What musical instruments can I play with a hand tremor?
March 2, 2013 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I have a worsening degenerative hand tremor and can no longer play conventional rock music on guitar. What musical instrument could I take up that could accommodate this condition?

To help gauge the current scale of the condition, I can still touch-type most days (if my wrists are resting on the keyboard) but have trouble operating an iPhone or holding a cup of coffee. Because of the successful keyboarding, the piano has occurred to me. Any other ideas?
posted by quarantine to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Might drums be doable?
posted by wayland at 3:53 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by zippy at 3:53 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ya drums is my vote too...
posted by chasles at 4:04 PM on March 2, 2013

My hands shake and can barely grip the drumsticks after 30+ minutes of very heavy hitting (when playing live, for instance), it's not ideal, but i've managed. Maybe you can give drums a try?

This guy has no hands and still plays pretty well, maybe eventually you could even look into some gadgets to make the stick steadier?
posted by palbo at 4:05 PM on March 2, 2013

posted by kestrel251 at 4:08 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe this is obvious and you've outruled it for some other reason, but have you considered singing?
posted by bilabial at 4:17 PM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Harmonica for starters. In the vein of the piano, a melodica? You could also try out a low brass instrument, though if holding a cup of coffee is difficult, holding a trombone might be similarly difficult. (Clearly the solution is for you to be the founder of a new movement known as "sousaphone rock." Someone's got to do it.)
posted by brina at 4:18 PM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Harmonica. Cowbell. Maracas.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:20 PM on March 2, 2013

posted by crazycanuck at 4:35 PM on March 2, 2013

Bass guitar requires less fine motor control and the skills are easily transferable.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:37 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bass takes a lot of strength though
posted by thelonius at 4:43 PM on March 2, 2013

how about a brass instrument?
posted by juliapangolin at 4:45 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

French horn?
posted by dilettante at 4:45 PM on March 2, 2013

These are great ideas so far. If it changes people's answers, strength is not an issue; I'm very strong. The trouble with the cup of coffee is that it spills out all over my hand.
posted by quarantine at 5:23 PM on March 2, 2013

Not just drums — but the whole world of percussion! Think marimbas, gamelan, etc.

Consider how you can turn your newfound shakiness into a positive advantage — maybe some tablas as well?

Which hand is it? In any event, consider lap-steel or slide guitar — use an open tuning and a slide, and your tremor might create a cool pitch wobbling effect.
posted by ageispolis at 5:57 PM on March 2, 2013

I play drums, and have for over 40 years. I think they might be do-able for you, but you will be unable to do rolls, probably, and the more delicate cymbal work may be beyond you. You might be better off doing hand drums, as has been suggested. But as long as you can hold the sticks, this might be a good way to go. They take a lot of endurance, though. But you knew that.

Also, your voice is an instrument... consider concentrating on your singing.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:27 PM on March 2, 2013

posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:55 PM on March 2, 2013

If you like playing melody, mallet percussion like marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel/bells, vibraphone, etc. probably a good choice. Almost all in the wrist and arm and the target is an inch or two wide, instead of a string's width. Especially if you already know how to read conventional notation, find a community band or orchestra that is open to new members and give it a go. Tympani (a.k.a. kettle drums) doesn't carry the melody but still requires accurate pitch.
posted by wnissen at 7:36 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have ET (Essential Tremor) in my hands, as well, and of course it's getting worse. I played keyboards and saxophone when I was younger, and lately I've been thinking of taking up both of those again, so you might think of wind instruments, too.

Hand drums is also an interesting idea.

Strings are right out, though (for me, anyway).
posted by trip and a half at 9:30 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Trombone, and start a rock-ska band that takes over the world.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 1:00 AM on March 3, 2013

Lap steel / pedal steel?
posted by dubold at 4:53 AM on March 3, 2013

There's a guy in my local community band who has Parkinson's disease. He plays trombone.
posted by plinth at 6:29 AM on March 3, 2013

You and your doctor know your own body better than me, but I play guitar and have a mild-to-medium case of Essential Tremor so here are some things I've experienced.

- It seems like the squeezing motion is what sets mine off the worst, so some guitars are way easier to play without shaking than others. This means bass is one of the worst -- the higher pressure grips on the left hand make me shake quickly. Electric and classical guitars are way easier than acoustic.

- Daily practice with technical exercises on guitar has actually reduced the tremor in my left hand. To the point that it shakes less even when I'm not playing guitar, and I tend to use my left hand to do things like picking up hot cups of coffee because it shakes less than my right (dominant) hand. I've seriously considered trying a left-handed guitar for a while to see if my right hand can be improved -- strumming and picking with it don't help.

- Have you considered slide guitar? A whole different game with the left hand. You still need some control on the right though.

- As you said, I've noticed piano doesn't set off the shaking like guitar does. I can only play a few things on piano but I can play them even when my hands shake. Piano keys are huge targets compared to guitar strings.

- Drumming (on Rock Band, I admit) actually makes my hands shake like crazy. I think it's because I squeeze the sticks way too hard, and that could probably be overcome.

Good luck regardless!
posted by mmoncur at 9:30 PM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

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