Thumbs advice…

Thumbs advice…

I’ve been having some challenges with my hands this year. It’s been pretty emotionally draining as I can’t play fiddle or guitar. It’s not like I’m great at either, but learning tunes and practicing has been great for my mental health, and I aspire to some day play with some of yous.

I’ve spent some of the time ear training, and working on internalizing tunes by singing them, but I’m yearning for an instrument.

I got a whistle, but my lungs / breathing aren’t so good (aka bad). I’ve never had much lung capacity, even when I was in great hurling shape, and I’m not in great hurling shape anymore.

My main challenge is bending my thumb at the first joint (so there’s tip of the thumb, first knuckle, and then there’s that barely a knuckle joint - that one doesn’t bend much). I can’t reach my thumbs to the pad of my pinky without much force, and it’s pretty stiff.

So any string or breathe instruments seem out for me.

Any recommendations? I know you use the thumb with concertina, but is it just an open hold and a push down, or does it require a tight "pull in"?

I’ve looked at some videos of the Uillean pipes, but can’t really tell.

Anyone have any opinions (I know it’s rare to have people with opinions here).

Thanks

PS: I’m now escalating to a hand specialist. That’s really what I’m down to. A hand specialist and the wisdom of The Session. 🙂

Re: Thumbs advice…

Sorry to hear this, Vechey. But the fiddle is out? The thump doesn’t do much in fiddling but attach under the neck - that’s not working at all?

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Re: Thumbs advice…

Hand specialist required.

Take proper care of your thumbs, they’re quite useful.

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Fiddle is out the bend in the thumb is tough and the wrists are a bit swollen cuz of the thumbs for the bowing. I’m not sure about the fiddle hand - depends on how much thumb movement there is (I haven’t tried cuz the bowing is out).

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I’ve played with/despite too many physical problems to count, some from injuries, some genetic, and some from normal wear and tear over the decades. I am truly "gimpy," not in name only. Like you, Vechey, not playing music isn’t an option.

So I wish I could give you some specific advice or at least an ounce of hope. But in reality, you’ll have to figure this out by first seeing some professional health care folks who can determine why your thumb and wrist aren’t working properly. Addressing the *cause* first, and hopefully finding significant relief and regaining function, will inform what instrument(s) you can play.

Most instruments demand a fair amount of finger and wrist dexterity, so it may be challenging to find something that works. Sorting out the physiological issues is the first step.

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Concertina is pretty easy going on thumb flexing, just the air button in the right which is a slight sideways nudge. Obviously button pushing for the fingers and a bit of wrist movement but not much, can be done very economically. A friend who was under hand specialist took it up OK.

Re: Thumbs advice…

The thumb-to-pinky symptom suggests De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis. There is a test for it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WBVXBx34W0


It’s definiteley one for the hand specialist. The various treatments on Youtube are conflicting and best avoided. However if you have any current activities that overwork your thumbs then leave those off as best you can. Texting is a prime example.

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It’s possible to bow the fiddle without using the thumb at all - 1st and 4th fingers below the stick, 2nd and third above. That might at least allow you to assess the workings of your left hand on the instrument.

It might seem awkward at first (I’ve just tried it), but one can work with it, and if the left hand can manage, then it should be sufficient for learning a few tunes and a bit of practice.

Re: Thumbs advice…

>De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis

Yah. This is pretty much what it is. I’ve been seeing my primary care doctor about this for awhile, have been in PT with minimal results on thumb range of motion, have done steroids, wore braces, didn’t wear braces, took six weeks off all activities, and no longer text with my thumbs. Yesterday I tried CBD which helped with how I was feeling, but It’s less about me feeling bad than me not being able to do what I want (which is music, cooking and cleaning).

I’ll try that fiddle method and see how it feels. I’m lucky that now I can tell when things aren’t working well with what’s going on pretty easily.

Hopefully the specialist will get scheduled soon. Thanks for the advice everyone! Depending on what they say it looks like finding a concertina could be an option if recovery is longer and that’s acceptable.

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You might be able to get a concertina modified to move the air button to somewhere e.g right little finger. I don’t know how possible it is, I know you can move notes around. A concertina specialist could advise

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Yes, that should work. Any button with the associated reed plate removed would operate as an air button.

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…up to a point - the normal air button opens a far larger hole than a reed slot

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Have you considered English concertina? The thumbs on EC stay in the straps and move the bellows, but don’t have to do any moving or flexing. And yes I know the predominant ITM concertina is the anglo…

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I don’t know enough about concertinas to know the difference between the English vs. Anglo.

I’m going to try and hunt a concertina down. I live on a small island, and have heard of rumors of concertina players, but have never seen or met one. That said, I’m going to Boston in a week and I bet I can find one there to try out.

If anyone knows a place to buy concertinas in Boston let me know.

I did just try fiddling today for the first time in awhile. I don’t think my body is ready for it as only five minutes brought some aches and pains. That said, it sure emotionally felt good.

Thanks everyone, and interesting note about the concertina button switching. I do hope a specialist will help even if it’s surgery but if not it’s nice to know I may not be fully out of luck. 🙂

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Don’t buy a concertina unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

Many concertina-shaped objects out there.

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Vechey, I was delighted to read your last post. If you managed five minutes fiddling, that means to me that the left hand works to some degree.

Nothing wrong with sticking to five minutes a day until the muscles and tendons get back into the swing of things…

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Is the issue only in one hand? You could consider something like a melodica with a blowpipe, which would let you play a keyboard with only one hand. Lung capacity might again be an issue but they can be quite cheap to try out and see if it works.

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Both hands unfortunately.

I’m going to take Jerry O’Donnell’s philosophy for now which is appreciate the five minutes I can get while I figure out what to do to fully get out of this.

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I’ve posted this advice before but I feel strongly enough about it to repeat it; having had severe hand trouble (actually just my left index finger initially) I went to a couple of hand clinics, doctors etc; to me they seemed to automatically default to a) cortisone injections (useless in my case) and surgery (not desirable in my case). I eventually found a practitioner of a more holistic view who thought that the issue was originating in my upper arm. After doing her thing, some of which was very alternative generally, I started to improve rapidly. I think I made one more visit and since then I haven’t had a single problem - this is several years later.

Regarding concertina thoughts….
I now have other issues developing specifically with my right thumb, and as a struggling concertina student I’m aware of the occasional stress from needing the air button, but nothing earth-shattering. Concertina is funny though; as you probably know the cheaper the instrument the harder it is to play, which leaves the learner in the dilemma of whether to invest heavily in something that might not work out for them. My only solution to this was to study note charts to familiarize myself as I saved up for an intermediate instrument. I think if I had gone any lower down the scale of quality I might have binned the whole project. And I suppose you can always sell it if it doesn’t work out…

The best of luck with it, anyway…