View Full Version : Ukes and disabilities

11-27-2012, 09:02 AM
My Dad had a pretty severe stroke several years ago. He's made a ton of progress, but his left side is still affected. He plays guitar, but finds it very frustrating. His left hand is pretty weak and not as coordinated as it once was. It's a real struggle for him.

We have a few uke and guitar players in our family. My mom wants to get him a uke for Christmas, because we think a uke will be easier for him to play. He's 80, super sharp and stubborn as a mule. Learning new things isn't a problem, but dexterity is.

I'm thinking that a larger neck will be easier for him to fret, so I'm considering a tenor or a baritone.

Do y'all think that a tenor uke would be easier than a baritone? It seems like common uke chords shapes are easier than guitar shapes, but I've never played a baritone.

Anyone have any experience with this? Any suggestions?

Thanks and merry Christmas!

11-27-2012, 09:13 AM
As a musician that has suffered the same fate, believe me, i sympothize.Playing guitar and bass for many years, find I can no longer without getting frustrated with myself, because I can not do what I used to. The uke helps with that, but I still have issues with that. But, I play anyway. I can play some with intense concentration, but it is challenging, and I refuse to give it up all together. I'm stuburn like that myself. I find smaller ukes are easier for me to manipulate though. I sold off my tenor because I have a hard time with even that spread. I just figured I'd stay with soprano & concert. The smaller neck is easier for me to hold onto, and the stretch in easier for me to play. Still not perfect, and it is frustrating for me, but I do it anyway. People that know me don't seem to mind that I am not, nor will probabaly ever be at the caliber I once was. So, if I can make someone smile the way I am now, I'm ok with it.

11-27-2012, 09:19 AM
Sorry about your dad's stroke. I'm glad to hear he's recovering and that he remains active and engaged. My dad is 83, and I think the most important thing at that age is to have something to look forward to when waking up in the morning. it sounds like your dad hasn't lost his enthusiasm for playing music.

I've played all ukulele sizes but, without having had the experience of losing dexterity in my left hand, I really can't answer your questions directly. Instead, I can say that the upside of a smaller fretboard is that you have to move and stretch your hand less to fret common chords than you do with the larger fretboard of a baritone. Without knowing the nature of your dad's dexterity issues (Does he have trouble moving his hand from one part of the fretboard to another? Does he have trouble stretching? Is his problem placing his fingers together in a small space?) it's hard to know whether he would benefit from a fretboard smaller than that of a baritone. On the other hand, even a baritone fretboard is smaller than a regular-sized guitar fretboard, and I imagine he'll benefit from having to attend to only four strings instead of six. One thing I would recommend for whatever size ukulele you get is to have a strap put on it that holds the neck in place so he can concentrate his left hand on fretting instead of having to also worry about holding up the neck. (An Uke Leash would also stabilize the neck, but it might be more difficult for your dad to use under his circumstances.)

11-27-2012, 09:22 AM
I play both guitar & baritone uke. The baritone is miles easier to play because of its much narrower, shorter neck. It will feel like a toy to Dad after playing guitar, but very enjoyable. The tenor will feel even more toy-like, & if he has big hands the baritone might be easier for him to use, & the tenor easier if he has small hands.
My baritone is strung with guitar tuning, the usual baritone tuning, DGBE, not the re-entrant tuning used on smaller ukes, & sometimes on baritones. This makes it just the same as a guitar to play, but without the 2 thicker strings. A tenor uke can also be strung this same way, but 5 steps higher-GCEA. The chord shapes are the same as always, but the names all move up 5 steps. If he just plays on his own it doesn't matter.
Hope this helps.

11-27-2012, 09:28 AM
Do y'all think that a tenor uke would be easier than a baritone? It seems like common uke chords shapes are easier than guitar shapes, but I've never played a baritone.
Like ukebebop said, the chord shapes are actually the same, but because the baritone is generally tuned like the top four strings of a guitar (DGBE) the chord names are different (e.g., a C chord on a gCEA uke is a G chord on a bari). If he's already played guitar, he will be familiar with the chord shapes/names on a bari.

If he played a steel string guitar, the nylon uke strings will be much easier on his fretting hand.

Patrick Madsen
11-27-2012, 10:28 AM
Playing a uke would be much less frustrating IMO. It's only four strings vs. 6 and a much shorter fretboard.

I've played guitar for 54 yrs., 39 from a wheelchair. It was so frustrating I stopped playing for awhile due to the frustration of the long neck and keeping my balance. The uke solved all those challenges and I'm playing better and better everyday. It really brought the joy back in my life of playing music and kickin ass on the fretboard.

I feel a uke would reallly help with the dexterity he lost. There are so many small muscle groups that would be worked with a smaller.shorter fretboard. If anything, he can always make it a slide uke.

As far as size, I started out with a tenor and recently bought a vintage Martin Baritone. As far as playing, I don't find much difference other than the tone; uke is in C and bari. is in G. Chord shapes are chord shapes; the tuning is what makes the chords. So a C shape with my tenor is a G with my bari.

Good luck with your dad, he seems like a fighter and that's what it takes to maximize our potential. A uke would help for sure.

mm stan
11-27-2012, 10:41 AM
Sorry to hear about your dad's health issues.....yes the ukulele will bring back the fun and much easier than a guitar...get a soprano....it is easiest...make sure you get it set
up and find a thin fast neck....order from Hawaii Music Supply ...they do a great set up for free with every uke that goes out....not only about dexterity will improve, but so
will his spirits...good call asking and getting him one.. if you need brand suggestions, just ask...Good luck and many blessings for your father

11-27-2012, 12:31 PM

Oscar Schmidt has a wide neck tenor, with a 1 3/4 wide neck. That is the widest ukulele neck I have seen in a factory uke. Older hands need more room, so I wouldn't recommend a soprano.
Perhaps low tension strings with low action would help too.


11-27-2012, 01:03 PM
Uke certainly requires less strength, though almost as much dexterity. That said, have you thought about getting him interested in slide guitar? There are some very good slide guitarists who were completely crippled in their left hand - one old blues guy whos name I can't recall at the moment would tape a butterknife to his withered left hand and play slide guitar.


11-28-2012, 01:33 AM
Mya- Moe ans a few other companies make slide ukes. I bought my wife a Mya-Moe a lap steel uke because arthitis keeps her from fretting notes.

11-28-2012, 03:47 AM
I have suffered a stroke that left me with dexterity issues. Playing ukulele is actually good exercise and has helped me a lot.

What I have found though is that I am much more comfortable playing a soprano ukulele rather than a tenor. With a soprano i do not have to move my hand as far up and down the fretboard which helps a lot.

Please pass on my best wishes to your Dad.

11-28-2012, 03:53 AM
Hmm, is there any way to get him to sample some of the family ukes in various sizes, without him knowing that you're putting him in the dressing room to see which fits? I mean, baritone would be easier in that its tuning is something that won't take much adjusting, but reading what bodhran says puts a wrench in that suggestion. If you do don't have sampling lots of ukes all at once, maybe he won't catch on. :)

11-28-2012, 04:12 AM
I have physical problems that prevent me from playing guitar for any extended time. I use a baritone uke and a tenor. I think either would work if he's able to manipulate his fingers sufficiently, but I will say that a baritone with low action is a little easier to play in terms of strength than a tenor with standard action - I think the baritone has lower tension.

That said - chromatic harmonica requires an entirely different set of muscle groups and can be very rewarding. I've been playing one for about 10 years now. Toots Thielemans had a stroke in his 70's (I think) and while he could no longer play guitar at the professional level he was accustom to, he is able to play chromatic harmonica as lovely as ever. He's about 90 now.

11-28-2012, 04:14 AM
Maybe you should just ask him which one feels most comfortable if you have some available for him to try. A surprise is nice, but it would be sort of sad to get him one he still had problems handling if there was a more suitable size that he would feel more comfortable with.

I wish him lots of luck and joy with whatever you decide on!

shanty irishman
11-29-2012, 09:57 AM
I have thought about the stroke and ukulele as far as improving dexterity but also in training other neuropathways. I work as an RN in an acute rehab hospital and think that it could beneficial once they are able to get passed the critical phase of their illness. I also believe that it could help with cognition, to slow the onset of dementia and memory deficits due to the same neuropathway reasons.

11-30-2012, 09:30 AM
Thanks for all the advice and good wishes. I'm looking at the wide neck Oscar. I hadn't thought about a slide guitar/resonator. That might be a better option.

Whatever my mom decides, I'll let you know how it turns out.

11-30-2012, 09:17 PM
I played steel, or slide. It's fine for 3 chord blues but not much else. A huge part of playing steel is damping the unwanted noise, & if Dad has dexterity problems it could be a huge problem. I had to give it away for that reason. That's why I now play mainly baritone uke. Sounds to me like a uke of some sort will be the answer.

11-30-2012, 09:21 PM
The idea of alternate tuning is a way to make music with a minimum of fine muscle control or diminished strength. GCEA can be tuned as GCEG so one plays in the key of G . By tuning GCEA as FCFA, the key changes to F. But....
in either key, the I is open, the IV is a hollow piece of steel placed over the 5th fret, and the V is the piece of hollow steel;or a piece of pvc pipe, or a pill bottle he can put over a finger on the 7th fret.
The UkeLeash in its original form does not support the heavy end of a ukulele, so for a person with limited range of strength and motion, it might be better to get a conventional strap which secures at the tail end and the neck.
I make a lightweight polywebbing strap which is adjustable. It comes in 16 different colours. I would send him one in whichever colour he wants. He'd get a lot more use from a strap than from a Get Well card. If you want one, I can scan the swatch sample card and send it to you for him to decide which colour he wants. An address would help to get it to him, if he wants one.

There are many other uses for slide style than just three chord blues. Check out Jim DeVille's Play by Ear, and all of the stuff he does with three chords.

12-01-2012, 01:40 AM
TheCraftedCow is certainly correct that there's much more to steel guitar than 3 chord songs. (Don't let a steeler hear you call it slide) and I've used C6 tuning, Leavitt tuning, minor 7th tuning, open G tuning, open D tuning, and others. I've played blues, country and jazz on steel. There's always been the same problem of damping though. I have physical problems which make damping very painful and had to eventually give up steel.
I was thinking in terms of the gentleman under discussion and the difficulties he would likely encounter playing steel. He could easily play 3 chord songs with a limited left hand, however the damping of unwanted resonance is bound to be a huge issue. And taking up the likes of C6 or Leavitt tunings is a huge undertaking that frustrated me, taking any enjoyment out of playing music. That's something that a person wants to seek out for himself if he has the desire, it's not something you'd inflict on a man thinking you're making life easier for him.
It is true that steel guitar is very versatile, but it's for somebody who wants to live and breathe it for many years before it becomes satisfying instead of hard work.
Been there and done that. It's for the youngsters. I'm not claiming any level of expertise, simply trying to be of some help. I'd go with a uke, either baritone or tenor, without re-entrant tuning, as the fellow is a guitar player. I wish him well.

12-01-2012, 04:31 AM
I have thought about the stroke and ukulele as far as improving dexterity but also in training other neuropathways. I work as an RN in an acute rehab hospital and think that it could beneficial once they are able to get passed the critical phase of their illness. I also believe that it could help with cognition, to slow the onset of dementia and memory deficits due to the same neuropathway reasons.

Hi Shanty Irishman. A very good point. Playing was very difficult at first because I could not get my hands to quickly do what I was 'telling' them to do. In fact it was very frustrating and exhausting. Over time playing has become easier and it is now a lot less tiring. The other thing playing has done is to stop me going stir crazy (I spend a lot of time at home these days because getting out and about is more difficult post the stroke). I think I would have gone nutso if it were not for having music to think about.

12-01-2012, 11:17 AM
Peedee, You can try steel easily & cheaply by buying a nut extender for maybe $5 & fitting it to Dad's guitar in a few minutes. Tune it to open G or open D & he can play I IV V's on it. If his right hand is OK he could damp the unwanted res onance with it. If'n he's happy playing I IV V's, there's your answer! All the best.