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At first glance you might think a weak arm would make playing a musical instrument very difficult, but many instruments can be played with one hand, or hands of differing strengths, and the pleasure of music making may actually encourage the child to make more use of the affected hand. It can also increase self-confidence, and help general coordination and social development.

The aim of this information sheet is to give parents/carers and teachers some ideas for helping a child with hemiplegia who wants to learn a specific instrument. However, there are many other opportunities for children to enjoy group musical activities at home, school, youth clubs and other organisations.

Once you have chosen your instrument, it is of course important to find a teacher who will welcome the challenge of teaching a child with special needs. Sound Sense (see below) should be able to help you find a suitable teacher through its database of community musicians.

Early Years

Children from the very beginning like bashing things to make a noise, and percussion instruments are the obvious way to introduce children to music. Many can be played with one hand or hands of differing strengths, and the child can progress from untuned instruments such as drums and shaking instruments like maracas to tuned instruments such as xylophones and glockenspiels.

I am just trying to think of an instrument my son could play successfully with one arm. I think it will have to be the drums! Look at ‘Def Leppard’ who had a one armed drummer!!

The Early Learning Centre has a good range of instruments for under 5s, not only percussion but also mini keyboards. The play and learning pages of the Fledglings catalogue has a set of push bells, and a concertina which will encourage two-handed playing.

Music Education Supplies also has a range of instruments for children with Special Needs. They are of higher quality (wooden rather than plastic) and so rather expensive.

Five - Eight

Recorders and Ocarinas: Under the terms of the National Curriculum, pupils in English schools aged five years and over should have ‘experience of playing tuned musical instruments’. Traditionally the first tuned instrument learnt has been the recorder, but some schools now use ocarinas. Both of these instruments are normally played two-handed, but there are one-handed versions available.

Dolmetsch Tel: 01428 643235 Email: make a one-handed recorder which many children with hemiplegia have tried with great success. They cost around £200, but Reach (see below) run a loan schemes for members.

One-handed Ocarinas (left and right handed versions) are available to buy direct from the manufacturer Tel: 01536 485963 Email:, and are also available from Reach. An even cheaper alternative would be a modified tin whistle - instructions available from Sound Sense.

She loves to play her recorder and is very enthusiastic in playing it… Learning the recorder has been a huge boost to her confidence. I think she can see that this is an area she can do well in and be ‘just the same’ as others. I have seen her face numerous difficulties in some activities she attempts, but the recorder is something she can easily play and it is so wonderful to see her progressing so well

Piano & keyboard: Sound Sense has a catalogue of music for one handed players. On an electric keyboard, the stronger hand can play the melody and the additional part can be programmed in.

J is 5 and loves music. My mom has recently bought an electric piano (really cool with lots of different instrument sounds to it) which he absolutely loves. We only go to grandma’s house now for the piano, although it has to be on ‘Harpsichord’ and the music book open on ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’!! - nothing else will do. He loves music at school and I would love him to play an instrument as he seems to have real ‘staying power’ when it comes to music.

Eight and over

Brass and woodwind: Cornet, Trumpet, French Horn, Trombone, Euphonium, Flute These instruments are some of the most suitable for children with hemiplegia, and were the instruments most often mentioned in the HemiHelp parents survey. However, they require some blowing strength so are not good for young children. If the weaker hand cannot support, slings and stands are available through Remap (see below)

My name is Emily Luck and I am 11 years old. I have mild left sided hemiplegia. I have been learning the trombone for just over a year. I thought it would be a good instrument to learn because I don’t have to use my left hand much. I am enjoying it very much but I don’t practice as much as I should! I like the fact that you can make lots of different sounds but you need good lungs. I use my right hand to move the slide and just use my left hand to hold the instrument. I can manage this but sometimes it gets tiring. My school have lent me my trombone and it comes in a hard case so its quite a heavy instrument to carry.

I started the recorder in Year 3, then picked up a one handed instrument, the tenor horn, but did not get on with it very much. Then half way through year 7 I started the flute. I would say that playing the recorder and the flute really helped me to become aware of my affected hand as I had to use it more to be able to play more challenging music, especially on the flute as I keep playing harder and harder music which really encourages me to use my hand more and more to be able to do it. When I first started learning I had little movement in my right fingers but now I am able to play up to grade 8 pieces and I am in a youth band that I love. Adult member

Strings: Violin, Viola, Guitar

Orchestral string instruments (violin, viola, cello) can be played by children with hemiplegia, but only if they have a reasonable amount of control over the affected hand, which will be used for bowing. Another difficulty is that instruments are usually strung to be played right handed, and although left handed violins do exist, they are expensive and only available in full size.

Note however that ‘right handed’ here assumes that the dominant hand will be used for bowing, whereas a child with hemiplegia will use this hand for holding down the strings and their affected arm for bowing. So someone with left sided hemiplegia will find it difficult to find a suitable instrument.

Guitars are an easier option since they are available in left or right handed versions, and many famous musicians, including Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix, have played left-handed. A guitar can even be played one-handed if laid flat on a keyboard stand, allowing the player to use his or her thumb as well as fingers. Some HemiHelp members have also found bass guitars easier to play since they only have four strings.

I have right hemiplegia (so am left handed!) but play bass guitar right handed, i.e. have my affected hand strumming/plucking the strings and my good hand doing the fret work. My right hand is actually not that badly affected, so can hold the plectrum and control it ok! One of the advantages of playing the guitar (or bass!), as opposed to the violin, is that they are fretted, so there is a guide to where to place your fingers on the neck of the instrument.

When choosing a guitar, take your time to decide. You may find it easier like I did to pick the strings with your affected hand, and press the frets on the neck on your unaffected hand as your fingers can move faster. My first bass was right handed, and had a composite body. This made it light, but hard to play because of my hemiplegia. My current left handed is wood-bodied, and heavier, but easier to play.


It may seem obvious, but the voice is one instrument that anyone can develop. Singing can increase a child’s confidence and if they join a choir, their social skills. There are thousands of choirs across the country. Get in touch with your local music service or council for more details.

HemiHelp Total Music Workshops

Total Music Workshops have been designed by HemiHelp, to encourage children with hemiplegia to play music, and to strengthen both the mind and body through playing musical instruments. These workshops are led by professional musicians, and give the children (and parents) a chance to make music together. It also gives children the opportunity to listen to demonstrations of instruments and find out what instruments may be best for them. As well as being an interactive and educational experience, it is also a fun day for all the family!

It was a good confidence booster for them to try and make music

Having the opportunity to engage in using different instruments was tremendous

Workshops are being organised around the country. To find out when one is happening near you, and for more information, visit the website or contact us.

Useful Addresses


Reach Tel: 0845 1306 225 Email: is the Association for Children with Hand or Arm deficiency. Go to the website for the loan of a one-handed recorder or to buy an ocarina.

Remap ( Tel: 0845 1300 456 Email: This is a free bespoke service which adapts existing equipment for people with disabilities Sound Sense This community music organisation now incorporates the National Music and Disability Information Service. It provides:

  • an online database of members to help you find a suitable teacher or project for your child
  • a “help wanted” item in its regular ebulletin to members, in case the database doesn’t yield any answers
  • a small collection of materials on music and disability, including a catalogue of one-handed piano music, some simple one-handed scores, and instructions on how to make a one-handed “recorder”
  • an information sheet on adapting instruments

The Piano Education Page has a list of pieces for one hand (both right and left).

Living My Song Dedicated to exploring ways in which everyone can discover and express their own musical personality. Go to Articles for a guide to choosing an instrument. Has links to other useful websites, including:

The Full Pitcher Music Resources , which has a range of free online resources and products for sale, including interactive software. It also has a Music and Disability Forum where you can ask questions or look for resources.

Take It Away Tel: 020 7973 6452, is an Arts Council initiative designed to help more people get involved in learning and playing music. The scheme allows individuals to apply for a loan of up to £2000 for the purchase of any kind of musical instrument and pay it back in 9 monthly installments, interest free.


Chickenshed Tel: 020 8351 6161is a groundbreaking theatre company for children and young people of all abilities and disabilities which creates genuinely inclusive, high quality and exciting performance. It started in 1974 in North London and now has 19 centres, mostly in England but one in Scotland and two in Russia! It also runs workshops, courses and outreach projects. To see a list of Sheds go to >Outreach >Current Sheds.

Drake Music Tel: 020 7739 5444 uses technology to enable disabled children and adults to play conventional musical instruments. Has branches across the English regions and sister organisations in Scotland and N Ireland. See website for regional contacts. The project also provides training for music professionals, including teachers and community musicians, in assistive technology, and has recently launched the Drake Music Curriculum Development Initiative (CDI).

Disability Arts is a relatively new art form which reflects disabled people’s perspective on the arts. has a national directory of disability arts organisations, websites etc.

Musical Keys Tel: 01603 405858 (Sallie Eastwick), Email: A registered charity based in Norfolk and set up by one of our members, offering musical activities to young children with special needs and their brothers and sisters.

The OHMI Trust (, email is a dedicated to the development of musical instruments for the physically disabled with a focus on adaptations or emulations of traditional instruments capable of the highest level of virtuosity yet playable without the use of one hand.  Since its formation in 2011, the Trust has held an annual international competition with three award categories – for ‘playable instruments’, ‘enabling apparatus’ and ‘concepts’. See the OHMI website for details of all the winners. Following the competition's success OHMI has launched a pilot teaching programme, starting in Birmingham in September 2015, and has plans for other areas across the UK from 2016.  OHMI has a great network of musical instrument makers, stand makers and developers.  If you are interested in playing an instrument contact them to find where to get specially adapted instruments and equipment.  

Tonalis Music Tel: 01666 890460 Email: Runs music therapy and education courses, and promotes music therapy.

The Orpheus Centre Tel: 01883 744 664 Email: The Orpheus Centre is a performing arts centre in Surrey for young disabled people, generally with physical and/or sensory impairments. They have full time three year residential courses, but also run one week courses, also residential.

InterAct Tel: 01932 254 333, Part of Stagecoach Theatre Arts, is an inclusive performance centre for young people between the ages of 10 and 18, held after school from 4 - 6.30pm. At present it has just four centres, all in the South-East, but it also runs free holiday workshops in other English regions and Scotland for young people aged 10-16 (19 if in special education).

Sites for teachers and other professionals

Sing Up A government funded scheme for education professionals, to help children ‘find their voice’ and start singing. The site has links to an extensive song bank, lesson plans etc, and training courses include teaching children with Special Needs.

Youth Music Tel: 0207 902 1060m Email: Youth Music is the UK’s largest children’s music charity providing funding for music projects and activities, and aiming to provide music-making activities to 0-18 year olds who might otherwise lack opportunity for whatever reason.

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