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Alan Watson

Dr Alan Watson


School of Biosciences

Sir Martin Evans Building, Room Cardiff School of Biosciences, The Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX
Media commentator


During my academic career, most of my research focused on the circuitry of the invertebrate and vertebrate nervous systems, using electron microscopy and immunocytochemstry to analyse synaptic interactions in the arthropod ventral nerve core and the vertebrate spinal cord (dorsal horn sensory circuitry and descending autonomic pathways controlling the pelvic floor and visceral organs).

My current research is focused on various aspects of musical performance physiology and ergonomics. I run a module for music students at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama where I am an Honorary Fellow. This includes respiratory activity in wind players and singers, ergonomic aspects of brass playing and embouchure muscle activity.

I am also involved in public engagement in science (see Engagement page).  My book on The Biology of Musical Performance and Performance Related Injury was published in 2009 and received a Maximising Impact Award from the School in 2010. I have also col-authored a book (The Singer's Guide to the Larynx), with Nicola Harrison.


Visiting lecturer; Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Visiting Lecturer; Visceral Mind Summer School, Bangor University

Visiting Lecturer; University College London (MSc course in Performing Arts Medicine)




  • Watson, A. 2018. Prevention. In: Winspur, I. ed. The Musician's Hand. London: JP Medical, pp. 151-172.
  • Watson, A. H. 2018. Prevention. In: Winspur, I. ed. The Musician's Hand; A Clinical Guide. London: J.P. Medical, pp. 151-172.
  • Price, K. and Watson, A. H. D. 2018. Effect of using ergobrass ergonomic supports on postural muscles in trumpet, trombone, and french horn players. Medical Problems of Performing Artists 33(3), pp. 183. (10.21091/mppa.2018.3026)
  • Watson, A. 2018. Embouchure. In: Herbert, T., Myers, A. and Wallace, J. eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Brass Instruments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 156-159.
  • Watson, A. 2018. Embouchure dystonia. In: Herbert, T., Myers, A. and Wallace, J. eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Brass Instruments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 159-161.
  • Watson, A. 2018. Breathing. In: Herbert, T., Myers, A. and Wallace, J. eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Brass Instruments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 81-84.



































Book sections





Previous research. My previous research focused on synaptic distribution on physiologically identified neurones of different types in the vertebrate and invertebrate nervous system. This dealt particularly with the connections underpinning presynaptic inhibition. I was also involved in studies of aging in spinal autonomic circuitry.

Current research. I collaborate with Kevin Price (Head of Brass) and Buddug Verona James (Vocal Performance Dept.) at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and Nicola Harrison (Pembroke College, Oxford) on research projects on respiration in wind players and singers, and instrumental ergonomics dealing with posture and embouchure muscle activity. These allow science and music students to work together to study physiology in a vocational context

Current co-workers and collaborators

  • Kevin Price, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
  • Buddug James, RWCMD
  • Nicola Harrison, Pembroke College, Oxford



Prior to my retirement I was involved in Medical and Dental teaching; mainly Human Anatomy, Neuroscience. I was also involved in Science teaching; Neuroanatomy, auditory physiology, invertebrate neuroscience, central auditory processing, neuroscience of language.

I currently teach human neuroanatomy on the Visceral Mind summer school at Bangor University.

I also run a module for music students at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on performance physiology and injury prevention.


After completing a degree in Zoology at Edinburgh University, I carried out my PhD on biogenic amine containing neurons of the teleost brain and autonomic innervation of the visceral organs, at the Gatty Marine lab of St. Andrews University. I then spent 9 years at Cambridge University with Malcolm Burrows, investigating the nature and distribution of synapses on identified neurones in the locust central nervous system. During this period I held a Beit Memorial Fellowship. I was appointed to a lectureship in Anatomy in Cardiff in1989.

Honours and awards

Honorary Fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama


I have a strong involvement in public engagement activities related to music biology and music medicine. I run a module on Biology for Musicians at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) and have given presentations at venues such as the DANA centre of the London Science Museum, the Wellcome Collection, the National Museum of Wales, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Wrexham Science Festival, Cardiff Science Café, Bath Clinical Society, Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition, British Flute Society Convention, Cheltenham Music Festival, Hay Festival, Royal College of Music, Royal Northern College of Music, Association of Teachers of Singing, British Voice Association and at music education and music medicine conferences. I also give regular seminars for the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine and teach on a postgraduate Performing Arts Medicine BSc course at University College London.

I have research collaborations with a number of singers and musicians from which have come several papers on music performance physiology. My main collaborator is Kevin Price, Head of Music at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama with whom I have had a Wellcome Trust People Award for public engagement.

My book on The Biology of Musical Performance and Performance Related Injury was published by Scarecrow Press in 2009.

"The best book in its field yet to be published … highly recommended for those in any discipline who are committed to the performance health of musicians. Besides being a pleasure to read, the book is a scholarly work …... a unique and outstanding book that readers will find to be good reading as well as informative. Unquestionably, it belongs in the libraries of all universities where music is taught and in music conservatories…. should be required reading for instrumental and vocal teachers alike, whereas for those concerned with the medical well-being of musicians it is a near encyclopaedic source of information applicable to patient care, both preventive and therapeutic." 2010, Music Reference Services Quarterly

"This may be the book that many readers have been waiting for . . . it attempts to bridge the chasm, more often successfully than not, between the scientist/health care professional and the musician. . . . The author's writing is straightforward and clear. . . . Overall, I can highly recommend The Biology of Musical Performance and Performance Related Injury.March 2010, Journal of the American Medical Association

"As a one-stop introduction to understanding the sources of strain, stress and injury, and useful techniques to avoid or ameliorate them, this book proves to be an impressively detailed yet accessible and useful resource. This book has much to offer every active musician and those who teach them" May 2009, Classical Music.

I have also contributed chapters to The Oxford Handbook of Singing (in press; available online 2014, Welch G, Howard, DM eds, Oxford University Press), The Musician’s Hand 2nd edn. (2018; Winspur I, JP Medical; London), The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Brass, (2018; Herbert T, Wallace J, Myers A, Cambridge University Press). I have also co-written and illustrated A Singer’s Guide to the Larynx (in press, Harrison N, Watson AHD, Compton Publishing, Oxford).

In 2020, I was a member of an advisory committee for the Ministry for DIgital Media and Sport, that looked at the conditions under which live vocal and wind instrument performance could be started again post COVID19 and was co-author on an advisory document "Following the Science; A systematic literature review of studies surrounding singing and brass, woodwind and bagpipe playing during the COVID-19 pandemic." for the  Music Education Partnership Group, Scotland. 

Alan Watson and Kevin Price of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama discuss one of their collaborative projects on

Research themes


  • Medical physiology
  • Music education
  • Health promotion
  • Music performance
  • Neurosciences