Founded in 1857 as the first conservatory in the United States with a rich history of innovation and leadership in performance training at the highest level, Peabody’s research on the health of musicians began with a chapter of groundbreaking performing arts health studies conducted by Otto Ortmann in the early 20th century in a laboratory on the fourth floor of Leakin Hall. Studies resulted in the publication of his trail-blazing books incorporating science into pedagogy, The Physical Basis of Piano Touch and Tone in 1925 and The Physiological Mechanics of Piano Technique in 1929.

Affiliated with Johns Hopkins University since 1977, one of the world’s preeminent research universities and medical institutions, Peabody has carried Dr. Ortmann’s legacy into the 21st century through health education programs and clinical care for performing artists. Now Peabody is expanding its global leadership through the development of new transdisciplinary educational and research initiatives designed to address musculoskeletal, vocal, auditory, and mental health concerns related to learning, performing, and consuming music and dance. 

Peabody’s interdisciplinary research lab, anchored by Dr. Kris Chesky and developed in collaboration with Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, supports the work of faculty across Hopkins as well as postdoctoral fellows and students. The Performing Arts and Health research lab generates cutting-edge knowledge in understanding the myriad of ways in which music and dance can influence health, both in utilizing the power of music and movement for well-being and recovery, and in developing training and practices that promote healthy, optimal music-making and dancing. The lab helps students build the skills to research, develop, teach, mentor, and disseminate effective strategies intended to advance a health-oriented performing arts culture around the world.

Research projects include:

Peabody Smart Instrument Series and Smart Guitar: aims to quantify finger force production on the fretboard/fingerboard of stringed instruments during performance. Patent application was submitted March 2018. Next-generation prototype design and production has recently been completed for the SmartGuitar by the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Whiting School of Engineering.

Side by Side Singing: funded by a 2016 Discovery Award, this study tracked measures of closeness and quality of life for mild/moderate dementia patients and their caregivers at the Broadmead retirement community in a 10-week side-by-side singing activity.

GuitarPD: funded by Dean’s Incentive Grant, this project assessed the feasibility of non-traditional guitar group instruction in individuals with Parkinson’s disease and the impact of this instruction on upper limb motor function and quality of life. We found that group guitar classes are a feasible medium to provide music-enriched environment to individuals with PD. Participants demonstrated increased quality of life. Our findings suggest a potential positive impact on upper limb motor function. Due to demand for continuing guitar classes, the Preparatory has added a PD Strummers class to its Prescribe portfolio.

Step into My Brain: Brain Virtual Reality Project: funded by a 2018 Discovery Award, this project created a virtual reality environment of the brain cortex viewed from inside out with brain activations converted to sound using a unique harmonic mapping schema of the cortical and subcortical structures.

Differences in finger force application patterns between expert and novice guitarists: This project aims to elucidate characteristics of expert force application patterns in fretting hand as compared to novice players using the SmartGuitar. Findings from this study will provide preliminary data for further studies towards improving guitar pedagogy with technology-enriched learning strategies.

Effect of Verbal Cueing Versus Visual Biofeedback on Restoring the Pattern of Muscle Activation Associated with Reduced Injury During Piano Playing: This project investigates the role of visual biofeedback from surface electromyography in restoring muscle activation patterns in the shoulders of pianists as compared to verbal instruction. Findings from this study will provide preliminary data for further studies in normalizing muscle activation patterns in the shoulders of pianists to reduce injury risk.

Prevalence and Associations of Playing Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (PRMD) in Incoming Cohorts to a Major Music Conservatory: This is a retrospective study of data collected during voluntary musculoskeletal screening of incoming music performance students. It aims to investigate the prevalence of current and past PRMD and its association with fitness, practice habits and health seeking behaviors.

Impact of Temporally Proximal Conceptualization on Creative Outcomes of Musical Improvisation. This study aims to investigate the impact of imagery of improvisation while listening to harmonic progression on the improvisational choices in alto saxophone players. Findings from this study will contribute to our understanding of creative processes.

Not all imagery is created equal: A functional Magnetic resonance imaging study of internally driven and symbol driven musical performance imagery. This study aimed to compare the cortical activation patterns in fretless lute players while they engage in “visualization” from memory and through looking at a score. We found that the two modes of visualization activate distinct parts of the brain, suggesting that different visualization strategies may benefit separate phases of motor learning in musicians.

Additional research is conducted through the Johns Hopkins Center for Music & Medicine.

Hopkins and Peabody students interested in participating in performing arts and health research are encouraged to contact Dr. Kris Chesky.