10
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I am interested in learning an instrument but have limited mobility in my left pinkie/little finger due to an old injury. What instruments are least demanding on that finger?

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  • 5
    Not sure this has an answer. You could say guitar (many people don't use the little finger) or piano (as long as you don't use it) or violin etc – Doktor Mayhem Nov 20 '15 at 9:03
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    Playing a left-handed guitar might be a possibility, since with normal guitar, the right pinkie is used very little. Not sure if left-handed violin is a possibility either, but I suspect that you don't need great mobility in the pinkie for using the bow. – Old John Nov 20 '15 at 9:14
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    @Old John: I know a (right-handed) guitarist who plays left-handed guitar for precisely this reason. I don't think this is such a good idea on string instruments, though: at least on cello the pinky is very important for giving stability and impetus to the bow stroke. (Also, alas, playing left-handed is much more limiting for a string player than it is for a guitarist: you constantly clash with your neighbours in the orchestra...) – leftaroundabout Nov 20 '15 at 16:50
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    @DrMayhem - Piano would be one of the worst possible instruments for a non-functional left pinkie finger. – aparente001 Nov 21 '15 at 3:46
  • Violin and viola can be adapted to omitting the left pinkie, but cello and double bass wouldn't be such a good idea. – aparente001 Nov 21 '15 at 3:47

11 Answers 11

15
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The obvious ones are -trumpet - no use for pinkie at all, and slide trombone - no use for fingers separately. Followed closely by xylophone/marimba/glock/vibraphone and drums.

  • None of the brass uses the left pinky, aside from horns with a 4th finger stopping valve, which are rare. – MattPutnam Nov 20 '15 at 14:14
  • @MattPutnam The horn may NOT be "easy of the left pinkie" depending on the design of the hand-hold: it may use the pinkie for a significant part of the support. (source: 10 years playing the horn) – Reinstate Monica --Brondahl-- Nov 20 '15 at 15:36
  • Also most brass instruments have a spit-valve that can be operated by the pinkie, though you don't use that all the time, so it might not matter. – Darrel Hoffman Nov 20 '15 at 16:03
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    Normally you do not have to operate the spit valves while actually playing. Typically, using it between songs is more than sufficient. – Dan Nov 20 '15 at 18:41
  • @Brondahl (1) supporting the instrument doesn't require mobility, and (2) you can use a duck's foot and remove all pressure on it entirely. – MattPutnam Nov 23 '15 at 15:21
10
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Really? Not one mention of Django Reinhardt?
Django lost the use of his fourth and fifth fingers in a fire but that didn't stop him from ripping it up on guitar (and inventing a new genre of music in the process).

A few years ago, I sustained a minor sprain in my fretting hand which made it painful to make certain finger changes (I play bass mostly, but guitar as well). I adapted around that, and I didn't let it stop me from playing.

You can play any instrument you want to! Work around any problems or weaknesses, don't let them stop you completely. And don't let anybody tell you can't because of a disability.

  • 2
    And Django Reinhardt inspired Tony Iommi, who was the first person that came to mind when I read your answer. – Tim Medora Nov 20 '15 at 21:48
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    I'm sure I could make anything work, but I don't have my heart set on any particular instrument so I figured it would be best to try to set myself up for success. The 'let nothing hold you back' attitude is admirable, and I know you mean well by it, but I have to work around problems with my pinkie in enough other aspects of my life as it is. I just want to learn for fun and it's much more fun when I don't have to worry about it. – Hannerz Nov 21 '15 at 7:00
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    No discussion of musicians' "let nothing hold you back" attitude would be complete without a mention of Def Leppard's one-armed drummer Rick Allen - but of course as the asker says, it's easier to not have to overcome adversity if you can avoid it... – user56reinstatemonica8 Nov 21 '15 at 21:35
7
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Harmonica, blues or chromatic.

7
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The typical recorder fits the bill perfectly for you. It uses all fingers of the right hand, and the thumb and all-but-the-pinkie of the left hand.

6
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Pretty much all percussion instruments, which includes hammer dulcimer and its ilk. I don't know whether the harp requires pinky use or not.

I suppose it'd be cheating to suggest the theremin :-) .

  • 2
    Harp does not use the pinkies, they're not long enough to reach the strings when playing with proper technique. – MattPutnam Nov 20 '15 at 14:14
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    Strangely enough, I think most (of the few) proper theremin players do use the right hand fingers, including the pinky, to intonate scales. – leftaroundabout Nov 20 '15 at 16:58
3
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The didgeridoo asks very little of the pinkie finger on either hand.

2
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The harp. It's normal to play just using the thumb and first three fingers on each hand.

2
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Rockin Cowboy alluded to this, but I'll spell it out separately:

Your own voice!

Singing is a skill that can be developed like playing any instrument, and it's arguably one of the cheapest and most convenient options. You almost never have to tune, polish, or repair the instrument. You don't have to carry a bulky case with you to practice.

That's not to say that you will necessarily find it easy. This article talks with Joanne Rutkowski, professor of music education. I quote,

“Everyone who can speak can learn to use a singing voice, but not everyone will have a fabulous-sounding voice. Once the vocal instrument is working, the ability to sing with good intonation is dependent on musical aptitude and musical achievement.”

You will definitely benefit from vocal training. Don't think you can skip taking lessons just because you don't need to buy an expensive instrument. https://www.vocaladvancement.com/can-anyone-learn-to-sing/

I think it's worth a try. You may not ever (or may!) become one of the greatest, but you should be able to get decent results.

  • Although I see this as post as OK you may want to add more to it so it is more of answer and less of a comment on another answer. – Neil Meyer Nov 22 '15 at 7:40
2
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As you can see by all the answers so far, you have many options. One thing that I might point out is that many of the instruments mentioned (horns, harmonica, brass) require you to blow into them. So they don't work as well if you want to use your instrument to accompany your singing.

You can learn to play guitar "left handed" which means that your right hand would be your fretting hand. Whether you use a pick or play fingerstyle, very few guitarist use the pinkie of their picking hand for playing. Learning guitar requires learning to contort your fretting hand into unnatural positions. Those positions are equally alien to either hand so it might be just as easy to learn from the beginning - to play either way. In fact many folks who are left handed will learn to play guitar right handed due to the fact that "right handed" guitars are more widely available. In your case you have a compelling reason to learn to play guitar "left handed".

For an in depth discussion of this concept - see this question on Music SE Left hander learn to play guitar right handed

Another option for a stringed instrument that will work great for accompanying a singer in many musical styles and won't require the use of your pinkie whether playing left or right handed - is a three string cigar box guitar. These guitars can be homemade or you can buy one commercially produced. Many of these actually sound amazing and you can even add electronics and play them through an amplifier. Because of the way they can be tuned, you can actually play thousands of songs with only one finger. Here is a video on YouTube that discusses a common tuning method and shows how to play with only one finger.

Learn to Play 3 string cigar box guitar

This video also demonstrates how full and resonate a good cigar box guitar can sound (watch other videos for even better sounding cigar box guitars).

If you don't like the idea of a cigar box guitar, you can use the 3 string tuning concept to play a six string guitar with only three strings installed. Again depending on your tuning, you could play such a guitar with just one finger and use a barre to form entire chords. Or a finger tip covering two strings to form power chords.

Here is a picture of a professional performer named Chris Ballew (stage name Caspar Babypants) who takes all but two or three strings off all of his stringed instruments (many shown in picture) so he can play them with one or two fingers.

Two or Three Strings

If you are not worried about singing along while playing your instrument, and you want an instrument that is easy to learn, portable and inexpensive, You might want to consider a harmonica.

If you want to try a harmonica, you can buy cheap ones for around $5.00 US. But if you are serious about trying to learn harmonica, you should get a quality instrument because it will be easier to learn to bend notes on a good quality harmonica. I like the ten hole diatonic (commonly referred to as "blues harp") harmonica which can be purchased in all 12 keys (and more).

Most professional harp players keep a set so they can play songs in more than one key. What I like about the diatonic (as opposed to the chromatic) is that the only notes available without bending are guaranteed to be in the correct key, so even if you make a mistake, it's not quite as obvious.

No matter what instrument (or instruments) you decide to learn to play, have fun!

  • I do know that many guitarist who play fingerstyle use their pinkie to stabilize their picking hand on the top of the guitar, but the OP said he had "limited mobility" of the pinkie (not zero use) so he may still be able to do this if fingerpicking was a desired style of play. – Rockin Cowboy Nov 21 '15 at 19:41
1
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The ukulele is great for avoiding pinkie finger use. Also melodica, accordion, banjo…

1
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Flute makes no or very little use of the left-hand little finger.

If you play the standard Boehm system there are no keys for the LH 4th finger and even if you play one of the extended systems there are alternative fingerings. Rudall Carte and other 'simple' systems don't use that finger at all.

Also fife and tin whistle, both of those don't use that finger at all.

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