The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #8814   Message #56972
Posted By: Art Thieme
02-Feb-99 - 10:54 PM
Thread Name: Playing inspite of injury/disability
Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
As I have mentioned, I've got MS. Cannot do any pickin' now that I'd want people to pay to hear (and playing music was how I made my living for many yeqars.)All that time I did whatever I could to keep on picking my instruments. Back then I had no idea why I was feeling what I was feeling.


1) I took gigs closer to home

2) converted my guitar to 9-strings--got bigger sound with less picking and more strumming.(still clear bass)

3) Tuned a full note low & kept capo at 1st or 2nd fret to lower action and make depressing the strings easier.

4) As I progressively got worse, I went back to 6 strings. Still kept things tuned low and always used a capo. (Some picking came back for a while.)

5) Later, got worse again, so I quit playing my big D-76 & went to a Martin 00018. Had trouble feeling the strings so I went to heavy strings 'cause they're BIGGER AROUND & easier to feel. When heavy strings became too annoying went to medium---then to light. Still tuned low.

6) tried open tunings, but had limited success as the chops weren't there for those in the first place & it was now too late to learn new "fancy" stuff. Used a slide a bit, but never felt I got good enough to do it on stage.

7) I wqas relying more on jokes and tall tales to allow me to rest my hands, even in the middle of songs. Worked at making the tales/jokes fit the song's topics (sometimes). Thanks to Bruce Phillips for showing me what a grand tool levity could be.

8) 4 spinal surgeries in Chicago later, Mayo diagnosed MS. I still pick up my guitar & try picking it several times a week. In my mind it'll always be my main instrument.


The open G tuning stood me in good stead. Went from frailing to a simpler Seeger-style of up-picking, but made that sound almost like frailing. Then went to slower finger-picking styles. A G-minor tuning (dropping the 2nd string 1/2 note in the open G-tuning) was effective too--especially on songs like "John Hardy". Thanks to Mike Seeger for that. The modal tuning (putting the 2nd string up 1/2 note from the open G-tuning) is always a great one to fool around with. The Seeger C-tuning got to be too hard to play...too many strings to press down. Same with many other tunings and ones involving up-the-neck complexities.


Was more impressive as a novelty than it was good music. A fun way to make saw jokes and puns plus auditory oddities. Did eventually need to stop--bending & accuracy got to be embarrassing. But there was one "cut" of saw on one of my LPs.


Always fun for a change of pace. Did this OK for a long time. Still can do it pretty well---so I suggest it as something that can easily be done for the disabled. Same goes for the Mountain (3-string) Dulcimer. (see below)


Especially good when played by fretting one string with a noter if chords prove to be a problem. A shirt collar stay can be a good strumming pick when feathers are in short supply.


Very frustrating trying to keep it in tune. A friend sent me one & after 2 months of struggling I got it in tune!! After finding several other shortcomings, I thanked him profusely and sent it back to him.


This SHRILLLL little instrument can be fun. To some it's the musical equivalent of running your nails down the blackboard! It's a good one to get quick results from and to play a real melody line.

There's some ideas for you. I do hope some o' you good folks can get something out of 'em. They're all things I've tried over the last 20 years to compensate--to keep on making music in spite of deterriorating skills. Some ideas only worked for a while; some a LONG while and some a short while. The impaired all know that their physical situations are always in flux. Just do whatever you can, whenever you can to stay with your music. If music has been a part of your life, then you know it's not a matter of choice. We do what we can because music is in our blood!

And David Paton has always been an inspiration to me. He and Robin sure were great to watch shooting the rapids on the Housatonic River in their kyaks. (But that Prettikin diet had to go! )

Don, Thanks for designing all that good stuff. At Mayo I found out just how much proper design can mean. I was in a wheelchair for a year, but now, thanks to Mayo use a cane for short jaunts.

Broke a cane over the chair while at Mayo. Sort of a "cane mutiny". ;-)

Art Thieme