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Prog Brain Res. 2015;217:89-106. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2014.11.022. Epub 2015 Jan 31.

Apollo's curse: neurological causes of motor impairments in musicians.

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Institute of Music Physiology and Musicians' Medicine (IMMM), University of Music, Drama and Media, Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany. Electronic address:
Institute of Music Physiology and Musicians' Medicine (IMMM), University of Music, Drama and Media, Hanover, Lower Saxony, Germany.


Performing music at a professional level is probably one of the most complex human accomplishments. Extremely fast and complex, temporo-spatially predefined movement patterns have to be learned, memorized, and retrieved with high reliability in order to meet the expectations of listeners. Performing music requires not only the integration of multimodal sensory and motor information, and its precise monitoring via auditory and kinesthetic feedback, but also emotional communicative skills, which provide a "speaking" rendition of a musical masterpiece. To acquire these specialized auditory-sensory-motor and emotional skills, musicians must undergo extensive training periods over many years, which start in early childhood and continue on through stages of increasing physical and strategic complexities. Performance anxiety, linked to high societal pressures such as the fear of failure and heightened self-demands, frequently accompanies these learning processes. Motor disturbances in musicians are common and include mild forms, such as temporary motor fatigue with short-term reduction of motor skills, painful overuse injuries following prolonged practice, anxiety-related motor failures during performances (choking under pressure), as well as more persistent losses of motor control, here termed "dynamic stereotypes" (DSs). Musician's dystonia (MD), which is characterized by the permanent loss of control of highly skilled movements when playing a musical instrument, is the gravest manifestation of dysfunctional motor programs, frequently linked to a genetic susceptibility to develop such motor disturbances. In this review chapter, we focus on different types of motor failures in musicians. We argue that motor failures in musicians develop along a continuum, starting with subtle transient degradations due to fatigue, overuse, or performance stress, which transform by and by into more permanent, still fluctuating motor degradations, the DSs, until a more irreversible condition, MD manifests. We will review the epidemiology and the principles of medical treatment of MD and discuss prevention strategies.


dynamic stereotype; motor control; musician's dystonia; prevention of dystonia; treatment of dystonia

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