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I am hoping to learn to play a musical instrument (I cannot play anything as yet) that is easy on fingertips and am looking for some suggestions, please. I have psoriasis on my fingertips and it usually spreads to just above the first knuckles. I also get it at the base area between my fingers. I am unable to put too much pressure on my fingertips most days or they will split and bleed, and the same goes for stretching.

I tried the piano, but maybe this was the worst thing to first try, and I then tried guitar. I have been left disappointed and annoyed with myself for even trying to think I could do that one! (I tried these two as I had access to them.)

I am wondering about saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, or maybe flute. If anyone who has experience with these instruments would like to share thoughts on how hard these are on your fingertips I would be most grateful. I am especially wondering if I could play trumpet using my first knuckles rather than fingertips.

I would like to learn for only my own pleasure as I have no desire to make a career of it or ever play in public, so if I am mediocre at it, I really won't mind... I will be happy with the achievement for achievements' sake!

Thank you all very much for the wide variety of suggestions, there are many ideas that I just never considered. You have all given me a lot of food for thought and the 'out of the box' instruments look very interesting and fun. Regarding the drums, does anyone know how hard the steel drums are on your hands? I looked at YouTube to see some players and the sticks look quite loosely held and not involving the fingertips very much. Finally, can anyone tell me how important the tension/grip is for the mallet instruments? Could they be played with padded gloves or would that mess up the sound? Thank you again.

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    Would you consider singing an option? I understand that technically it’s not an answer to your question since you are asking for an instrument, but to me it seems the most straightforward option to make music without resorting to very obscure instruments. I’m not very familiar with psoriasis but I would think that singing completely evades any issues relating to it. – 11684 Nov 3 '18 at 18:58
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    Kazoo, harmonica, vibraphone, marimba, trombone, ocarina, pennywhistle, recorders, hammered dulcimer, handbells, to name a few – jjmusicnotes Nov 4 '18 at 5:12
  • There is a beautiful woodwind instrument that is specifically not played with fingertips, but rather the fingers themselves, and it's called "Duduk". It is a kind of a flute, but has a very unusual and beautiful sound. It's hard on breath though, but considering its wonderful sound and your requirements, you might be interested. One more example would be the Indian variety of flutes called "Bansuri". Both of these instruments are beautiful, very classical in their culture, and are easy to carry around with you (if not in agressively cold/dry climate). – noncom Nov 4 '18 at 19:35
  • You might consider a piccolo. IIRC (it's been many years since I played) it has the same fingerings as the flute and is much lighter. – Ralph Nov 5 '18 at 10:36

14 Answers 14

31

What about the trombone - a "real" orchestral instrument, should you wish to play with community orchestras, but just as at home with bands, etc, and doesn't depend on the fingertips to the same extent as pretty much everything else.

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    I think the slide hand would be okay. The way I carried my trombone, though, there was a substantial amount of contortion required of the hand supporting the instrument's weight, and this stretched the skin at the base of the fingers. If this would be a problem for the OP, then it might be possible to build up that part of the trombone, using something like bicycle handlebar padding for a more manageable grip. – Gaultheria Nov 2 '18 at 10:18
  • FWIW, there are slide-saxophones out there, but these are now rare, expensive collectors' items - and difficult to play as well. – Carl Witthoft Nov 2 '18 at 11:44
  • If a regular trombone is too heavy there is a soprano trombone which is also known as a slide trumpet. – Tracy Cramer Nov 2 '18 at 17:37
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    By the same logic you can also suggest the French horn. Rotary valves are relatively easy to activate with the first knuckle and not the fingertip. The instrument itself is supported by the palm of one hand and the back of the other, and the fingers don't have to stretch much. – bta Nov 2 '18 at 23:01
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    Some suggestions. google "trombone hand rest", there are a lot of different solutions. Do check a plastic trombon (say the Pbone), they weigh less that a normal trombone and to my experience are quite acceptable instruments to play. – ghellquist Nov 4 '18 at 10:16
30

I would like to suggest a theremin.

It is an electronic music instrument that is played without physical contact.

I personally like the sound, see here for example a performance of Over the rainbow.

However, since it is less prevalent than many other instruments, it might be difficult to find a teacher in your area. There are DVDs and online resources, though.

As user Guy G correctly commented:

One potential issue is that playing the theremin requires precise repetitive movement of the fingers which may count as stretching, depending on how severe the OP's psoriasis is. But it's a fun instrument and definitely worth having a try at.

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    One potential issue is that playing the theremin requires precise repetitive movement of the fingers which may count as stretching, depending on how severe the OP's psoriasis is. But it's a fun instrument and definitely worth having a try at. – Guy G Nov 2 '18 at 10:11
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    Out of interest, could a Theremin be played with gloves (of any sort) on, or even something like a table tennis bat? – Tim Nov 2 '18 at 10:48
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    @GuyG although you're right that standard theremin technique uses finger movement, this is not really necessary. Theremin can indeed be played with any electrically conductive object. The fingers make it easier to lock in correct intonation positions, but this doesn't require any force whatsoever. I think it's in fact mostly a mental help. – leftaroundabout Nov 2 '18 at 11:03
  • @leftaroundabout - I agree that it doesn't require any force, but it may be the case that repeatedly bending and extending the fingers could be an issue for the OP. But as you say, it's a standard, not a necessity. – Guy G Nov 2 '18 at 11:21
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    @rlms Well, the OP did not specify difficulty/easiness as one of their criteria :) – Marzipanherz Nov 4 '18 at 6:35
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A harmonica might work for you. Diatonic harmonicas are very cheap, so there's no real problem if you don't like it. Chromatic harmonicas extend the range and keys available, if you decide you do like it.

  • FWIW bending and overblowing/overdrawing on a diatonic also gets you the full chromatic scale. – Mathieu Guindon Nov 2 '18 at 14:53
  • @MathieuGuindon Sure, although that's getting a bit more advanced. – Graham Nov 2 '18 at 21:41
  • Well, who said playing harmonica was easy? Cheaper than other instruments, sure. But they're not toys (don't buy $10 harmonicas, these are toys), and take several years to master. – Mathieu Guindon Nov 2 '18 at 21:57
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    This answer should emphasize the ability to play the harmonica with a neck rack, much like the panpipes answer here already does (in fact, the panpipes answer's neck rack link leads to the rack section of the Harmonica Wikipedia page). – Dekkadeci Nov 4 '18 at 6:00
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    @Dekkadeci Possibly, but much of the tone does come from holding it in cupped hands. It's one reason Bob Dylan's harmonica playing sounds so awful. :) There's no problem playing it using gloves though, and you don't need to press on anything with your fingers (unless you get a chromatic), so the OP would be fine. – Graham Nov 5 '18 at 14:27
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Panpipes, although typically handheld, are played without putting pressure on the fingers.

You can even play them hands-free by using a neck rack:

Dom Flemons, using panpipes held in a neck rack.

Image source: Dom Flemons, using panpipes held in a neck rack.

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    Similar style of choosing notes: harmonica! – Todd Wilcox Nov 2 '18 at 14:58
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You asked about 'saxophone, trumpet, clarinet or maybe flute' and I can play all of these (some better than others!), so here are the biggest pros and cons of each, specifically considering finger tips:

Trumpet

Pro: The valves only need three fingertips on the right hand

Con: Strong fingers are needed to support the weight of the instrument

Clarinet

Pro: The right thumb tip isn't needed, as the instrument's weight sits on the knuckle joint

Con: Several of the holes on the clarinet are 'open' meaning that you have to cover them with your fingertips rather than with covered keys like on a saxophone, leading to even more pressure on the finger tips

Flute

Pro: When compared with the other instruments in this list, the flute requires the least force through the finger tips when playing - it's a more 'delicate' instrument, if you will.

Con: The fingers take the full weight of the instrument - there's no option for a weight-baring neck strap like with a saxophone or clarinet

Saxophone

Pro: A neck strap takes the weight of the instrument and the thumbs are used very little - the right thumb hooks under a thumb rest, and the left thumb has a pad to rest on and one large button to play

Con: A lot of pressure can be needed to press the keys, especially if you are naturally quite tense

If these four instruments are your only options, I would recommend avoiding the clarinet and the trumpet. I'd lean towards trying the flute and the saxophone, but even these may be too much for your finger tips to handle.

(As an aside, the flute and the saxophone have very similar fingering patterns so if you do learn one, it shouldn't take you too long to learn the other and then you can play two instruments!)

  • Re saxophone, as I wrote in my own answer, you should be able to play with a very light touch. If you can't then the instrument is in need of servicing. If you are quite tense you need to work on reducing that or it will hinder your technique and make fast playing impossible. – Ian Goldby Nov 2 '18 at 12:50
  • Good points about supporting the weight of the instrument. I would not have thought the weight of a flute would be an issue. But for heavier instruments you can always add some padding to spread the load. There's nothing wrong with taping a piece of foam to your instrument. It's true that some sax players find the thumb hook can be sore. I've seen instruments with a pad attached here, which works quite well. – Ian Goldby Nov 2 '18 at 12:55
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    Holding a flute effortlessly and in a well balanced manner normally takes years of practice. It may be easy on the fingertips but more than makes up for this for the rest of the hands/arms - until a proper technique is learned. – ErikE Nov 2 '18 at 16:08
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Difficult to find instruments which don't have to be played using fingers/fingertips. It knocks out woodwind, brass, strings, keyboards and some percussion quite easily. Along with slide trombone could go Swannee Whistle. Xylophone or marimba or vibes could also work, using hands to hold sticks rather than fingers.

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    I think an instrument in the xylophone family is the best suggestion here. The OP says it's just for their own pleasure, and those are the only polyphonic instruments (which I always find better for playing alone) suggested so far. – Guy G Nov 2 '18 at 10:09
  • Most of the wind instruments do put considerably less mechanical stress on the fingertips than guitar or piano though, don't they? – leftaroundabout Nov 2 '18 at 11:04
  • @leftaroundabout - true - and trumpet only incorporates three fingers! However, with splitting and bleeding possible, I discounted anything which involved pressing in any way with fingers/hands. – Tim Nov 2 '18 at 11:48
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Have you considered a Hammered Dulcimer or a Cimbalom? They are sometimes included in orchestral works - although I can't name one off the top of my head - and there are also "Dulcimer Orchestras" around - look on YouTube.

I also agree with @Marzipanherz that a Theremin might be suitable.

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When you tried piano, was the pressure on your fingertips a problem mainly when you played loudly?

You could consider learning to play the electronic organ. Most organs have a very light touch compared to piano - indeed, learning to play with a light touch is greatly beneficial to your technique and will in time help you play faster and more accurately.

You could also consider saxophone. On a properly set up instrument very little pressure is needed to operate the keypads. The same would be true of any woodwind instrument that uses keypads exclusively. But I would avoid anything like the recorder or clarinet where you need to seal your finger tip against a hole because I expect this would require more pressure.

You could also consider any brass instrument. Again, little pressure is needed to operate the valves. I have even seen trumpet players pushing the valves with the middle segment of their finger rather than their fingertips, though I've no idea if this is good technique or not.

Don't forget that your voice is also a musical instrument.

Definitely avoid any stringed instrument (including guitar) as these are the worst for putting pressure on your fingertips.

3

Maybe a harmonica to begin with? If the problem you have focuses on finger tips this should work fine, worst case you might have a problem to produce effects.

And another option, I have never played this instrument so my opinion here is not worth much but, how about lap-steel guitar? I do not know if during your attempt at guitar you found trouble with the fretting hand or the strumming one (or both) but if it's the former this could be a suitable option, it can also be played with fingerpicks which help get a louder sound while putting less strength in your plucks

2

If fingers specifically are an issue, drumming may be up your alley. As far as I know, minimal finger use is required compared to other instruments. Maybe not even with a kit, but with other percussion instruments.

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    I have my doubts about that statement--I find that I get a nice, whippy touch by holding drumsticks primarily in the fingers, and my arms and wrists get a lot less repetitive strain to boot. – Dekkadeci Nov 2 '18 at 5:39
  • @Dekkadeci - my immediate thought was drums, but like you, I use fingers just as much as hands. Although others just use hands. – Tim Nov 2 '18 at 7:19
  • This was my first thought as well. I agree that finger control is important for drum technique, but there's less emphasis on individual finger dexterity, and does not require as much pressure on individual fingertips like pressing valves/keys on wind instruments. Finger technique in drumming I find becomes particularly important when playing quickly or performing rolls. I suggest a subset of percussion instruments, the mallet instrument family, which typically does not play as many notes as a drum set, for example, and uses a rolling technique that doesn't use the fingers as much. Plus, pitch! – Nuclear Wang Nov 2 '18 at 14:47
  • As a beginning drummer, I have voted this down. There’s tons of finger work used in typical drum technique. – Todd Wilcox Nov 2 '18 at 14:59
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    Drumming uses fingers, but not fingertips as far as I know; I think this is a good answer. – rlms Nov 3 '18 at 22:17
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Play the trombone: need no fingers at all. It's a lot of fun and covers a broad variety of musical directions.

1

Others have suggested using your voice as an instrument. But rather than singing, you could use it in a different way. Using a loop station and effects pedals, you could record voice samples and layer them on top of each other, slowly constructing a song. You'd grunt and hum to make a baseline, click your tongue or hiss for percussion, and vocalise to add some melody.

The effects pedals allow you to add all sorts of effects, such as reverb, echo, modulation or distortion, to help you create the sound desired.

And probably the best thing about these machines for you is that they can be operated entirely with your feet. You can hold a microphone in your hands, but you could also get one that clips to your shirt to keep your hands entirely free.

Here is an example of a street performer using such a setup, and as a bonus he even explains to his audience a bit how it works.

Dub FX - Made

  • Mic stands work quite well, too... – Tim Nov 5 '18 at 18:03
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You could try something more unusual, like Pipe Drums.

As you can see in this example, you use your foot and, unlike standard drums, you hold the sticks with your whole hand, not with your fingers.

0

Penny Whistle

Yes it uses fingers, but not the sensitive tips; rather you cover the holes gently with the pads of your fingers. There are many advantages besides not hurting your fingers:

  • they are cheap (you can get them for under $5 in some places, although typically $20. You can spend much more if you go pro ;)
  • there is a large repertoire, especially if you like Celtic (Irish, Scottish, etc) music
  • small and easy to carry on trips (no airline issues)
  • easy to learn (but not that easy to master, so you have a growth path)

Look it up on youtube - so many examples. For example this.

protected by Dom Nov 2 '18 at 14:07

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