Musical Instruments for Upper-Limb Amputees

Alice Mailhot

Although musical talent is in no way dependent upon the possession of four intact limbs, the expression of this talent may be limited by limb deficits. For instance, the woodwinds and digital deficiencies are incompatible, as are the marching band and even moderately impaired leg function. To take a more positive view, no amputee is so disabled that there isn't some instrument he can play-provided, of course, he has the musical talent and interest.

Chart Development

The chart presented in this article was compiled in an attempt to demonstrate to amputees, parents, and their advisors the many musical options open to upper-limb amputees (Work done under the auspices of the Child Amputee Research Project, School of Public Health, The University of Michigan; supported in part by Maternal and Child Health, Project #MC-R-260044). Most of the information presented in the chart came from two reports-one by Lorraine B. Erickson1, whose pupils have included many variously handicapped individuals, and the other by Carole Kral3, an occupational therapist with wide experience in working with amputee children-and from direct correspondence with Lorraine B. Erickson2. Amputees added valuable material from their own experiences, and other individuals contributed useful facts from their own areas of competence.

The major types of instruments have been assessed for the ease with which they may be played by various levels of upper-limb amputees using prostheses, other devices, or unencumbered stumps. Verbal ratings from Ms. Krai's article were translated into the chart's verbal and numerical ratings; Mrs. Erickson's contributions, in their final form, were added in the charted symbols. When appropriate special considerations relating to specific instruments were included.

The chart was compiled to be used for two purposes: 1) to enable limb-deficient individuals to gauge the probability of being able to handle the musical instruments of their choice; 2) to enable limb-deficient individuals to identify, by a review of the entire chart, those instruments appropriate to their specific deficiency.

Obviously, in indicating possibilities and probabilities, the chart offers guidelines only. It is not intended to represent either the last or the definitive word on this subject.

The adaptive devices mentioned in this chart are not described but the literature cited does include descriptions of some of the possible adaptations. Many musically inclined, physically handicapped, individuals have, alone or with the help of parents, teachers, or other professionals, developed ingenious methods or devices which enable them to play the instruments of their choice.


This report has been written to increase awareness of the fact that upper-limb amputees, including those with severe limb losses, are physically able to play a variety of musical instruments, and to encourage musically inclined amputees and other handicapped people to seek an appropriate expression of their musical interests.

Appropriate Instruments For Upper-Limb Amputees

Chart Page 1 , Page 2 , and Page 3

Child Amputee Research Project The University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan

1. Erickson, Lorraine B., Piano playing as a hobby for children with problem hands. Inter-Clin. Inform. Bull., 11:6:6-17, March 1972.
2. Erickson, Lorraine B., Personal Communication.
3. Kral, Carole, Musical instruments for upper-limb amputees. Inter-Clin. Inform. Bull., 12:3:13-26, December 1972.