Technological Supports for Musician's Dystonia | Kitti Kovács
Image of a laptop showing a classification of concept designs according to axes of value and feasibility

Musicians, Rehabilitation Specialists

Literature Review, Quantitative Surveying, Interviewing, Design Workshops, User-Centred Design, Digital Prototyping

Musician’s Dystonia is a focal, neurological motor disorder which interferes with the playing of a musical instrument by causing involuntary muscular contractions. This condition impacts as many as 5 to 14% of musicians and 1 to 2% of all professional musicians; the muscles affected depending on the instrument played, from those controlling airflow to the fine-motor control of the hand, wrist and forearm.

Musician’s Dystonia can therefore significantly impact any musician’s career, performance, and quality of life. Approaches to treatment span from the use of anticholinergic drugs to botulinum toxin injections, altering instrumental technique, immobilisation by splints of one or more digits, relaxation techniques, physical therapies and pedagogical retraining methods including learning-based sensorimotor training (LBST). These diverse methods, while often permitting recovery and improved performance to some extent, are each typically long-term approaches; some studies suggesting an average rehabilitation time of 24 months.

Exhibiting a low incidence rate among the general population, the pathophysiology of Musician’s Dystonia today remains in large part unclear. This often frustrates or delays diagnosis, complicates access to treatment, and also means that there have been few attempts to explore the potential of technology to support individuals experiencing this condition.

This possibility, Kitti Kovács chose to explore in the work of her MSc thesis. Adopting a mixed-methods approach, Kitti engaged active and retired professional and hobbyist musicians through surveys, interviews and a workshop, for the purpose of surfacing new knowledge of their experiences of dystonia, and inspiring in turn the design of novel technological supports for this condition.

These interactions with musicians - guitar, drum, trombone, bagpipe and piano players each with embouchure or focal hand dystonias - revealed the immense diversity of symptoms experienced and their significant negative impact on musicians’ wellbeing, the often difficult process of diagnosis and vast diversity of professionals involved, as the multiplicity of treatments embarked upon. Retraining was revealed as the most commonly attempted approach, often with the greatest success, and yet also one of the most inaccessible due to both the costs involved and significant shortage of qualified professionals.

From multiple concept solutions, each iterated upon and validated with users, Kitti selected an Accessible Retraining Platform for further prototyping and development. This online platform would enable musicians to access retraining tutorials, participate in physiotherapy sessions, track their progress, and communicate with therapists and coaches. By enabling access to treatments proven to support recovery for those experiencing dystonia, this solution has as its ultimate objective improving the wellbeing of musicians the world over.


Kovács, K. (2022, July). Technological Supports for Musician’s Dystonia. Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence MSc Thesis submitted to the Technical University of Denmark.