Barriers to music-making. Don’t let limb difference get in the way

Traditional instruments, from guitars and drum kits to violins and flutes are all made for two fully functioning hands and arms.

Cast your eyes across any band or orchestra, and ask yourself how somebody with limb difference could play these instruments. It’s probably not an issue most of us have given much thought to, until our children with limb difference are excluded from the school orchestra.

Setting a challenge

At OHMI, our aim is to remove the barriers to music-making by sourcing adapted musical instruments. Through our annual competition we’re challenging instrument makers to create/adapt instruments that can be played without the use of one hand and arm.

Past winners include a one-handed saxophone, flute and recorder. These instruments have had an incredible impact on their owners. David Nabb never recovered full use of his left arm after a stroke, and found he could no longer play his much loved saxophone. With friend and instrument maker Jeff Stelling, David created a saxophone that could be played entirely with the right hand.

Edit van der Burg was a promising young flautist before an accident left her with brain damage, affecting one side of her body. Edit refused to accept that playing music would no longer be an option to her, and approached instrument maker Maarten Visser to build her a one-handed flute.

These are exceptional instruments, anything that can be played on the conventional saxophone or flute, can be played on these adapted versions. Now our focus is getting these instruments into manufacture and making them available.

Last month, OHMI presented a debate in the imposing setting of the House of Lords. Lords asked the government how it will fulfil its own policy for musical education. The government’s National Plan for Music Education states that every child should have the opportunity to learn an instrument and progress to musical excellence.  The government are failing to deliver on their aim for all children, those with upper limb differences are frequently excluded from playing musical instruments.

Listen to Lord Lipsey, one-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy (one of our wonderful ambassadors), and OHMI founder Stephen discussing the debate on Radio 4

Great Role Models

Barriers to music-making. Don’t let limb difference get in the way.

Check out these great role models…..

Nicholas McCarthy is a one-handed concert pianist who performs all over the world. He made history by being the first one-handed pianist to graduate from the Royal College of Music and is currently hosting the BBC Proms.

Felix Klieser, is a professional French horn concert soloist, despite being born with no arms. Felix plays his instrument entirely with the use of his feet.

Of course, it’s not all about virtuosic playing of classical pieces. From rock and pop to jazz improvisation to just having musical fun – we want to see more opportunities for disabled people to take part in all sorts of music.

Check out OHMI website for ideas

We hope this will be a really useful information point for musicians, students and anybody interested in instruments who are living with limb difference.

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