Singing and music: COVID-19 guidelines

A return to regular singing and musical performances will look different this year.

How to use these guidelines

Use these guidelines along with the Holding a gathering guidelines to help you decide how many people can gather for a rehearsal or performance. 

If your activity does not fall within the Holding a gathering guidelines as well as the Singing and music guidelines on this page, you must submit a Request for a review of events and activities planned during the COVID-19 pandemic

What guides our recommendations

We know how important music is to so many people’s mental health, wellbeing and enjoyment. Music is important for:

  • brain development;
  • social emotion learning; and
  • cultural connectedness.

To play and sing safely, we need to:

  • understand the risks associated with COVID;
  • control the environment; and
  • rethink sizes of rehearsal, class, performance and activities

There’s limited scientific research on singing and playing of wind and brass instruments as it relates to COVID. But, several groups around the world are working on this. We know there is risk associated with these activities. We have tools to manage that risk, even if we cannot eliminate it.

What you need to know about the spread of COVID-19

COVID-19 is most commonly spread from someone who's infected through:

  • respiratory droplets generated when they cough, sneeze, sing, yell or play a wind instrument;
  • close prolonged personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands; or
  • touching something with the virus on it then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands. 

The risk of COVID-19 transmission increases when:

  • the number of people you are in contact with increases; and
  • the time you spend in contact with them lengthens.

This illustration gives some examples of different risk levels. Green means low risk, orange means medium risk and red means high risk.

4 blocks show the risk of exposure to COVID-19 increases when more people spend more time together and in open versus enclosed spaces.

The risk of exposure to the virus depends on:

  • number of people present;
  • ventilation considerations (indoor versus outdoor); and
  • sharing of objects, etc.

The figure below shows how different activities emit different quantities of particles into the air. The more particles that are spread, the higher the risk is that an infected person will spread COVID-19. There are a number of factors to consider in order to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19 in our practice and performance spaces which we outline below.

Graph showing particles emitted per second for 12 singers.

Number of emitted particles per second for 12 singers.  Source: Exhaled respiratory particles during singing and talking

Low-risk musical activities

Instruments, such as string instruments and drums that do not involve blowing air into them, do not pose any extra risk.

High-risk musical activities

Singing and playing wind instruments (woodwind, brass, flutes, etc.) are identified as posing a greater risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus. This is because there’s the greater potential of spreading droplets when we do these activities. You have to take extra precautions to mitigate the extra risk.

General guidelines

Ensure that you’ve read and incorporated the Safe 6 into your planning, as recommended by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Remember:

  • Stay home if you’re feeling sick, even if symptoms are mild.
  • Maintain physical distancing – keep a minimum of 2 metres (6 feet) away from anyone who’s not a member of your bubble.
  • In general, space out as much as you can within the room while still being able to practise or perform.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Wearing a mask

Although evidence is limited, non-medical mask use may be considered as an additional protective measure, particularly for:

  • larger choirs;
  • longer rehearsals or concerts; or
  • when indoor ventilation is not optimal.

You may consider wearing a mask when you are not singing, during breaks, etc. You should always practise physical distancing as the most important preventive measure.

Find out the COVID-19 safety guidelines for the venue

Check with the leader of your organisation or owner of the rental venue you’re using for information about any COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

For people who are higher risk

If you’re at higher risk of complications of COVID-19 (including if you’re an older adult, consider alternative ways of participating in musical activities, such as connecting remotely.

Offer or explore virtual opportunities for people who are not able to attend, or who may prefer to participate from home.

If you become ill

If you become ill while at practice, rehearsal or performance you should go home immediately in a private vehicle if possible.

Sharing items

  • Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items such as microphones, music stands and music binders.
  • Sharing of instruments, including accessories (for example: drum sticks, mallets, and guitar picks) is strongly discouraged.
  • Through there is no evidence that paper-based products transmit the COVID-19 virus, try to sing by memory or project sheet music onto a screen or wall. This will limit comon touch points such as music stands and music binders.

Keep a record of who was there

Keep a record of people to enable contact tracing if the need arises. These records should be kept for a minimum of 21 days.

Ventilation

  • Move activities outdoors wherever possible.
  • When indoors, use bigger spaces with good air exchange.
  • Open windows and doors when possible to increase air circulation.
  • Portable fans should be used with caution to ensure these are not simply dispersing contaminated air around a room.
  • Increase outside air exchange using an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system.
  • Allow time for a minimum of 1 full air exchange in the room before another group comes in to use the same space.
  • Groups should avoid singing in closed, unventilated rooms even with distancing measures in place.
  • Consider adding a high quality filtre (MERV-12), or integrated disinfection system (for example, UV germicidal irradiation, either in ducts or in an upper room configuration) to a room that'll be regularly used for singing or wind instrument use.

Physical distancing

  • A minimum of 2 metre (6 feet) physical distancing should be maintained at all times between participants (singers and musicians).
  • Participants should face forward while singing or playing their instrument (not in a circle or facing each other).
  • Some instruments will need greater spacing. Trombones should keep a 3-metre (9-feet) distance from those in front of them due to the shape of the instrument.
  • Conductors should maintain a 4-metre (12-feet) distance from the choir or orchestra or wear a face shield and maintain a 2-metre (6-feet) distance.
  • Performers should maintain a 4-metre (12-feet) distance from the audience or be separated by Plexiglas or a similar barrier.

Figures playing instruments and how much distance needs to be between musicians, as well as the conductor.

Limit numbers

  • Rehearse alone, remotely or in small groups.
  • Keep rehearsal time shorter, for example 30-minute sessions.
  • Consider bringing smaller groups together for a practice instead of the whole band or choir.

Cleaning

  • If sharing of instruments and accessories (for example: drum sticks, mallets and guitar picks) is required, they must be sanitised after each use and between users. 
  • Mouthpieces should not be shared.
  • Regular cleaning of instruments, mouthpieces and accessories, as per standard protocol, is essential:
    • instrument brushes should be used were applicable;
    • do not share cleaning cloths or instrument brushes; and
    • while 70% isopropyl alcohol can often be used for disinfecting instruments, musicians should consult manufacturers or other professionals to ensure this will not damage the instrument.
  • For instruments where you have to blow into the instrument to clear out the accumulated saliva, do this into an absorbent cloth and not onto the floor.
  • Use your own individual microphone (2 singers may not share a microphone):
    • disinfect microphones between users;
    • microphone covers may be used;
    • covers must be changed between users; and
    • disinfect each microphone before replacing the cover.
  • Perform hand hygiene after cleaning your instrument or a microphone.
  • You should sanitize music stands, chairs and other high-touch surfaces after each use.

Other considerations

If you play live music for ambiance, consider the volume of the music. Lower music volume may allow other people present to more consistently practise physical distancing so they’re less likely to:

  • lean in towards each other; or
  • talk louder to hear each other.

During or after performances, members of a performing group have to maintain physical distancing if they mingle with:

  • audience members;
  • patrons; or
  • venue staff

For more information

Read the evidence review by the NCCEH, COVID-19 Risks and Precautions for Choirs.

Reade Safer Singing During the SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic: What We Know and What We Don’t

Guidance for Music Classes in British Columbia During COVID-19 (Updated September 13, 2020)