Rock and Roll Research: Grad Student Study Looks for Link Between Performances and Heart Rate

Research in front of a stage with a band

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: June 12, 2014

Music entertains people all around the world. Live music performances can affect an audience’s mood and energy levels and the performers, too. One study strives to learn more about the stressors professional musicians undergo before and during a live performance.

Exercise physiology graduate student Heather Vellers sought to find out how a musician’s body reacts during a live performance. The study chronicled heart rates during rehearsals and compared that to live performances in front of an audience.

“Most performers participating in the study didn’t have prior knowledge of what heart rate was or means,” Vellers says. “So to be able to explain it also provided knowledge they did not have before participating in the study.”

Each artist wore a heart rate monitor before practice sessions and live performances. To determine any differences in responses among certain instruments, all band members wore the monitors. Factors taken into account included number of years playing in public, height and weight measurements and music tempo.

 “While in a ‘gig’ performance, we saw 60-85 percent of maximum heart rate among all musicians,” Vellers says. “What’s interesting is that number is in line with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommended heart rate during normal exercise.”

The data showed the same impact no matter what type of music or instrument played—all genres had similar effects on performers. And regardless of what type of instrument played—lead singer, saxophonist or drummer, all had the same max heart rate.

One factor that appeared to make a difference was preparation time before the event. Band members without a recent practice session experienced elevated heart rates. “Band leaders CCM heart rates fell between 70 and 94 percent of heart rate, prior to performing when there was no practice before,” Vellers says. The performer’s heart rate also climbed when a performer was playing a solo or when a certain piece of music elicited an audience response.

For Vellers, this research was a unique experience. With her interest in science regarding the heart, the mixing of exercise physiology with the performing arts may open up new ideas for future research. It also provided an opportunity to share the value of research with the participating artists.

For more information on the exercise physiology program, visit