A few weeks back my dad mentioned that he’d been looking at some ukuleles in a shop and was considering buying one and he wanted my opinion. My dad suffers from rheumatoid arthritis quite badly, particularly in his hands and he wasn’t sure whether he’d able to play or not. Initially I wasn’t sure either if I’m completely honest.
The best idea seemed like letting my dad see how he got on with my ukulele, so I took it up to his house and showed him a few very basic chords and how to strum. He seemed to get by ok with simple one finger chords like C and Am although I’m not sure how well his fingers would deal with a G or D where your fingers have to fit into a much smaller space. He could strum a simple 4 down strums per bar pattern fine but felt like he would be better off using a pick. I personally don’t play with a pick, as I’m sure most uke players don’t but when it comes to a musical instrument I think you’ve got to do what feels natural to you. When it came down to it, even after seeing my dad get a feel for my ukulele, I still wasn’t sure whether he’d really be able to play it or not as a result of his arthritis.
A helping hand
Then something happened and the timing was perfect. I can’t even remember how I found it but I came across the Ukulele Chord Changer made by Troubadour Music (read my review of the Ukulele Chord Changer). The chord changer is a device that goes over the top 8 frets of your ukulele and it allows you to play a range of chords by simply pressing a single button. I appreciate this isn’t something for everyone but it seemed like a great option for my dad.
With this in mind, I figured that it was worth him having a go, so I ordered him a Makala MK-SN Soprano (look out for a review soon) from those lovely folks at Southern Ukulele Store and a Ukulele Chord Changer from Troubadour Music. We’re currently awaiting delivery of the uke but I’ll definitely be posting a progress update to let you know how he gets on. I’m really hoping that it works out for him as I think there’s a lot of fun to be had and since he retired he’s got plenty of time on his hands to learn.
While I’d been deliberating all this over, I’d started to think of other musicians that had conditions that they’d had to work around. I’m sure history is full of them, some of the names that sprang to mind were Django Reinhardt, Jeff Healey, Stevie Wonder, Tony Iommi, Rick Allen and even Beethoven. All these names overcame something in order to make music – they all found a way and sometimes that way went against the way that people are normally taught. So if it helps my dad to use a chord changer and play with a pick than I’m all for it!
Do you suffer with arthritis?
If you’re interested in playing ukulele and suffer with arthritis I’d love to hear from you. I’d really like to elaborate on this post and build it into something that is much more useful for other people interested in playing. You can get in touch with me here.