• Matt Parsons

Making Music With Erbs Palsy

For as long as I can remember I have been playing the drums. It started off as good exercise for my arm, but then it became a passion. At 18 years old I got my first guitar and proved to the doctors that people with Erbs Palsy can play instruments.

When I was a baby my parents got me a mini drum kit to play with. They originally thought it’d be a great idea to help build strength and range of movement. To be honest I don’t remember playing that Smurfs drum kit in the photo, but I do remember the second drum kit, the third one… and the fourth one. I had both percussion and drum lessons growing up and it really did help my #erbspalsy arm. Percussion was a little harder for me because I find it difficult to raise my wrist and flatten out my fingers. If I was playing the conga I would just use one finger with my left hand, and the palm of my right hand. It’s not technically correct, but at least I was making a noise.

Drum lessons started when I was about 9 years old. I found that holding drum sticks a lot easier than using the palm of my hands.

You can get grips to help you hold the sticks better too. I still have a drum kit and a few years ago I was a drummer in a band in my local town. We played some gigs and did a little recording, but it was nothing serious. We only really ever jammed at home, but we had some fun. I found this video online, which I had completely forgotten about.

"There are always more than one way of doing things. If you have Erbs Palsy try to find new ways to adapt. It all effects us in different ways, so no one way is right. Try different techniques, stick with it and become awesome at it."

When I was a teenager I always wanted to play the guitar, but because I can’t turn my wrist over playing chords I thought that it would be impossible. My mum and dad had a couple of guitars around the house and one day I decided to pick one of them up. Naturally I picked it up the wrong way around and started strumming. It turned out that I could play the chords with my right hand and strum and fingerpick with my left hand. After a few months of playing upside down on a right handed guitar, my parents got me a left handed acoustic #fender for my 18th birthday. I’m a fan of all kinds of music, from hip-hop, to rock, to acoustic, because there’s so much to appreciate in all genres. I’m a big fan of Paul Simon and at the time I was also listening to a lot of John Denver. I bought a video by guitarist Pete Huttlinger (who was a guitarist for John Denver, but sadly passed away a couple of years ago) who demonstrates how to play the songs of John Denver. I used these and taught myself how to play.

I’m also a big fan of the early albums by Sun Kil Moon. The guitar work is beautiful and I started to learn these songs too.

One thing that’s brilliant about their music is that Mark Kozelek (the man behind Sun Kil Moon) uses a lot of alternative tunings. This actually helped my with my #erbspalsy arm because I could find new ways to play the guitar. This video was taken when I went to UBPN Camp several years ago to do a demonstration.

Accomplishing goals

I consider myself to be successful. I may not be a rock star, or make a living from music, but I enjoy writing songs and playing several instruments. I had a goal years ago, which was to gig and record as a solo artist and in a band. Over the last ten years I have recorded two solo albums (www.mattparsons.net) and two EPs with my current band Jacklines (www.jacklines.com). I think it's safe to say that I have accomplished one of my goals. It'd be nice to play some bigger venues one day, but I'm happy with what I've done so far.

For those of you with #brachialplexusinjury who want to learn the guitar, I have started making videos to help you. Here is the first video that I put together. It covers basic strumming, which should hopefully give you some ideas of how adapt your playing. I know there are some truly inspiring people out there with the same problem. Just remember that there are always more than one way of doing things. If you have Erbs Palsy try to find new ways to adapt. It all effects us in different ways, so no one way is right. Try different techniques, stick with it and become awesome at it.

Much love x

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Beating BPI


Left arm Brachial Plexus / Erbs Palsy


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