The Covid19 pandemic has created challenges for everyone within the music products industry. In particular, concerns over the safety of playing brass and woodwind instruments and potential risks of transmitting the virus. Such concerns have been problematic for manufacturers, distributors, retailers and musicians of all ages and abilities.
The Aerosol Science and Technology journal has recently published a study. It has shown that Aerosol generated by playing wind instruments is less than that produced when vocalising (speaking and singing). Playing a woodwind or brass instrument also carries less risk of transmitting Covid19 than speaking, shouting, or singing.
The PERFORM Research Study
The research project, PERFORM, stands for ParticulatE Respiratory Matter to InForm Guidance for the Safe Distancing of PerfOrmeRs in a COVID-19 PandeMic.
The study was supported by:
- Public Health England
- The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
The research was carried out by:
- Imperial College London
- University of Bristol
- Wexham Park Hospital
- Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust
- Royal Brompton Hospital
The aim of the study was to look at the amount of aerosols and droplets generated when playing woodwind and brass instruments compared with breathing and vocalisation (speaking and singing). The work was carried out in an environment with no background aerosol particles to complicate measurement interpretation. Nine musicians playing 13 woodwind and brass instruments participated. One of the participants was classical musician and award-winning professional trumpeter, Alison Balsom.
The PERFORM study found that aerosols less than 20 μm in diameter generated while playing woodwind and brass instruments are similar to those produced by breathing. This was based on measurements of several musicians playing a range of instruments. In addition, aerosol concentrations generated while instrument playing were lower than those associated with vocalising at a high volume.
Large droplets of more than 20 μm in diameter were not observed during instrument playing but were observed during singing and coughing. Together the findings indicate that playing woodwind and brass instruments generates less aerosol than vocalising at high volume levels.
Concentrations of aerosol emissions from the musicians during breathing and vocalising were consistent with results from a study carried out last year of a large group of professional singers. No difference was found between the aerosol concentrations generated by professional and amateur performers while breathing or vocalising. This suggests that aerosol generation is consistent across amateur and professional singers, regardless of training.
“Our study found playing woodwind and brass instruments generates less aerosol than vocalisation, which could have important policy implications in a roadmap to lifting COVID-19 restrictions, as many performing arts activities have been, and continue to be, severely restricted.”Dr Bryan Bzdek, Lecturer in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol and corresponding author on the paper
“This study confirms that the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 are likely elevated during vocalisation at loud volume in poorly ventilated spaces. By comparison, playing wind instruments, like breathing, generates less particles that could carry the virus than speaking or singing.”Jonathan Reid, Director of Bristol Aerosol Research Centre and Professor of Physical Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol
There is optimism across the industry that this research could be crucial to developing a roadmap for lifting COVID-19 restrictions in the performing arts. This would have a positive effect on all musical ensembles, as well as the businesses responsible for supplying instruments and equipment.
What are the current restrictions on playing wind instruments where you are? Let us know here.