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View Full Version : Workarounds for physical challenges?



LDS714
09-15-2015, 07:25 AM
I'm curious, how many of you have physical challenges or limitations that you have to work around in order to play, and how do you do it?

For example, I suffered a severe laceration on my left forearm just below the elbow nearly necessitating the removal of the limb at the elbow. Median and ulnar nerves were severed along with with muscles, veins, etc. The doc said I'd never move the hand or have feeling in in again. At the time, I was playing guitar for a living, so it was quite a blow.

In the intervening years, I struggled and worked to regain some movement, about 20%. I can play bass well enough to gig regularly (I'm no Victor Wooten, but can play in time and in key), still play slide guitar, and since (re)discovering the uke about a year ago have been working on playing chords on it (something very difficult on the guitar).

I do not have the ability to spread the fingers on my left hand very well, but can anchor a finger or two and use the wrist to fake the movement. The hard part though is being unable to really feel the strings. Lacking that tactile feedback, it seems to take a lot more repetitions to get the muscle memory really ingrained.

I have to say, playing the ukulele has been the best therapy yet. My bass playing has improved a bunch in the last year (especially after discovering the ubass - I can actually reach more than 2 frets on it without a position shift).

So in short...

Issue - inability to spread fingers.
Workaround - anchoring finger(s) and using wrist movement.

The Big Kahuna
09-15-2015, 07:42 AM
Daft question, but have you considered learning to play left (or right) handed? I realise you wouldn't have as much mobility for picking, but fretting would obviously be easier.

LDS714
09-15-2015, 08:53 AM
Daft question, but have you considered learning to play left (or right) handed? I realise you wouldn't have as much mobility for picking, but fretting would obviously be easier.

Tried it. I actually have a lefty Strat copy. I find the operations performed by the picking hand more complex and require more tactile feedback.

CactusWren
09-15-2015, 09:37 AM
I am sorry to hear about what happened to you.

How about investigating alternative tunings to make chording less of a chore. Maybe specializing in slide which only requires one digit's use?

bird's eye view of my ukelele
09-15-2015, 12:40 PM
i had an old injury to the knuckle of my left hand ring finger flare up quite badly last year, it hurt to bend the joint, it hurt a LOT if it got knocked! and it made regular chord playing difficult. i didn't realise at first what the problem was, i was afraid it might be tendonitis, i decided straight away to rest the joint until i could check with my doc, but after a day or two (so addicted!) i was REALLY missing playing uke. i tuned my ukes to open tuning - gceg for soprano etc, dgbd for baritone, ie. dropping the highest sounding string two frets' worth. it meant i could play major chords just by simple barring with just my index finger - open is C chord on the soprano etc, 2nd fret is D etc etc, open on the bari is G, 2nd fret gives A etc etc on the bari. i stuck just to simple barring, and just major chords, obviously that limited my choice of songs but not as much as i feared - i take part in the seasons here on UU, weekly song challenges, and yes there were songs i could not pick for each weekly theme, but there were lots that i could, i didn't feel it messed too much with my mojo! on the contrary once my doc told me it was an old break playing up, and not a tendon problem, and i could go back to regular chording as soon as it was comfortable, i still go back to the simple barring method now and again, just for fun! it's good to know i can do that any time the finger plays up again, but even when it's fine, i sometimes choose to play that way, if a song is all major chords. it's a way of playing that sounds particularly good if i am amplifying the uke and adding lots of fuzz, it's really rock-y!

this fix might be too basic - in many ways - for you, it might be more of a fix than you need, but it might be useful when you wanna just relax and play for fun and not be struggling and stretching, you can focus on the song and rhythm etc and just having a good time, and not worry about fretting at all really! when i first started playing that way i found the constant barring a bit tiring but i reckon the required gripping muscles soon strengthened up - and that might be a useful thing for you too?

LDS714
09-15-2015, 06:31 PM
How about investigating alternative tunings to make chording less of a chore. Maybe specializing in slide which only requires one digit's use?
Not sure about specializing, but I do play Dobro, lap steel and CBG.


i had an old injury to the knuckle of my left hand ring finger flare up quite badly last year, it hurt to bend the joint, it hurt a LOT if it got knocked! and it made regular chord playing difficult. i didn't realise at first what the problem was, i was afraid it might be tendonitis, i decided straight away to rest the joint until i could check with my doc, but after a day or two (so addicted!) i was REALLY missing playing uke. i tuned my ukes to open tuning - gceg for soprano etc, dgbd for baritone, ie. dropping the highest sounding string two frets' worth. it meant i could play major chords just by simple barring with just my index finger - open is C chord on the soprano etc, 2nd fret is D etc etc, open on the bari is G, 2nd fret gives A etc etc on the bari. i stuck just to simple barring, and just major chords, obviously that limited my choice of songs but not as much as i feared - i take part in the seasons here on UU, weekly song challenges, and yes there were songs i could not pick for each weekly theme, but there were lots that i could, i didn't feel it messed too much with my mojo! on the contrary once my doc told me it was an old break playing up, and not a tendon problem, and i could go back to regular chording as soon as it was comfortable, i still go back to the simple barring method now and again, just for fun! it's good to know i can do that any time the finger plays up again, but even when it's fine, i sometimes choose to play that way, if a song is all major chords. it's a way of playing that sounds particularly good if i am amplifying the uke and adding lots of fuzz, it's really rock-y!

this fix might be too basic - in many ways - for you, it might be more of a fix than you need, but it might be useful when you wanna just relax and play for fun and not be struggling and stretching, you can focus on the song and rhythm etc and just having a good time, and not worry about fretting at all really! when i first started playing that way i found the constant barring a bit tiring but i reckon the required gripping muscles soon strengthened up - and that might be a useful thing for you too?
Very cool that you didn't let it slow you down much! Did you ever determine what triggered the flareup? Did using the instruments in a different manner lead to anything new and exciting when you returned to 'normal' techniques?

ukulelekarcsi
09-15-2015, 09:58 PM
I lost the tip of my left index in a car accident six years ago (ALWAYS wear your seatbelt - it saved my live). The distal phalanghe was amputated, and I can barely bend the finger (BTW it annoys me that in the Bones TV series they always call these finger bones 'phalanxes', which are in fact either Greek battle formations or right-wing militias in the Spanish Civil War).

Back to the question. Ukuleles are ergonomically more sensible than guitars: no crooked shoulders, no lifted left foot, no far reaches, no finger cutting strings. In my case, I can still use the index finger, but have to compensate for the lack of bending power by bringing my wrist forward. That works well for ukuleles and mandolins, but not so for guitars and basses, whereI have to either lower my shoulder or lift the guitar neck. Another ergonomical advandage of ukuleles: a lot more chord shapes that require only two or three fingers to sound full - not that I can't play with four fingers, but part of the challenge is to 'sound difficult, but play easily'.

The Big Kahuna
09-15-2015, 11:21 PM
Have you tried a prosthetic fingertip?

I can think of one guy who's been using one successfully for several years...

http://22q5x3vb375h0bhl1dqtstfz.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/files/2013/07/tony-ozzy-black-sabbath-1985-235x300.jpg

anthonyg
09-16-2015, 02:04 AM
I have congenital deformities in my hands and shoulders. Years ago I was learning to play guitars in the traditional position but I struggled very hard with it and eventually gave up for a number of years. My posture was horribly twisted back then when playing which didn't help.

A few years ago I decided to give ukulele's a go and I had a hunch that trying a new posture may help and I was right. I now fret OVER the top of the fretboard, with the ukulele on my lap in a VERTICAL position. It works for me a treat. The most important thing the change did was to balance my spine.

Anyway, what works for me won't necessarily work for you but the principle is, break away from convention and try something different.

Here's me reviewing my Scott Wise ukulele. A few minutes in you can see me playing.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epdIdP81y7c

Anthony

LDS714
09-16-2015, 07:44 AM
I lost the tip of my left index in a car accident six years ago (ALWAYS wear your seatbelt - it saved my live). The distal phalanghe was amputated, and I can barely bend the finger (BTW it annoys me that in the Bones TV series they always call these finger bones 'phalanxes', which are in fact either Greek battle formations or right-wing militias in the Spanish Civil War).

Back to the question. Ukuleles are ergonomically more sensible than guitars: no crooked shoulders, no lifted left foot, no far reaches, no finger cutting strings. In my case, I can still use the index finger, but have to compensate for the lack of bending power by bringing my wrist forward. That works well for ukuleles and mandolins, but not so for guitars and basses, whereI have to either lower my shoulder or lift the guitar neck. Another ergonomical advandage of ukuleles: a lot more chord shapes that require only two or three fingers to sound full - not that I can't play with four fingers, but part of the challenge is to 'sound difficult, but play easily'.
So you pivot your wrist in lieu of bending the finger? Genius, a phalanx of kudos to you! :D

LDS714
09-16-2015, 07:47 AM
A few years ago I decided to give ukulele's a go and I had a hunch that trying a new posture may help and I was right. I now fret OVER the top of the fretboard, with the ukulele on my lap in a VERTICAL position. It works for me a treat. The most important thing the change did was to balance my spine.

Outstanding sir!

These are exactly the types of stories I was looking for!

Remember: Never waste a 't when you can.

andy_mahardika
09-16-2015, 08:06 AM
I'm too lazy to challenge my self on playing ukulele, if I found something hard to play, I used to avoid it and think another way to make it easier for me.
and it works for me so far.. haha

Booli
09-16-2015, 10:01 AM
I have congenital deformities in my hands and shoulders. Years ago I was learning to play guitars in the traditional position but I struggled very hard with it and eventually gave up for a number of years. My posture was horribly twisted back then when playing which didn't help.

A few years ago I decided to give ukulele's a go and I had a hunch that trying a new posture may help and I was right. I now fret OVER the top of the fretboard, with the ukulele on my lap in a VERTICAL position. It works for me a treat. The most important thing the change did was to balance my spine.

Anyway, what works for me won't necessarily work for you but the principle is, break away from convention and try something different.

Here's me reviewing my Scott Wise ukulele. A few minutes in you can see me playing.

Anthony

Kudos to you Anthony for finding a way despite the obstacles you have.

I think it's neat the way you play, and reminds me a bit of a lap dulcimer style. I'd love to hear more tunes! :music:

My issues have been slowly progressive over the past few years, and I have an occasional neuropathy in mind hands combined with a tightness in the finger joints that my Doc recently told me is the start of arthritis (OY!).

All of this gets worse if I dont play every day, and after like 5 days (when real life has all my time taken up) it's a bit more than just discomfort. Interesting discovery is that actually PLAYING, EVERY day, keeps the pain away, so that is another reason that I try to get in an hour or so if I can.

The ukulele is it's own therapy for me.

bird's eye view of my ukelele
09-16-2015, 11:47 AM
Very cool that you didn't let it slow you down much! Did you ever determine what triggered the flareup? Did using the instruments in a different manner lead to anything new and exciting when you returned to 'normal' techniques?
i dunno what triggered the flare up - i wondered if it would stay painful for good, but it eased up over time. i do wonder if it's a joint that'll be first in line for arthritis... plus of course you just wait for it to flare up again... i've had the odd twinge but nothing too bad.

i'm certainly better at playing bar chords now, after all the practice! i find them less tiring than i did before! and i'm a BIG fan of open tuning now, too! i'd never explored it at all before, so i feel something good came out of the experience!

anthony g - that is fabulous playing! i remember seeing another uke player fret over the top of the uke a bit like that. i forget the name of the vid now but i do remember he was a great player too!

CactusWren
09-16-2015, 06:08 PM
Jeff Healy?

http://www.guitarnoise.com/images/features/jeff-healey.jpg

LDS714
09-16-2015, 06:50 PM
Jeff Healy?

http://www.guitarnoise.com/images/features/jeff-healey.jpg

A luthier that used to do work for me in El Paso had another client whom I had the opportunity to see once. He was visually impaired, totally blind from birth, and a totally self-taught guitarist and could basically play anything he heard. He had a unique style, though. He would hold the guitar in his lap straight up and down with the headstock by his ear, kind of like a cellist.

I wonder. If someone told him he was doing it wrong, would he suddenly lose the ability to play? :D

anthonyg
09-17-2015, 02:00 AM
Thanks guys. It definitely freed up my playing when I took a different approach.

Anthony

CactusWren
09-17-2015, 04:03 AM
Nice! Maybe he inspired the amazing Paul Galbraith. http://images.publicradio.org/content/2008/03/25/20080325_paulgalbraith_33.jpg

Did you ever meet Charles Teitsworth in El Paso? I took a few lessons with him back in the mid 90s.

Tudorp
09-17-2015, 04:15 AM
I don't work around, I just play. Over the past few years I have had several physical challenges. I have been a musician for many years (since the mid 1970s), Playing bass, guitar, even a little percussion (drums)... Music is in my DNA, and it even continues with my daughter whom has played guitar since she was 7 and sang in key since she was 2. Now 18 she is an awesome guitarist and vocalist. I have suffered a few mini strokes over the past 3 or 4 years, and have paralysis in my right arm, and hand. I can not play like I used to, but I still play even though I can not play with my past technique and caliber. I just play anyway for my own enjoyment. I don't play bass, or guitar any longer due to the reach I can't accomplish, but I do still enjoy playing the uke since it is a bit more friendly with my limitations. So, if any work around is done by me and my playing, it was to go to the Uke which I did several years ago, and even though not as I used to be able to, still music to my ears and very therapeutic. The Uke is my work around, and I'm fine with it.. ;)

Ukejenny
09-17-2015, 04:24 AM
I have congenital deformities in my hands and shoulders. Years ago I was learning to play guitars in the traditional position but I struggled very hard with it and eventually gave up for a number of years. My posture was horribly twisted back then when playing which didn't help.

A few years ago I decided to give ukulele's a go and I had a hunch that trying a new posture may help and I was right. I now fret OVER the top of the fretboard, with the ukulele on my lap in a VERTICAL position. It works for me a treat. The most important thing the change did was to balance my spine.

Anyway, what works for me won't necessarily work for you but the principle is, break away from convention and try something different.

Here's me reviewing my Scott Wise ukulele. A few minutes in you can see me playing.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epdIdP81y7c

Anthony

Lovely video, and a lovely ukulele. It is wonderful how you've thought outside the box and made changes to further your playing.

Ukejenny
09-17-2015, 04:34 AM
Working around physical differences is a wonderful thing for all of us to think about. Our joints won't last forever...life can change in an instant - do what you gotta do.

ukulelekarcsi
09-17-2015, 09:40 PM
Have you tried a prosthetic fingertip?

No, because tactile feedback is still important to me. I can't understand how Iommi can fret his strings without feeling them. Note that he tunes down the already very light electric guitar strings really low, so his impaired hand can still play - also a work-around.

anthonyg
09-18-2015, 01:24 AM
Lovely video, and a lovely ukulele. It is wonderful how you've thought outside the box and made changes to further your playing.

Thanks Ukejenny.

Anthony

LDS714
09-27-2015, 09:00 PM
Nice! Maybe he inspired the amazing Paul Galbraith. http://images.publicradio.org/content/2008/03/25/20080325_paulgalbraith_33.jpg

Did you ever meet Charles Teitsworth in El Paso? I took a few lessons with him back in the mid 90s.

The name rings a bell.

Tootler
09-27-2015, 10:14 PM
There's Django Reinhardt who only had two working fingers on his left hand, yet is considered one of the finest jazz guitarists of all time.

ukulelekarcsi
09-29-2015, 02:21 AM
Django actually did use his left hand ring finger and pinky, but only on chords and octaves - they were curled and stiff.

If you look into it, a lot more musicians have damaged hands than you ever thought. Jeff Buckley and Jim Croce both had fractured left hands (car accident and sport injury, resp.) which made it harder for them to play bar chords; Les Paul had a 'fixed into playing position' right elbow after a severe car accident and later had rheumatism; Jerry Garcia, Lowell George, Dr. John and outlow country start Billy Joe Shaver all were missing parts of their fingers; The Monkees' Michael Nesmith had a smashed right hand ring finger. I took two lessons from that list:
1. they were fantastic musicians in spite of the disabilities
2. people often don't even notice

If you do want some 'motivational' pictures of great musicians with severe amputations, just google:
- Wesley Tuttle, the country singer and guitarist who did the yodelling dwarf in Disney's Snowwhite (lost most of his left hand fingers with a butcher's knife, and later became Tex Ritter's guitarist)
- Andres Godoy, a Chilean folk and rock guitarist who lost his left arm, but uses tapping combined with his left pinky strumming and plucking
- Billy Hew Len, the late master Hawaiian steel guitar player who had a prosthetic 'slide glove' fitted after he lost his left hand in a car workshop accident at age 17.

Uke Republic
09-29-2015, 09:37 AM
I've a customer who comes in regularly. He is 76 and missing part of his left index finger. So he takes a baritone changes it to GCEA all nylon except metal G and tunes it a little lower for less tension for chording. It sounds fantastic when he plays! Lots of early jazz and other early classics. I try filming him but he is a bit modest. Hope he lets me sometime.