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At first glance you might think a weak arm would make playing a
musical instrument very difficult. But many instruments can be
played with one hand, or hands of differing strengths, and the
pleasure of music making may actually encourage your child to make
more use of their affected hand.
Playing an instrument can increase self-confidence and help
general coordination and social development. Children can enjoy
group musical activities at home or at school, youth clubs and
Once you have chosen your instrument, it is of course important
to find a teacher who will welcome the challenge of teaching a
child with special needs. Sound Sense (see below) should be able to
help you find a suitable teacher through its database of community
Children from the very beginning like bashing things to make a
noise, and percussion instruments are the obvious way to introduce
children to music. Many can be played with one hand or hands of
differing strengths. From there, your child can progress from
untuned instruments, such as drums, and shaking instruments, like
maracas, to tuned instruments such as xylophones and
"I am just trying to think of an instrument my son could
play successfully with one arm. I think it will have to be the
drums! Look at 'Def Leppard' who had a one armed
Recorders and ocarinas
Under the terms of the National Curriculum, pupils in English
schools aged five years and over should have 'experience of playing
tuned musical instruments'. Traditionally the first tuned
instrument learnt has been the recorder, but some schools now use
ocarinas. Both of these instruments are normally played two-handed,
but there are one-handed versions available.
"She loves to play her recorder and is very enthusiastic in
playing it… Learning the recorder has been a huge boost to her
confidence. I think she can see that this is an area she can do
well in and be 'just the same' as others. I have seen her face
numerous difficulties in some activities she attempts, but the
recorder is something she can easily play and it is so wonderful to
see her progressing so well."
Piano & keyboard
On an electric keyboard, the stronger hand can play the melody
and the additional part can be programmed in.
"J is 5 and loves music. My mum has recently bought an
electric piano (really cool with lots of different instrument
sounds to it) which he absolutely loves. We only go to grandma's
house now for the piano, although it has to be on 'Harpsichord' and
the music book open on 'The Grand Old Duke of York'!! - nothing
else will do. He loves music at school and I would love him to play
an instrument as he seems to have real 'staying power' when it
comes to music."
Brass and woodwind: Cornet, Trumpet, French Horn,
Trombone, Euphonium, Flute
These instruments are some of the most suitable for children
with hemiplegia. However they require some blowing strength, so
they are not good for young children. If your child's weaker hand
cannot support the instrument, slings and stands are available
through Remap (see below).
"My name is Emily Luck and I am 11 years old. I have mild
left sided hemiplegia. I have been learning the trombone for just
over a year. I thought it would be a good instrument to learn
because I don't have to use my left hand much. I am enjoying it
very much but I don't practice as much as I should! I like the fact
that you can make lots of different sounds but you need good
"I use my right hand to move the slide and just use my left
hand to hold the instrument. I can manage this but sometimes it
gets tiring. My school have lent me my trombone and it comes in a
hard case so it's quite a heavy instrument to carry."
Strings: Violin, Viola, Guitar
Children with hemiplegia can play orchestral string instruments
(violin, viola, cello) but only if they have a reasonable amount of
control over the affected hand, which will be used for bowing.
Another difficulty is that instruments are usually strung to be
played right handed, and although left-handed violins do exist,
they are expensive and only available in full size.
(Note that 'right handed' here assumes that the dominant hand
will be used for bowing, whereas a child with hemiplegia will use
this hand for holding down the strings and their affected arm for
bowing. So someone with left-sided hemiplegia will find it
difficult to find a suitable instrument.)
Guitars are an easier option since they are available in left or
right-handed versions, and many famous musicians, including Paul
McCartney and Jimi Hendrix, have played left-handed. A guitar can
even be played one-handed if laid flat on a keyboard stand,
allowing the player to use his or her thumb as well as fingers.
Bass guitars are easier to play since they only have four
"I have right hemiplegia (so am left handed!) but play bass
guitar right handed, i.e. have my affected hand strumming/plucking
the strings and my good hand doing the fret work. My right hand is
actually not that badly affected, so can hold the plectrum and
control it ok! One of the advantages of playing the guitar (or
bass!), as opposed to the violin, is that they are fretted, so
there is a guide to where to place your fingers on the neck of the
"When choosing a guitar, take your time to decide. You may
find it easier like I did to pick the strings with your affected
hand, and press the frets on the neck on your unaffected hand as
your fingers can move faster. My first bass was right handed, and
had a composite body. This made it light, but hard to play because
of my hemiplegia. My current left handed is wood-bodied, and
heavier, but easier to play."
It may seem obvious, but the voice is one instrument that anyone
can develop. Singing can increase your child's confidence and, if
they join a choir, their social skills too. There are thousands of
choirs across the country. Get in touch with your local music
service or council for more details.
Reac - hhttp://www.reach.org.uk/ - is
the Association for Children with Hand or Arm deficiency. Go to the
website for the loan of a one-handed recorder or to buy an
Remap - (www.remap.org.uk) - is a free bespoke
service that adapts existing equipment for people with
The Piano Education Page - www.pianoeducation.org/pnoonhnd.html
- has a list of pieces for one hand (both right and left).
Living My Song - www.livingmysong.org.uk - is
dedicated to exploring ways in which everyone can discover and
express their own musical personality. Go to Articles for a guide
to choosing an instrument.
The Full Pitcher Music Resources - www.fullpitcher.co.uk - has a
range of free online resources. It also has a Music and Disability
Forum where you can ask questions or look for resources.
The OHMI Trust - www.ohmi.org.uk - is dedicated to
the development of musical instruments for the physically disabled
with a focus on adaptations or emulations of traditional
instruments capable of the highest level of virtuosity yet playable
without the use of one hand. If you are interested in playing an
instrument contact them to find where to get specially adapted
instruments and equipment.
Sing Up - www.singup.org - is a government funded
scheme for education professionals, to help children 'find their
voice' and start singing. The site has links to an extensive song
bank, lesson plans etc, and training courses include teaching
children with additional needs.