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How to play guitar with a prosthetic arm

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

This is your go-to guide on how to play guitar with a prosthetic arm. We'll touch on the following:

  1. Do I need to use a prosthetic arm to play the guitar?

  2. Can a prosthetic arm hold a guitar pick?

  3. Which prosthetic arms and tools are available to play guitar with?

  4. What’s the difference between playing the guitar with a myoelectric prosthetic arm and a passive prosthetic arm?

  5. Is it easy to play the guitar with a prosthetic arm?

  6. Why might someone think playing the guitar with a prosthetic arm could be difficult?

  7. Famous Musicians, Prosthetic Arms and Assistive Tools

  8. Koalaa’s Approach to playing guitar with a prosthetic arm

  9. User Stories - playing guitar with a prosthetic arm

playing guitar with prosthetic arm

In a world where self expression and music intertwine, the question arises: can you play instruments with a prosthetic arm? Specifically a guitar! The answer is absolutely! With advances in technology and innovative designs, individuals who wear prosthetic arms are breaking musical boundaries.

 

1. Do I need to use a prosthetic arm to play the guitar?


To put it simply, no! Many people with limb differences are able to play guitar using their hands or arms depending on what type of limb difference they have. A prosthetic arm is an assistive tool which can provide support and assistance for individuals with upper limb differences who decide they need extra support with playing guitar.


The choice to use a prosthetic or alternative methods for playing guitar ultimately depends on the individual's comfort, needs, and preferences. The goal is to empower everyone, regardless of their differences, to engage in the creative and expressive act of playing an instrument!

 

2. Can a prosthetic arm hold a guitar pick?

Guitar tool for prosthetic arm

Advancements in technology and the innovative approach of prosthetic manufacturers have led to the creation of prosthetic arms that cater to musicians' needs, including holding a guitar pick.


Prosthetic arms designed for musicians often feature specialised attachments or adaptations that enable users to hold various objects, such as guitar picks. These attachments are carefully engineered to provide a secure grip while maintaining the flexibility required to strum the strings.


Whether it's a myoelectric prosthetic arm that responds to muscle signals or a prosthetic with adaptive grips, the goal is to ensure that musicians can hold a guitar pick and bring their musical ideas to life.


 

3. Which prosthetic arms and tools are available to play guitar with?

How to play guitar with a prosthetic arm

At Koalaa, we provide soft lightweight prosthetics with various interchangeable tool attachments; including one for playing guitar!


Our Grace tool, named after the user who inspired it, is designed to hold a range of plectrum sizes and with a rotating dock to get the perfect angle, whether you like your guitar to hang low or lay it across your lap, you can set the plectrum at the angle that suits you best!



There’s also an option of using a myoelectric prosthetic arm to play a guitar. These prosthetics respond to muscle signals, enabling guitarists to move the arm to grip the guitar pick and play the strings.


Adaptive tools are also available to buy such as the ZeroGravity Orbit Guitar Pick which are suitable for partial hand limb differences. The pick is attached to a loop in which you insert your finger, and viola, it’s easier to hold and the pick won’t escape anywhere!


Adaptive guitar picks are specially designed picks with ergonomic handles that make gripping and strumming easier. These picks cater to various grip styles and ensure a secure hold, allowing guitarists to channel their creativity seamlessly.


Finger protectors or extensions provide support for fingers with limited mobility. They enable guitarists to press down on the strings, producing clear and resonant chords.


Strap modifications ensure that the guitar remains securely positioned, even with limited arm mobility. This stability allows guitarists to focus on their performance without concerns about the instrument's positioning.


Guitar rests and supports provide a stable platform for the guitar, reducing the effort required to hold the instrument. This allows musicians to focus on their playing technique without discomfort.

 

4. What’s the difference between playing the guitar with a myoelectric prosthetic arm and a passive prosthetic arm?


Myoelectric prosthetic arm

Passive prosthetics are generally lightweight and easy to wear, causing minimal strain on the limb. This comfort can enhance the overall playing experience, as users are less likely to experience discomfort or fatigue during extended playing sessions. They also provide a good level of stability and support for holding a guitar pick.


With myoelectric prosthetics, signals from your muscles will prompt the prosthetic hand to close and hold the guitar pick. Practice is key to achieving precision and refining your muscle movements to strum the guitar. Some modern myoelectric prosthetics are equipped with sensory feedback systems designed to provide users with a limited sense of touch or pressure.


While this technology is still evolving, it represents a significant advancement in enhancing the user's experience and interaction with the prosthetic limb; however it’s important to note the sensations provided are often described as subtle and are not yet as detailed as natural touch.

 

5. Is it easy to play the guitar with a prosthetic arm?


Playing the guitar with a prosthetic arm, just the same as without one, requires determination!


The ease of playing the guitar with a prosthetic arm depends on various factors, including the type of prosthetic, the individual's adaptability, and their dedication to practice. At Koalaa we designed our guitar tool with our users in mind to make it as comfortable as possible and easy for them to use.


Just like playing any instrument, playing the guitar with a prosthetic arm requires practice and patience. Musicians may need to adjust their technique and learn to navigate the strings in a way that compliments their prosthetic's movements. With time and perseverance, many guitarists find their unique rhythm.


The experience of playing the guitar with a prosthetic arm varies from person to person. Some find the transition intuitive and seamless, while others may require more time to master their technique. What remains constant is the sense of accomplishment and the joy of creating music!

 

6. Why might someone think playing the guitar with a prosthetic arm could be difficult

playing guitar with a prosthetic

As a society, we sometimes perceive playing the guitar with a prosthetic arm as difficult due to a combination of historical norms, limited exposure to prosthetic technology, and assumptions about physical limitations. In the past, prosthetics may have been rudimentary and lacked the functionality required for intricate tasks such as playing guitar. This has led to the idea that prosthetic users might struggle with tasks that involve fine motor skills.


The lack of awareness and representation of prosthetics has also contributed to misconceptions. Limited visibility of individuals successfully using prosthetics for activities like playing the guitar has reinforced the idea that such tasks can be challenging.


Holding a guitar pick and playing the strings requires a level of control and precision that may seem challenging to achieve with a prosthetic arm. These assumptions underestimate the capabilities of modern prosthetic technology, which has advanced significantly!


It's important to challenge these perceptions and embrace a more inclusive perspective. While there may be a learning curve and adjustments involved, individuals who chose to use prosthetic arms can develop remarkable skills using them for writing. The narrative is shifting towards empowerment and expanded possibilities, highlighting that writing with a prosthetic arm is not inherently difficult but a skill that can be mastered with determination and the right tools!

 

7. Famous Musicians, Prosthetic Arms and Assistive Tools


The world of music is rich with stories of talented musicians who have embraced adaptive equipment and prosthetics to pursue their passion for playing the guitar. Here are a few awesome examples:


Tony Iommi:


Tony Iommi, the legendary guitarist of the iconic band Black Sabbath, is known not only for his pioneering contributions to heavy metal but also for his resilience. After a factory accident resulted in the loss of the tips of two fingers, he famously created prosthetic fingertips out of plastic and leather, affixing them to his fingers with adhesive tape. This adaptation allowed him to continue playing and crafting the signature riffs that defined a genre!


Django Reinhardt:


Django Reinhardt, a jazz guitar expert, was involved in a caravan fire that severely burned his left hand, leaving two of his fingers unable to move. Reinhardt developed a unique playing style that involved using his other fingers to create intricate melodies. He became a pioneer of jazz, inspiring countless musicians with his innovation.


Mark Goffeney:


Mark Goffeney, a singer-songwriter and guitarist, was born without arms. Goffeney developed a distinctive technique of playing the guitar with his feet. His captivating performances and soulful playing style have garnered admiration from audiences around the world, showcasing the possibilities of adaptive music.


These musicians show the importance of embracing our own way of doing things!

 

8. Koalaa’s Approach to playing guitar with a prosthetic arm


At Koalaa, our user-centric approach to design ensures that individuals have the tools available if required to assist with various activities, including playing the guitar. Our prosthetics feature a soft, lightweight fabric sleeve that can be paired with different tool attachments, catering to specific tasks.



Our Grace tool is specifically designed to hold a range of plectrum sizes and with a rotating dock to get the perfect angle, the Grace tool is made for strumming stringed instruments of all kinds. It provides a stable platform to hold a guitar pick, our lightweight prosthetics and easy to operate design ensures individuals are comfortable whilst playing the guitar!


By designing tool attachments that cater to playing instruments such as the guitar, we aim to encourage inclusivity and ensure that no one feels limited by the lack of resources out there available to assist them!

 

9. User Stories - playing guitar with a prosthetic arm


The journey of playing guitar with a prosthetic arm is deeply personal and looks different for each individual. From partial hand to below elbow, congenital to acquired limb differences - our tools have assisted many of our community pick up a plectrum a play.


Jake is a confident and outgoing music student who’s part of the Koalaa Community!

Jake had struggled to find any prosthetics suitable for him with a partial hand limb difference, until his family came across Koalaa! Jake now uses our Grace tool to play his guitar.

How to play guitar with a prosthetic arm

 

Interested in our prosthetic arm tools for playing the guitar?


If you want to check out our tools for holding a guitar pick, click the links below:







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