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Playing inspite of injury/disability


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Don Meixner 23 Jan 99 - 04:50 PM 23 Jan 99 - 09:53 PM
rick fielding 23 Jan 99 - 10:24 PM
Mike Billo 23 Jan 99 - 11:12 PM
Sandy Paton 24 Jan 99 - 12:11 AM
Dan Keding 24 Jan 99 - 02:32 PM
Banjer 24 Jan 99 - 08:42 PM
Art Thieme 02 Feb 99 - 10:54 PM
rick fielding 03 Feb 99 - 12:00 AM
Art Thieme 03 Feb 99 - 01:58 PM
Philippa 03 Feb 99 - 02:12 PM
rick fielding 03 Feb 99 - 05:33 PM
Roger in Baltimore 03 Feb 99 - 07:30 PM
Barbara Shaw 03 Feb 99 - 08:03 PM
Zorro 03 Feb 99 - 10:12 PM
O'Boyle 04 Feb 99 - 01:40 AM
rick fielding 04 Feb 99 - 03:00 AM
Roger in Baltimore 04 Feb 99 - 06:16 AM
belter 04 Feb 99 - 10:37 AM
KingBrilliant 04 Feb 99 - 11:00 AM
Don Meixner 04 Feb 99 - 07:27 PM
Muttley 07 Apr 05 - 07:16 AM
M.Ted 07 Apr 05 - 02:21 PM
PoppaGator 07 Apr 05 - 03:14 PM
GUEST,banjoman 08 Apr 05 - 07:07 AM
Muttley 09 Apr 05 - 01:26 AM
Pauline L 09 Apr 05 - 02:56 AM
Kaleea 09 Apr 05 - 03:00 AM
GUEST,Patrick Costello 09 Apr 05 - 08:59 AM
The Fooles Troupe 09 Apr 05 - 09:04 AM
DonMeixner 09 Apr 05 - 12:31 PM
Uncle_DaveO 09 Apr 05 - 05:35 PM
PoppaGator 09 Apr 05 - 07:00 PM
Muttley 14 Apr 05 - 02:55 AM
GUEST,KingBrilliant 14 Apr 05 - 07:56 AM
Muttley 16 Apr 05 - 10:34 PM
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Subject: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Don Meixner
Date: 23 Jan 99 - 04:50 PM

This is an area near to me. My 40 hr. gig is as a designer for people with disabilities. I design and create handicapped accessible housing and equipment. I also modify existing equipment for use by people with one or more limiting factor in their lives. Some years back I rain my left hand through a table saw and was severely injured. I had a finger reattached and had to go through considerable physical therapy ( I used an Autoharp) to regain the 50% use of my left hand that I now have. The nerve damage has taken away the fiddle from me but I still play banjo of sorts and guitar as well. I have replaced the fiddle with a hammered dulcimer. I wonder how many of us out there are playing through a disability and how have we coped. Have we modified our instruments or playing style? What do we do more or less of? Ultimately this will serve as research for a paper in a journal or presentation at a United Cerebral Palsy Convention.


Don Meixner

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
Date: 23 Jan 99 - 09:53 PM

Recently I spent a week searching the net for lap steel guitars and came upon an acoustic guitar with an attached sliding mechanism for bar chords. All you need is a moderately good ear and two hands (maybe one) to strum and slide. A wonderful outlet for folks of limited experience or ability. I will look through my files to locate information to send to you later. I have seen a film of a fellow with no arms playing beautiful barefoot acoustic steel, and one of the early Hawaiian greats(Bob Kaai ?) played steel for some years after becoming blind - more difficult than standard guitar at his level. I often think on this as I have worked many dangerous jobs and love to play. Glad to hear you are still at it. Your proposed work is very important, well done.

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: rick fielding
Date: 23 Jan 99 - 10:24 PM

In the late seventies I saw a fiddler with an artificial right arm at a bluegrass festival in Ohio. Can't remember his name, but he was well known and played with one of the top bands of the day. Perhaps someone remembers him. I suspect he'd have an interesting story to tell.

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Mike Billo
Date: 23 Jan 99 - 11:12 PM

I had a severe case of tendonitis in the late '80's, and was informed that there was a Doctor at University of California San Francisco (whose name, I'm sorry, I don't remember) who was redesigning musical instruments to incorporate "correct" body mechanics, with an emphasis on neutral positions that place the arms in front of you such as lap steel. Dobro,keyboards and wind instruments shaped in a straight lines such as the tin whistle and clarinet. During my bout with tendonitis, (which I have since recovered from thanks to extensive occupational therapy)I had to give up fiddle and mandolin entirely, and I've never been able to fully come back to them. Instead I focused on my harmonica playing, experimentation with open tunings, and discovered the wonders of the humble Ukulele, a MUCH overlooked instrument.Perhaps a web search on "Body Mechanics" could yield the name of the doctor at UCSF re-inventing instruments. Best of luck to you in your important work, with the hope that it will benefit many.

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 24 Jan 99 - 12:11 AM

My elder son, now 40, was born with only two fingers (the first two - index and middle) on his right hand. His chosen instrument for the past twenty-five years has been the English concertina, an instrument normally played with three fingers on each hand. Dave simply developed his own fingering patterns, using only two fingers on each hand. At a session up in Albany after a Ewan MacColl/Peggy Seeger concert, Peggy watched Dave play and said, "How does he do it?" Most people are unaware of the missing digits.

He also plays a bit of penny whistle, using two fingers on the right hand and four on the left. It works for him. His other instrument is the hammered dulcimer which only demands of the player the ability to hold the hammers.


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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Dan Keding
Date: 24 Jan 99 - 02:32 PM

In scanning the thread "how old are mudcatters?" it seems to me that many of us are or might soon be facing the prospect of arthritic fingers and hands that could diminish are playing skills. I take relafen, a prescription drug, for an arthritic knee. It also seems to lessen the inflammation in my left hand. I take several herb/vitamin/natural suppliments hoping that they might also help my hands. Its not a crippling problem but I do seem to experience pain and stiffness when I play especially in certain keys. Anyone else have this problem and what do you folks do for it. Dan

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Banjer
Date: 24 Jan 99 - 08:42 PM

I can identify with the arthritic stiffening of the fingers. The best method I have found is to change position of the hands to relieve some of the strain and pain. Another thought, and this works sometimes, believe it or not, is just simply ignore it. If you love what you're doing enough then you will adapt some way of doing it! When I "play" the banjo, I have to hold the neck almost vertical to keep my left wrist from popping and doing all sorts of weird things on its own. The chronological year 50 is just around the corner, and it is slowing down the 20 year old trapped inside me, but I find that as the years creep on, the challenge to keep on doing that which I shouldn't anymore just gets better. ;-)

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Art Thieme
Date: 02 Feb 99 - 10:54 PM

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

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: rick fielding
Date: 03 Feb 99 - 12:00 AM

Hi Art, just a couple of things. I found your new CD in the radio station library a week ago, and broke a ten year rule of only playing music from my own collection of many years and recordings that have been sent to me personally. Instead of the hour's worth of material I had planned, the show (Acoustic Workshop) became an Art Theime concert! Like a good potato chip, one A.T. song is just not enough! I started getting phone calls..and don't be insulted, but most of my listeners (the younger ones) were unfamiliar with your work. Well the calls kept coming, and by the end of the show I had read most of the liner notes to them. I guess in a nutshell this is why I continue to free up my Mondays week in and week out. Knowing that it's still possible to subvert a dozen or so 19 year year olds in one hour is a huge Kick. The best question of the night came from one Aiden Mason who after hearing "The Death of Robin Hood" and I guess knowing that I had done "The Birth of Robin Hood", wanted to know if "there were any songs about his life?" Hoooo Boy! This kid doesn't know what he's in for in the next few weeks.

One other thing. Years ago I met a guy in Peterborough (Ont) who had (I think) the same miseries that you're going through. He had dispensed with regular picking and played his Gibson on his lap with a raised nut adapter and a Stevens Dobro bar. He sang a lot of old tunes and the accompaniment was simple and very effective. Is this a possibility?


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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Art Thieme
Date: 03 Feb 99 - 01:58 PM


I truly appreciate ALL that you and other dedicated folk-DJs have been doing to get my music heard. Getting the songs out there---ones that people haven't heard---has been my reason for being all along. It was grand to find songs like "The Pokegama Bear" and let folks hear what I thought was a fine musical tale. The same with "Robin Hood's Death"(Child 120), "The Big Combine", "The Hobo's Last Ride", "Billy Vanero", Wade Hemsworth's "Shining Birch Tree", "Dobe Bill", "Red River Shore"(a cowboy version of the Child ballad "Earl Brand") etc. Over the last decade, doing those stemboat gigs on the Mississippi, I found so many older passengers who knew nothing at all about our folkie music. It got to be fun to say, simply, "Folks, this thing in my hand is called a banjo!" It really did have to be that rudimentary. So not only the 19 year olds need to be basically educated. We really have, out of choice,not been a part of the mainstream. But ingroups exist, in part, for eventual recognition from the outgroup. If we keep on showing them what we've managed to save musically, they will learn what we have learned. We've built it, and yes, they're coming--just like we were drawn in by the bright flame created by our mentors! Sure is a gas, isn't it?

Thanks for the Dobro idea. That's as good as a noter on a dulcimer.

And if you want a personal copy of the CD, just let me know where to send it. How 'bout a swap!

All the best, Art

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Philippa
Date: 03 Feb 99 - 02:12 PM

1) re arthritic fingers: I've seen fiddlers in their early 80s and I think what keeps their fingers nimble is the fact that they've kept playing. "Hudi McMenamin" recommends some exercises such as putting an elastic band around your hand and stretching/spanning your fingers against it, also massaging your hands and manipulating the joints of each finger.

2) I know a couple of guitarists who are missing some fingers. Of course they adjust their styles accordingly

3) I saw a photo in a book once of a fiddler (Australian, I think) who'd had his left hand amputated. That's normally the fingering hand, but he relearned the instrument, fingering with his right hand and holding the bow in his hook. Incidentally, someone told me that it's bad for the structure of the violin to reverse the strings (the way left-handed guitar players apart from Elizabeth Cotton generally do); only the chin rest should be moved when switching playing sides.

4) I play despite a disability - insufficient musicianship!

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: rick fielding
Date: 03 Feb 99 - 05:33 PM

Love to swap, Art. I've e-mailed you with the info.

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 03 Feb 99 - 07:30 PM

I've held off on this because I have only a fragment of a memory. I saw a folk-duo, man and wife I believe, and the wife played a medium sized harp. It was during the second set, that I realized her left hand, playing the base notes was a prostheses (sp?). She was limited to single note bass runs, but in a duo the guitar picked up much of the bass work.

Roger in Baltimore

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Barbara Shaw
Date: 03 Feb 99 - 08:03 PM

The former banjo player in Doyle Lawson's bluegrass band "QuickSilver" has a deformed left hand, and played unbelievably well the last time I heard him. Can't remember his name or the band he's with now. He pressed down on the strings with the stumps, and if you didn't see it, you'd never know it.

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Zorro
Date: 03 Feb 99 - 10:12 PM

I was hanging out in the Rio Grande Valley in deep South Texas and was part of a program of entertainment for "snow birds". Those are folk that come south for the winter. On the program was a man playing guitar and his son on fiddle. The dad had had 2 1/2 fingers cut off his right hand in a railroad accident. He still had the thumb and the index finger. He said he use to do a lot of finger pickin' but then went to a thumb pick and Carter family strum with his index finger. He still got a couple of finger pickin' licks in and it sounded great! Where there's a will there's a way, I guess. Z

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: O'Boyle
Date: 04 Feb 99 - 01:40 AM

One of my best friends and the person who originally taught me to play the guitar, had a svere hand disability. He had been shot in the arm a couple of years before and used the guitar for rehabilitation. The disability caused him not to be able to control the muscles to open the right hand. He could make a weak fist, but to open it, he had to relax and let it fall open. The way he played was by using a pick in a conventional manner and on occaision plucking the strings with the remaining fingers. Although it prevented him from playing certain styles, he was able to develop his own style and sound.


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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: rick fielding
Date: 04 Feb 99 - 03:00 AM

Hi Roger. Anderson and Brown have been fixtures on the Canadian folk scene for a number of years now. Can't say if they ever were married.(to each other) They've separated their musical partnership recently and I know that Ken Brown plays a lot with Ken Perlman. I've watched Mary Anderson up close a number of times and have wanted to ask whether she lost the hand in an accident or if it was a birth condition. It may well be a sensitive area so I've never asked, although I imagine she's been asked about it many times by others. Guess I was just trying to be "cool". Lovely harpist and I believe she has a number of CDs out.

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 04 Feb 99 - 06:16 AM


Thanks for refreshing the rest of my memory. By the by, I think it is polite not to ask.

Roger in Baltimore

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: belter
Date: 04 Feb 99 - 10:37 AM

There was a thread titled Instruments for the phiscly disabled in march 98. It had some good sugjestions.

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 04 Feb 99 - 11:00 AM

I lost a finger a few years ago (caught my wedding ring on a nail then jumped down some steps). Luckily I was wearing the ring on my right hand (don't ask), and so it was probably the most convenient one to lose. I still touch-type and finger-pick ok. In fact it was really weird the way my little finger automatically incorporated the role of the ring-finger without me actually having to think about it much at all. Which leads me to think that the pattern of actions is learnt rather than the pattern of off finger movements if you see what I mean.

Good thing it was my right hand tho, otherwise I would have had problems with the chords - altho as people have pointed out, nothing seems to be insurmountable...

I always said it was a cheap wedding ring! (now I have a really thick one, that couldn't cut if it tried).


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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Don Meixner
Date: 04 Feb 99 - 07:27 PM

Hello All,

Thank you for the many replies and kind comments. I am seeing a trend that breaks down uinto the obvious. Those who learned an istrument in spite of disabilities such as birth defects or trauma at an age before they began an instrument. Ie: Sandy's son the Concertina player. And those who came up with ways to keep playing following a disability. ie: Kris and the wedding ring incident.

If I could enlrge this thread little. What physical therapy did you find significant, I used autoharps to strengthen my heavily lacerated left and and fingers. Are there appliances that you now use that you didn't before? I now need fingerpicks and very heavy gauge plat picks when I rarely used them before.

Thanks gang, it is truly appreciated.


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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Muttley
Date: 07 Apr 05 - 07:16 AM

Not sure how old this thread is but as I'm a relatively new Mudcatter I will toss my sixpence into the ring and tell you a little about my 'woes'.

I've played the guitar on-and-off for a number of years (started learning with a really weird method at age 9); eventually abandoned it for straight vocals and took it up again in my late twenties. taught a fairly understandable style by the local Primary School Head Teacher who is an AWESOME bush musician - if it's got strings - he'll play it and play it brilliantly.

Anyway, things were progressing - doing fingerpicking and barre-ing chords and feeling quite confident despite an inability to read music when eight years ago (in my late thirties) A considerate bus driver indicated that the road he was on was 'clear' to a motorist in a side street and called her out. As he didn't check his mirrors he failed to see me and my motorcycle passing him in the next lane - the driver from the side street appeared 10 feet in front of me from "behind" the bus and I had nowhere to go.

My injuries were extensive: right wrist, left ankle, right shoulder left kneecap broken (the kneecap into 3 pieces), left shoulder torn out and dislocated most of the cartilage in the left knee pulped, Muscles torn off my spine in three places and rehealed pulling vertebrae sideways and twisted at those points. But worst of all was the closed head injuries which basically left me with:
Little or no sense of smell
Little or no sense of taste
infrequent, but severe migraines
Severely diminished short-term memory capability
Wiped out all memories of playing - how to form chords etc
Diminished conduction between brain and hands / fingers

The nett result is that I could no longer remember HOW to play; Could no longer (still can't) recall chord progressions; the nerve conduction hassles mean that sometimes if the chording is OK, the strumming is all over the place or vice versa; Can no longer fingerpick or barre - especially as if I TRIED to fingerpick a tune and sing to it, my brain would simply dp 'backflips just TRYING to coordinate picking + lyrics + tune.

However, I have painstakingly re-learned about a dozen chords I can use without looking them up all the time. Where I have 'odd' chords - like G6 or something like it, I simply draw a 'fingering' diagram at the bottom of the song-sheet and refer to it before I start playing.

I have learned to write lyrics with two-line spacing and double-spaced between words in a clear (Arial) font - 12 point is good.
and on the in-between lines I put the chords in red/crimson above the word where the chord-changes occur; the result is alternating lines of Chords/lyrics/chords/lyrics and so on.

I re-chord some songs to eliminate hard-to-form chords ('F' is a REAL bugger for some reason - I'll take a song in 'F' and reconfigure it either "up" to 'G' or "down" to 'D' or 'E'; depending on the other chords in the song) most times it comes out fairly 'playable and ultimately recognisable

If I want to play a new song, I LISTEN to it literally dozens of times, play it, listen, play etc until it sounds FAIRLY accurate.

I have learned to pick songs that suit my new voice (I lost my true singing voice in a bushfire 15 years ago when a wall of flame swept over me and I inhaled naked flame, burning my vocal chords and trachea which have consequently scarred, giving me a slightly roughened 'burry' sound and about an octave and a half less range - used to be able to go note-for-note with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple and Meatloaf; but that's a "whole 'nother story)
Generally, I prefer Australian Bush music / ballads; the poems of 'Banjo' Patterson set to music; some Eric Bogle and John Williamson; British folk / ballads (Steeleye etc); Some US folk - and a fair bit of comedy/parody stuff as well. Lately I've even managed a small bunch of 'easy listenin' 60's & 70's style Rock / Pop songs.

To finish - as someone said earlier; we all get along with things as they change when we are forced to. The fact that I am also an Asperger makes "changing" things and adapting bloody difficult doesn't help: but in the end - it's the MUSIC that counts. John Williamson and Steeleye Span were my sanity saviours while re-learning and undergoing 'Rehab' - serious physio helped me, but re-learning my guitar was the true Godsend and the BEST rehab I could have undertaken.

John W

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: M.Ted
Date: 07 Apr 05 - 02:21 PM

I've had similar problems to yours, and have made similar adjustments--one thing that I have been forced to do is to refine my "playing by ear" ability, since I remember the melody, I can't remember the last way that I figured it out--the odd result is that I have gotten to be fairly good at working out chords and arrangements as I play, and so I can play things without remembering anything but the melody.   I seldom use barre chords as such--I play mostly up the neck, but only finger the notes I am using--most chords can be defined with two or three notes any way--when worse comes to worse and I can't find a chord, I pound on a bass note (usually either the fundamental or it's fifth) until I am in familiar territory again--as long as you keep the beat, no one really notices;-)

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: PoppaGator
Date: 07 Apr 05 - 03:14 PM

Muttley, thanks for reviving this old thread. Your story is pretty amazing. I was especially interested to learn (after reading about so many other problems) how you lost much of your vocal abilities. I'm dealing with something similar right now.

I was diagnosed with cancer of the right tonsil about a year and a half ago (January '04), and completed radiation/chemo treatment almost exactly a year ago, in April. The inside of my throat is almost entirely scar tissue ~ very stiff and constricted ~ and I also have suffered farily serious damage to my salivary function. This has made it difficult both to eat (obviously enough) and to sing.

The damaged throat tissue has severely cut back my vocal range (in terms of pitch), and makes it especially difficult to sing softly and quietly. It seems that projecting a lot of air forcibly through the throat ~ shouting, in other words ~ is most effective in shaping the passage appropriately to hit a given note. When I try to sing in a more subtle manner, I can't control pitch, and waver all over the place.

The lack of saliva causes severe dryness after two or three minutes (i.e., one song), making it difficult if not impossible to continue singing.

I am told that the healing process takes three years; I'm just one year into it right now. Things have improved steadily so far, and I can hope for continued progress for another two years.

(The good news, by the way, is that the treatment succeeded in wiping out the cancer completely. So I really can't complain, but the side effects of the radiation have been fairly serious.)

For several years, I've also been dealing with arthritic fingers. I've found that glucosamine helps, coupled with regular playing. When I go even one day without picking up my guitar for at least 20-30 minutes, I am noticeably stiffer the following day when I try to get back to playing.

Some notable guitar players with hand problems:

Django Rinehardt was born with a couple of fingers missing on his left hand. How did he become one of the greatest guitarists of all time? I suppose nobody told him he couldn't do it. I'm not sure which fingers were missing, and I don't know if there is any film footage showing how he compensated for his disability to make chords, etc.

Jerry Garcia lost one finger on his right hand during childhood. Of course, he became most famous as an electric guitar player using a flatpick, which doesn't require a full set of right-hand fingers. However, before the folk-rock era, Jerry was a world-class banjo picker, which would normally require a complete right hand.

Mac Rebbenack (Dr. John) was originally a guitar player until he took a gunshot wound to the hand, causing him to switch to piano. He didn't lose any fingers, but sustained some nerve damage and lost strength in his fingers. It's kind of surprising that he'd be able to play the piano but not the guitar; the damage must have been to the left hand, leaving his fingers too weak to fret guitar strings but strong enough to strike piano keys. He eventually regained the ability to play guitar (notably as an accompanyist on Professor Longhair's final two albums on the Alligator label), but he remains primarily a pianist.

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: GUEST,banjoman
Date: 08 Apr 05 - 07:07 AM

Hi and thanks for all the info in this thread. I have played banjo & guitar fr best part of 50 years but have experienced increasing difficulties caused by arthritis and various other unpronouncable conditions.
However, I have found that the best way to keep playing is just that KEEP PLAYING but adjust style & arm psition to suit.
As most of the pain comes after playing a gig, I am prepared with pain killers and exercises beforehand.
Once again, it is most important to keep playing and adapting to accomodate diability.
Thanks again and best wishes

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Muttley
Date: 09 Apr 05 - 01:26 AM

"Poppagator" - Yeah that radiation/chemo combo can be a bitch wherEVER it's applied. The salivary should come back better - have you tried an aerosol spray with water between songs; you can inhale the mist abd it will lubricate your airway quite well.

For my part, the scarring has buggered the range and somewhat power - I can still sing soft,but if I want those high notes I have to go 'sotto' and it sounds like a really crappy, 'girly' version of the BeeGees: EEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWW !!! The power has taken a bit of a beating as well. This primarily because the predominant scar tissue is on and around the vocal chords themselves: it also causes a noticeable but relatively unexploitable 'burriness' to the sound - If I could get a Johnny Cash or Burl Ives or even a Kenny Rodgers effect, I'd be a lot more content. Still: C'est la Vie!

As for handicapped musicians; I still think one of the most awesome is a relatively unknown Aboriginal muso from Darwin in the Northern Territory. Don't think he has recorded anything and I can't recall his name off-hand but I know John Williamson, Ted Egan and (I think) Eric Bogle have all jammed with him at various times.
This guy was born blind and while at the Darwin Rubbish Tip (?City Dump for our American friends), he found an old guitar that had been thrown out - complete with strings. He had it tuned (apparently he has perfect pitch) and being left-handed he played it as is - up-side-down!!!!!
So his stings are low 'E' as No.1 and High 'E' at No.6 and he's blind

Now THAT'S bloody talented - he's also self-taught!!

Banjoman - try shark cartilage as a vitamin supplement: I think its technical name is Chondroitin (or something similar) this stuff is amazing I am told - I can't use it as there is no cartilage left in my knee to work with in the relevant areas and only a knee replacement will do the job properly. However you might also give Voltaren tablets and gel a try - the gel is fantastic; I use it on my back, shoulders, hands and even knee. Alternatively, a small electronic pain neutraliser might work; it's called a "T.E.N.S." unit

Not sure how it would go with hands - but it works wonders on the areas on my body that hurt all the time, makes life bearable. But at least give the shark cartilage and the voltaren gel a go if you can get them.
An old memory just prodded: You can't get them here now as far as I know, but I was having problems with my hands a few years ago and a supplement called "Ester C" was available and cleared me up in no time; wish ir WAS available as I also have Ross River Virus; a mosquito-borne viral disease which is permanent once you have it and produces arthritis-like symptoms all over the body - especially in the fingers and feet. Most times it's dormant, but there are days when it really kicks in and lets me know it hasn't gone away entirely!

Good Luck

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Pauline L
Date: 09 Apr 05 - 02:56 AM

Muttley, M. Ted, banjoman, and PoppaGator, I have tremendous respect for all of you. The combinations of various somatic and mental conditions sound quite intimidating to me. I'm so glad that you've devised ways to adapt and that you're still making music. The drive to make music and the drive to keep living must be strongly related. When you do make music again after such severe setbacks, your lives must be so much richer and sweeter.

Incidentally, what is Ester C? If it's legal where I live (USA), I could get some and send it to you in a plain brown wrapper. I used to work for the FDA, which regulates such things here, so don't tell anyone.

Bravo to all of you.

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Kaleea
Date: 09 Apr 05 - 03:00 AM

Since being rear-ended 4 yrs back, there are several injuries to include my brain being screwed up so that it is extremely difficult to learn a new tune, & damn near impossible to learn new lyrics. The loss of dexterity with all of the above is difficult to deal with. As Banjoman says, I keep playing despite all the crapola. If I didn't play I would lose my mind completely--& I need all my mind I can keep. I can't play for long periods of time. Since I play many instruments, I switch instruments frequently to keep my hands & body from being in the same position all the time. If I have to play one instrument for some time, then I sit & stand & pause & shake my hands & do whatever I have to do to get by. The quality of instrument you play in important, since cheaper instruments make us work harder. I have been looking for a smaller guitar which will fit my needs & make it easier on the arthritis, double carpal tunnel, nerve & muscle damage & such fun things. My hands get really cramped fast, & the muscles simply cease to function. An electric size neck makes it easier on my hands & wrists, though I vastly prefer acoustic.
    I encourage you to try different things to make it easier for you & keep on pickin' no matter what!

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: GUEST,Patrick Costello
Date: 09 Apr 05 - 08:59 AM

By the time I started finding ways to work around my hearing problems I started having serious problems with my right hand. The banjo was bad, guitar was a nightmare. After a coupe of songs on the guitar my fretting hand would start to hurt pretty bad and then would go completely numb. from time to time it would actually lock up. It go to the point where I would have to tie my hand open during the day at school so it wouldn't be locked up when I went home to practice.

I talked to a doctor who never even looked at my hand. He just mumbled something about carpal tunnel and started talking about cutting something. I gave him the finger and went home.

I lived with it for a couple of years, but when things started getting too bad to ignore I started looking for the root of the problem. What it came down to was technique. It's wasn't playing the guitar that was doing the damage, it was HOW I was playing.

The first thing I did was change the action on my instruments. Not just the string height, but the tension and gauge of the strings. The goal was to get my banjo & guitar to the point where all I had to do was lightly touch the string to make contact with the fretwire.

The next thing I did was kind of crazy. I took a roll of adhesive tape and strapped my thumb against my hand and started practicing chords (and later on entire songs) without my thumb resting on the back of the neck. For the first few days it felt really weird, but after a while I managed to adjust my touch. When I ditched the tape I was able to start using my thumb as a guide on the back of the neck rather than a lever to drive my fingers down on the fretboard.

After about a year the damage cleared up and I haven't had a twinge in ten years.

Arthritis is a problem for older players, but you can make things a little easier on yourself if you set up the instrument to do most of the work.


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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: The Fooles Troupe
Date: 09 Apr 05 - 09:04 AM


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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: DonMeixner
Date: 09 Apr 05 - 12:31 PM

Well it has been awhile since I started this thread and I'm glad to see it is of use again. Very recently I had a bout with tendonitis
on my left hand. This is an odd form in that it attacks the back of the hand and the joint at the base of the thumb. The doctor who rebuilt both of my hands after my injuries looked this new problem over and offered this solution.

1. Rest the hand completely for 72 hours. Absolute minimum time.
longer if possible.

2. Ice the area as long as it takes to become numb to the cold and them let it warm slowly.

3. Deep almost painful massage at the base of the thumb and up the back of the hand towards each finger.

4. This was the single most useful thing he told me. "If you can take Asprin for the pain do so." I took three aspirin every 12 hours for three days and the tendonitis moderated to the point where I could treat it without the medication following the previous steps and it has mostly gone.

I visited an Occupational Therapist who is a guitarist and she said no instrument is very good for ergonomic use. Fiddles are pretty bad but she said the worse guitar any one can play regards to carpal tunnel and tendonitis issues are Ovation Round backs. Their very design forces the playe to hyper flex the wrist and at the same time extend the fingers.

When I play guitar now I try to keep the indtrument at just less than 45 degrees from the floor. This angle gives the fingers a kinder attack on the strings and reduce strain at the wrist and elbow.



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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 09 Apr 05 - 05:35 PM

Poppagator said:

Django Rinehardt was born with a couple of fingers missing on his left hand.

Close, but no cigar. His hand was normal until he got a terrible burn when he was a child, leaving him with a sort of claw, (thumb and two fingers as I remember). Same result, of course, though a different origin.

Dave Oesterreich

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: PoppaGator
Date: 09 Apr 05 - 07:00 PM

Thanks for the clarification on Django, Dave. I know more about Jerry Garcia's lost finger, also in a childhood accident (fishing with his older brother), only because I read Jerry's biography a year or two ago.

Muttley, I wholeheartedly endorse that shark cartiledge, too. I haven't heard of it being "sold separately" ~ it's most commonly provided as a second ingredient along with something else called glucosamine, making a very effective supplement for treatment of arthritis. Rather than masking the pain, it increases flexibility thus gradually lessening pain. You have to take it daily for a month or so before the effects become apparent, but once it starts working, it works great. I could never have resumed playing the guitar without it.

Here's a list of the ingredients in a 1/4 ounce dose of the Glucosamine Complex I'm taking:

1250 mg Glucosamine HCL and Sulfate
   25 mg Shark Cartiledge (includes Chondroitin)
    8 mg Boswellin
    3 mg Yucca Powder
    5 mg Manganese (Ascorbate)
    1 mg Bromelain
    5 mg Vitamin C (Acorbic Acid)
    5 mg Omega 3 Fatty Acid
    5 mg Omega 6 Fatty Acid
   80 IU Vitamin A
    2 IU Vitamin E

As you can less there is much less Shark Cartiledge than Glucosamine in this stuff, but it still seems to be an essential part of the formula.

I'd guess that, what with the average age of the codgers hanging around this forum, and the preponderance of stringed-instrument players, arthritis in the finger-joints will always be a hot topic.

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Muttley
Date: 14 Apr 05 - 02:55 AM

Reply to 'Kaleea', 'Foolestroupe' & 'Pauline L'

Dear 'Kaleea': Try hunting around for a Fender steel-string acoustic - NOT one of the newer electric/acoustics or the plain ascoustic which both have the "three-tuning-peg" machinehead either side of the 'headstock' arrangements of most other acoustics. The older, and harder to find - I think they were called) "California Series" which named all the models after various famous beaches: Mine is a Fender 'Redondo'. They possess the more recognisable "treble-clef"-style head and the machinehead is the standard 'six-single-tuning-pegs' arrangement found on their electric guitars: Sorta reminiscent of an acoustic stratocaster - but with a hollow sounding box instead of a solid body!!!

The beauty of these instruments is that the action is REALLY light and quite close to the fret wires. I had it adjusted about 12 months after I bought it and haven't had to touch it since (though the high 'E' and the 'B' strings are getting a little 'twangy' and reverberative - so it may be time to get it done again - after all, it's only about 15 years old now!).

As for "Foolestroupe"; your one word offerinfg is of LITTLE value. Sorry to get cranky guys but those of us who have had to (or still have to) play through the discomfort of disability can tell you that; yes technique is a factor, but when some of your injuries are as profound as those shared here, then technique can count for very bloody little in the way of relief: Sure there are times when it eases discomfort or pain, but the majority of time involves getting around the disability in ways other than how to "hit the strings" - Hell! Just sitting at this keyboard cramps my back and shoulders up and causes them spasm uncontrollably for hours with a deep burning pain separate to the constant low-grade spasm that affects my shoulder, upper back and lower neck (all on the right-hand side). So retuning a guitar or fingering differently is NOT gonna help that. It's more than just what one does with the fingers.

And before you ask (or suggest): NO! - no amount of ergonomic seating or O.T. or physio will help this condition; it's just something I have to accept if I want to communicate with other folks - - - - OR play the guitar.

To "Pauline L" - thanks for your most generous offer but I don't remember what Ester C actually is (or was). It was a vitamin supplement-type product (at least one bought it from that section of the Chemist (Pharmacy) store - ???'Drugstore'. It was taken off the market here about 12 months after I stopped using it and as far as I know it made a brief reappearance for a year or two and then disappeared altogether. No idea why; nothing detrimental was ever reported on it and from what I can tell from my own experience and that of others I knew that used it - - - damn-well worked; and worked damned well!!!

However, I have recently seen a gel advertised over here called (quite quaintly) "A Little Bit Of Relief": might just give that a try and see if it works - it's supposed to act like a mild local anaesthetic on the joints and soft tissue without interfering with function or sensation. As they say in the classics: "Ya never know if ya don't have a go!"

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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: GUEST,KingBrilliant
Date: 14 Apr 05 - 07:56 AM

Hi all - just re-read this thread & saw my posting of 6 years ago. Blimey time flies!
Anyway - here's an update:
When I posted back in '99 I was picking using first finger, middle finger & little finger (ring finger gone) - seemed to work ok. Over the past year my playing has changed completely, without any concious intention. I now pick with just the first and middle fingers only - and apparantly loads better than I did with three. Some friends have been completely freaked out watching, and apparantly it looks really wierd (in a "how the hell do you do that" sort of way). I still find it amazing how the body will adapt without concious thought....


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Subject: RE: Playing inspite of injury/disability
From: Muttley
Date: 16 Apr 05 - 10:34 PM

Gp for it Kris - well, done mate. And don't worry about how people look at you - they're just jealous

I get those looks ALL the time - even when I'm not playing!!!

I even found a badge that I wear at all times now - it says "I'm not weird, I'm gifted!"

Maybe you should look for one of those!

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