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Dr Alan Watson

Dr Alan Watson


School of Biosciences

+44 (0)29 2087 5156
+44 (0)29 2087 4486
Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX
Media commentator


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.


Year 3 Lead
Module Lead: BI2432 Fundamental Neuroscience
Exam Board Chair: Final Year Biomedical Sciences Subject Board
Designated Individual for Anatomy
Chair, Library Committee.


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 and was ultimately was supported by my own MRC grant. I was appointed to a lectureship in Anatomy in Cardiff in 1989 and became a senior lecturer in 1995.





  • Watson, A. H. 2018. Prevention. In: Winspur, I. ed. The Musician's Hand; A Clinical Guide. London: J.P. Medical, pp. 151-172.
  • Watson, A. 2018. Prevention. In: Winspur, I. ed. The Musician's Hand. London: JP 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.



































Medical and dental teaching; Human Anatomy, Neuroanatomy, physiology of speech.

Science teaching; Neuroanatomy, auditory physiology, invertebrate neuroscience, central auditory processing, neuroscience of language.

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


The synaptic basis of presynaptic inhibition

In vertebrates and invertebrates, the constant barrage of sensory input entering the central nervous system must be controlled so that it produces contextually relevant responses that are compatible with ongoing behaviour. The most direct form of control is exerted through presynaptic inhibition of sensory afferent terminals. Current research is concerned with analyzing the nature of the synaptic interactions of proprioceptive and mechanoreceptive sensory afferents in the spinal cord. Physiologically characterised sensory neurones are impaled with intracellular microelectrodes and labelled intracellularly for electron microscopy. Neurotransmitters in axons and dendrites in contact with afferent terminals are identified by immunocytochemical methods and the distribution of their synaptic contacts is displayed using computer aided reconstructions of serial sections. Previous work in the lab has examined sensory afferent terminals in the invertebrate nervous system and this continues in collaboration with groups in Bordeaux and Berlin. This has revealed that similar principles of afferent control operate in both vertebrates and invertebrates though with some differences in the transmitters involved.

Ageing on spinal autonomic circuitry

In collaboration with Dr RM Santer of the School of Biosciences, this work examines the effect ageing on the control of the lower pelvic viscera, particularly the urinary tract. Our previous studies have focused on age-related changes in the properties of the spinal circuitry controlling autonomic neurones. We are currently examining age-related changes in the expression of receptors for steroid hormones, growth factors and neurotransmitters on preganglionic and autonomic neurones and in motorneurones innervating the pelvic floor.

Co-workers and collaborators

  • Dr R.M. Santer, Cardiff
  • Dr Richard Ranson, Cardiff
  • Hannah Shaw, Cardiff
  • Kevin Price, RWCMD
  • Buddug James, RWCMD

Other interests

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


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).

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