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Thread: Arthritis - chords vs finger style

  1. #1
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    Default Arthritis - chords vs finger style

    So far chords are difficult in normal beginner ways. But some are also painful, As in like old fingers with early arthritis symptoms. So I am wondering what my options are.

    1 - magic position that will avoid all pain?
    2 - Different size instrument or strings?
    3 - electric?
    4 - Mandolin or guitar?
    5 - non-string instrument?

    Or just practice more...

  2. #2

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    Quote Originally Posted by Donblanco View Post
    So far chords are difficult in normal beginner ways. But some are also painful, As in like old fingers with early arthritis symptoms. So I am wondering what my options are.

    1 - magic position that will avoid all pain?
    2 - Different size instrument or strings?
    3 - electric?
    4 - Mandolin or guitar?
    5 - non-string instrument?

    Or just practice more...
    I'm thinking guitar would make it worse because it's a bigger stretch, otherwise try any others until something suits you. 1 I haven't found yet, but I've definitely tried different sized ukes. On mandolin you'll be pressing on double sets of steel strings which will probably be worse.
    Just keep playing at it. Something will work

  3. #3
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    String tension decreases with the size of the uke. So if using tenor, maybe see if a concert feels better. The tension is also dependent on the thickness of the strings, so maybe some experimenting here will help.

  4. #4
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    I definitely don’t recommend guitar if you’re having issues with the uke. I had to move from the guitar to uke when playing guitar for more than an hour would kill my playing for days. The necks are too wide, too long, string tension too great, etc etc.

  5. #5
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    Ok, so guitar won’t reduce pressure required, mandolin either. I did think that a tenor with longer scale might help with the extra fret width. The space available on my wife’s soprano is quite minimal. But if the strings requires more pressure then that kinda offsets the benefit...

  6. #6
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    Also, forgot to expand on the question in the title. Wouldn’t finger style avoid the problems of certain chords? Seems like it might be something to focus on?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Donblanco View Post
    Also, forgot to expand on the question in the title. Wouldn’t finger style avoid the problems of certain chords? Seems like it might be something to focus on?
    I have rheumatoid arthritis, predominantly in my hands. On a good day, most of the basic chords are manageable after my fingers have warmed up a bit. I often modify harder chords (especially those that require liberal use of barre chords) by omitting the G string altogether. But you are correct in thinking that playing finger style tends to eliminate the problem of certain chords. I find that I can play, with minimal pain, for extended periods of time when I only have to fret one or two notes at a time, versus fretting a lot of quickly moving chords.

    Experiment with your fretting hand position. It may help to change the angle of your wrist, or drop your left elbow a bit. You may also benefit from lower tension strings. I also would recommend avoiding anything larger than a soprano or concert scale uke. As others have mentioned, tenors require more stretch. A certain amount of stretch is a good thing - it helps keep arthritic hands more flexible and agile. But constant pain will thwart your musical growth. The uke is meant to be fun. There are no absolute rules. If a chord or hand position is not working for you, modify it. And give finger style a try. You may find it easier on your fingers and wrist.

    Best of luck on your musical journey!
    Jan D.
    KoAloha KCM-00 (koa concert)
    KoAloha Opio KCO-10 (acacia concert)
    Thormahlen Yew-kulele (yew concert)
    Kala KA-SLNG (long neck soprano)
    Flight TUS35 (blue soprano)
    UKES LOOKING FOR A NEW HOME:
    *Ohana TK-35CG (mahogany tenor w/cutaway)
    *Snail SUC (solid top mahogany concert)

  8. #8
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    I suffer from arthritis in my fretting hand. I also play guitar, mandolin, banjo and a variety of ukuleles (+ other stuff) ... my most "comfortable" stringed instrument? ... my Antoria "J200 copy", a "jumbo" six-string guitar with steel strings, then my five-string banjo!

    For me, it's all about comfortable playing position and my ukuleles, especially the smaller ones, are just too cramped to be comfortable, as much as I like the sound they make

    Some woodwind can be enjoyable, but my full-size black-wood flute and my clarinet are getting to be just a little too much of a stretch to be able to play for very long Penny whistle and recorder are still playable
    There are those who will wax lyrical about the ability to play a double shuffle with a split fan and a tight G-string ...
    it just makes me walk funny!

  9. #9
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    I'd suggest a concert scale uke, it's the best compromise between being small & having reasonable sustain, with lower tension strings than a tenor, generally, as I use concert strings on my tenor scales.

    Other non strung instruments to consider.

    Whistle - (Fipple Flute) - any down to a low 'F'
    Flute - (Simple System rather than Concert) - preferably an 'F' rather than a low 'D'
    Piccolo/Fife - any key down to a 'G'
    (Once you go down past G/F the holes become more awkward to cover)

    Harmonica - diatonic, tremolo, or chromatic

    I don't have arthritis, thankfully, but I do have the above instruments & enjoy them all.
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.

  10. #10
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    First off. I am no teacher or pro. Just an old man with all sorts of hand and fingers, plus other old age problems. 81 now. September 2017 I purchased my first Baritone Ukulele because when I tried to play guitar I had gotten to the point of tears when trying to use my left thumb and do barre chords. I started taking therapy in 2017 and still do. A little expensive but beats surgery and I am playing some now without pain. However, I do not play a standard full size steel string guitar, fretting chords.

    I try to stick to 20 inch or 21 inch scale length. Nothing longer. My Aria guitar is 21 inch scale with nylon strings and is nice to play. I also play my Baritone ukulele, which is a 20 inch scale. I have a Tenor ukulele with high g. It is really easy to play when my fingers are acting up. I may change it to low G because I like some high g but prefer low.I purchased a Guitalele that only has a 17 inch scale. I plan to try to get a 20 inch scale Guitalele, maybe.

    I mention scale a lot because when you play a longer scale instrument it is much harder to fret the chords. Also Most shorter scale instruments have smaller diameter necks which is nice for short or sore fingers.

    Yes, IMO fingerstyle is best with a pick or without. I do both. I also use a capo and play to avoid playing in the keys of F and B and as much as possible I avoid those two chords. I play a few barre chords that are not painful. The first sign of pain cancels out what I was trying and I do something else.

    I am sold on drop tuning. Tuning the ukulele or guitar down. Sometimes I tune down as much as 5 half steps. You can do so as long as the strings/notes still sound correct. If they start buzzing then you need to go back up. When you play with others, that is another subject to learn later on how to tune back up to them. Tuning down makes mostly for more mellow sounds and more sustain. It is also easier on the fingers and voice.

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