Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

By the Numbers

In preparing a handout on overuse injuries, I started looking at just how many notes and measures are in some of my current orchestral repertoire. 



Mahler 5th Symphony: Total is 2704 measures, with first movement clocking in at 415, second at 576, third at 819, fourth at 102, and fifth at 792.  Just for fun, the last movement is fast, with anywhere between 4-16 notes per bar.  If we average that out to just 8 notes per bar, that's 6,336 notes.  Now, if take a conservative vote of just 4 notes per bar and a few rests, that's still a hefty 3,168 notes.  Let's say that the movement is 15 minutes long, which means that notes per minute is 211-422, depending on the instrument and the passagework.  (Which means between 3 and 7 notes per SECOND!).  

Time out folks, let's think back on the days of typing class.  (I took it.  Maybe you just took texting class if you're younger than I am).  An average typist aims for 40 words per minute.  We musicians are articulating hundreds of notes per minute, blowing any average (and above average) typist out of the water. 

Just for comparison, let's look at Schubert 9...the Great (or as I like to think of it, the very lengthy.)

Schubert-he looks like such a nice guy!  Little did he know that he'd be tiring orchestras out for centuries to come.

Schubert-he looks like such a nice guy!  Little did he know that he'd be tiring orchestras out for centuries to come.

1st movement: without the first repeat, clocking in at 684 bars.  With the first repeat, 938. Most parts have between 4 and 8 notes per measure, average to 6 notes per measure times 684=4,104 notes.  Even if you don't factor in the notes per bar, that's a lot of music.

2nd movement:389 measures, 12 minutes.  This is the opposite problem-not too much going on, and slowish.  Very tiring to play slow after going crazy the first ten minutes! 

3rd movement: There are lots of repeats here, so the scherzo and trio sections can be quite lengthy, so the scherzo without repeats is 238, and the trio section 1 is 56 and section 2 is 100, (without the transition.)  So, typically you do the scherzo 3 times in the course of a Scherzo trio, and let's say you just do the first trio repeat-926 measures. 

4th movement:  1154 measures, most string parts have 4-6 notes per measures, with only a few rests.  That's roughly 4500 notes over 12 minutes, and 375 notes per minute.  (Awh, Schubert.  You just needed an editor, sweetie.  No movement of music needs to exceed 1000 measures in length.)   

Total: 3154 measures, depending on the repeats.  

Now while this may seem like useless information, I just wanted to offer grounds for how we musicians get injured.  When we repeat passages in rehearsal (or repeat movements), practice them at home, and then play them repeatedly, it puts a lot of stress on our bodies.  These are by no means the longest and most difficult pieces-they are just what's on my stand right now.  Janet Horvath did some math in her book, with Ravel's Bolero, in which the snare drum repeats a 24 note pattern over 430 measures, yielding 5144 notes/attacks.   

This high volume playing is part of the daily orchestra world-playing thousands (!) of measures and thousands(!) of notes.  This doesn't even address opera, which can be more involved (Wagner) and longer duration.  The next time you're wondering why you're a little tired from just playing for 2-3 hours, remember that you're doing amazing feats of human strength and control.

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