Playing music has been a major source of comfort to me ever since I was a child. At the age 8, I learned to play the accordion. Then, I taught myself to play other instruments. I had no idea that the second half of my life was about to get challenging, and that I might lose the ability to make music entirely.
During mid-life and three years into my graduate program, I had a stroke which left me without fine motor control, coordination, or sensation in the fingers of my right hand. Suddenly, I could no longer type or play any of the musical instruments I loved. I grieved my loss of music and believed it was permanent.
But, I found I just couldn’t give music up. So I began looking for instruments I might be able to play one handed. I tried three or four different instruments over the next several years but nothing really spoke to me.
Then I met a guy who had always wanted to learn to play the mountain dulcimer, an instrument I did not know. My friend invited me to join him for a four day intensive dulcimer workshop in Mountain View, Arkansas. I bought a used dulcimer and went with him. I struggled, but the teacher and other students encouraged me and suggested different ways of strumming with my compromised hand. I had difficulty holding the pick.
Once I got home, I set about developing my own pick-holding solution. I tried a series of different ideas. They helped and my skill level kept improving. Eventually, I invented the adaptive aide I’ve been using now for several years (seen in the pictures). It is made from velcro, backpackers foam, and held in my hand with the support of additional velcro.
Over time, as I increased the speed of my playing, I added a couple other minor adjustments to my adaptive device. For the last eleven years, I’ve been able to play for my own pleasure and for the pleasure of others. I am forever grateful to my friend for introducing me to the mountain dulcimer. I now tell everyone, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”