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Adaptive music

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Adaptive Musical Instruments

Is there any way to keep the art of play instruments alive once a person has a disability? Of course, assistive musical instruments can come in many forms. These can include creating a completely new instrument or simply adapting certain features of the instrument to suit the individual's needs. Many people with disabilities are also able to adapt the way that an instrument is played without adapting the instrument itself, such as the well known guitarist, Tony Melendez. Melendez was born with no arms and a clubfoot due to his mother being prescribed the drug thalidomide. Adapting his body to the best of its ability, Melendez is now a very talented guitarist by playing a normal guitar with his two feet. In 1987 he played for Pope John Paul ll and since then has made numerous television appearances and played for the Pope three more times.

Selecting an Instrument

In order to choose the appropriate instrument suitable for a person with a disability, certain considerations should be taken into account. First and foremost, the instrument must be chosen according what the person is interested in playing; what will motivate them to play and practice. The physical condition of the player is then taken into account. This includes assessing the eye-hand coordination, motor skills, and size and strength of the person. This step determines what instrument the person can physically play, and what adaptations need to be made to the currently used instrument. Instruments commonly chosen for one-handed players include the piano, brass instruments (which are commonly played one handed) adapted flutes, and adapted string instruments.


There are many products that have been developed for disabled percussion players. Drumsticks have been specially created for people with pain in the hand or lack of finger strength. There are sticks with a grip made of rubber so it is easier to hold on to. There are also gloves that the drummer is able to place the stick into so they don't need to actually grip the drumstick. Special apparatuses have been designed in order to hold smaller percussion instruments such as the triangle and hand drum. The apparatus can be made to attach to a clamp and can be put directly on a wheelchair tray.


A company called FluteLab makes wind instruments in order to suit a person's specific disability. Many of the instruments consist of adapting the instrument to use with only one hand and sometimes part of the other hand. One of their customers had a muscular disease and needed to be in a wheelchair. An alto recorder was developed which included a support built in the case for use with the wheelchair. Many people with disabilities and muscular problems experience fatigue during long rehearsals. With the instrumentadapted so that it is supported not by the musician but by a stand, the musician no longer has that problem.

Having a disability makes choosing the proper instrument to play much harder then those without the disability. However, with the proper motivation and instrument adapted to the musicians needs, the art of music will not be lost.

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