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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

Ideas for playing violin with disability

By Ryan Thomson

In my book - Playing Violin and Fiddle Left Handed, I mention several  players, including classical violinists and self taught folk fiddlers alike, who have experienced success in either starting out, or switching to left handed playing as a result of a disability. My own cure for focal dystonia was to become a left handed musician and violinist.




Dear sir;

I have a 4 year girl who is going to take violin lessons soon . I've got a disability, I have full use of my right hand. But I’ve not got much use my left hand, my arm is strong. Is there any way I could learn to play with her?


thank you,



Dear T,

 It would be possible to bow the violin using your strong left arm, and use your right hand to finger the violin. This means that you would be playing the violin "left handed," as I do. You would need to have a violin maker or repair person convert a right handed violin to a left handed one. It doesn't matter much whether you are naturally right or left handed.


If your left hand is non functional, you would need some sort of simple apparatus to attach the bow to your hand. I know of several people who have made this work. One woman that I met had fashioned a ring that fit around her thumb, that also attached to the bow so that when she moved her arm the bow moved also. 


You'll need help with this project. Someone who is mechanically minded could help you with attaching the bow. You would also need to take violin lessons yourself, or take part in your daughter's violin lessons. Hopefully your daughter's violin teacher could help. 





November 28, 1997


Thank you for your posting on dystonia in musicians. I had studied piano since age 5, and played all of my life. After obtaining a Bachelor of Music Performance, I went on to graduate school. By age 23, my right hand wasn't what it used to be, and I blamed myself for not being able to play up to par. I decided that I should seek a new vocation, and obtained a Bachelor of Science in physics. I continued to play well for some years, but by the time I was thirty, my right hand (fingers 3, 4 and 5) would not function properly. I fell into a deep depression. I was finally diagnosed with focal dystonia, and I tried everything from Klonopin to Botox. Nothing worked.


My wife and I bought a house two years ago, and much to my surprise, a violinist in the Pittsburgh Symphony lived two doors down. I decided to begin violin lessons with him in 1996. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful Helmuth Keller violin (being a Sr. Engineer now, I could afford a

decent fiddle), and I love playing it. I still find it frustrating that I cannot play the piano anymore, but I've found a new discipline of music that I can enjoy just as much if not more. I have learned to welcome the challenge of "starting over".


Fortunately I have no problems bowing whatsoever from the dystonia. It is becoming very natural, and my right hand still remains relaxed.


I found your letter about the violinist with dystonia inspiring in that he/she would make the best of a bad situation. If you would like to share my letter with others, you may feel free to do so.


Best Regards,


Ronald Birkelbach

This article written by Ryan Thomson, 1999

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