Soft gel electrodes (like sticky plasters) are put onto the skin and connected to a computer via an Electromyography machine; for oboists, commonly neck, abdominal and shoulder muscles are observed. The performer is then able to observe the activity of these muscles graphically whilst they perform.
What sort of things did the oboists discover? Shoulder muscles ‘worrying’ about playing notes in the higher registers; abdominal muscles not quite ‘switching on’ when they ought to be; neck muscles tightening when they just didn't need to.
What did they find helpful? Being able to SEE what their muscles were doing; being able to relax muscles they hadn't noticed they were tensing. Being able to to biofeedback work to make tiny changes to their technique so that their muscles worked more efficiently.
These EMG sessions are part of an ongoing research project into the potential for EMG to help reduce strain injuries in musical training. Some famous faces have tried it: above is ex-Purcellian Nicholas Daniel trying it out at the International Double Reed Society conference in New York.
Asked whether they’d like to do a session again, the oboists’ answer was a resounding yes!