Playing wind instruments generates fewer airborne particles than speaking or singing and is no different than a person breathing, a study by scientists at Bristol University has found.
This new research could have a significant bearing on the full resumption of piping contests and recitals. Scientists say the findings, published online in the journal, Aerosol Science and Technology, could help end restrictions in the performing arts.
The study examined the amount of aerosols – a suspension of fine particles or liquid droplets – generated when a person played woodwind and brass instruments compared with breathing and speaking or singing.
Piping activity has been devastated over the past two years over fears that the bagpipe was potentially a ‘super-spreader’ instrument projecting particles, and possibly the virus, over a large area.
Even outdoor playing of the instrument has been frowned on, with all band and solo competitions cancelled. The new study will give a further boost to those events planning to resume in August Piping Live!’s Masters Piping, Silver Chanter, and the Piobaireachd Society’s ‘Piobaireachd of the Day’. At the end of the month there is the Lochaber Gathering in Fort William. We know of no parallel events in the pipe band world.
The scientific research involved nine musicians playing 13 woodwind and brass instruments such as the flute, piccolo, clarinet, trumpet and trombone in an operating theatre with no background aerosol particles. Trumpet and trombone involve air pressures similar to the pipes.
The tests showed the amount of aerosol particles of less than 20 micro metres diameter- less than half the width of a human hair – that were generated when playing the instruments.
They produced less aerosol than shouting or singing loudly. Large droplets of more than 20 micro metres diameter were ‘not observed while the musicians were playing the instruments but were seen during singing and coughing’.
Dr Bryan Bzdek, of the University of Bristol, said: ‘Our study found playing woodwind and brass instruments generates less aerosol than vocalisation, which could have important policy implications in a roadmap to lifting Covid-19 restrictions, as many performing arts activities have been severely restricted.’
The study found concentrations of aerosol emissions from the musicians during breathing and vocalising were consistent with results from research carried out last year on a large group of professional singers.
Last year another study by Odense Symphony Orchestra in Denmark showed that particle projection from coughing was almost ten times higher than from woodwind and brass instruments.