severe that it will impede their ability to perform. Sports medicine research affirms that targeted health education can lead to optimal performance and fewer injuries, and musicians are likely to benefit from similar initiatives. Music teachers, educational institutions and healthcare professionals all play a crucial intermediary role in helping to prioritise performance health for student musicians, yet they often lack the information or skills required, and implementing health education is often not seen as a priority despite the devastating effects of ill health for musicians being well-established in the research literature. Online delivery can make musicians’ health education widely available but factors that promote or inhibit student engagement need to be understood in order to ensure its effectiveness in promoting behavioural change.
This presentation discusses the development, design and evaluation of an expert-designed online musicians’ health course aimed to to promote optimal performance. It reveals factors that may affect student perceptions, behaviours and engagement with health education.
Stakeholder and consultant feedback in a formative evaluation process informed the course content and delivery approach. Target population needs were assessed using the Australian Music Students Health Survey (AMSHS) which collected and analysed data on music students’ perceived states of physical and psychological health, their perceptions of the importance of specific health topics in relation to their training and education, and likelihood they would attend classes in these. Experts from the fields of musicians’ health, audiology, performance psychology and music education contributed collaboratively as content authors, resulting in strong integration of physical and psychological health aspects throughout the course. The course was then trialled at two Australian tertiary music schools and the results evaluated.
Results of the Australian Music Students Health Survey give a contradictory picture of tertiary music students’ attitudes and health behaviours, in which students rated highly the importance of health knowledge but accorded it less importance as part of their education. Correlations emerged between students’ reported behaviour, injury history and prioritization of health education and specific performance-related health topics. Data from pilot trials showed that students who did the course as a required activity demonstrated significantly higher average topic participation and completion rates than students who did the course voluntarily, despite high prevalence of injury in the latter group and high importance ratings for health topics in both groups.
These results support previous research showing low levels of self-responsibility in music students that may affect their ability to engage with health information. Bridging the divide between the clear imperative for effective health education and music students’ health behaviours is urgently needed. Exploring how to most effectively implement online musicians’ health education can help to translate music students’ perceptions of the importance of health education into changed health behaviours, thereby supporting their developing capacity for optimal performance.