Most kids want to learn how to play an instrument in grade school. Most parents encourage some form of musical training for the benefits of musical training: social, coordination, attention and focus, even the suggested connection between math skills and musical ability. Hypermobile kids can struggle with the physical demands of playing an instrument sooner and more severely than a typically developing child.
There are ways to make it easier and less painful, right from the start.
- Steer them into the right instrument for their physical abilities. Heavy instruments are a questionable choice for kids that have back and shoulder issues, as they will be moving their instrument around a lot. Children with very hypermobile wrists could find the hand positions for violin or guitar much more challenging than the positions for piano or clarinet. There will still be a lot of fingering, but it occurs in a different plane of movement. Read Joint Protection And Hypermobility: Investing in Your Child’s Future for some details.
- Understand that as hypermobility changes, so may the type of instrument that best fits your child. This is a tough thing for kids to accept, but if they are experiencing repeated strains and injuries, or an increasing amount of pain, they may have to switch to an instrument that is less risky. Remember: hypermobility syndromes don’t disappear, and most hypermobile children will not become professional musicians. This isn’t life-or-death, no matter what they say about their passion. Injuries that affect the ability to attend school and eventually affect working…THAT is something to avoid. Cumulative trauma can result in surgeries or even ending up needing disability payments. Don’t contribute to a less-bright future by permitting a child with recurrent overuse injuries to continue to injure their body in the present.
- Positioning matters. Just as with sitting at a desk or a table, hypermobile kids need to use the best possible postural control with the least amount of effort. Children playing the piano may need a chair with low back support rather than a piano bench. Seats for all kids may need to have cushions that give more support, and any seat should definitely provide solid foot placement on the floor at all times. Some kids may need the support of a brace or braces. Back, shoulder, wrist, and even finger splints aren’t slowing them down; they are supporting performance. The biggest problem will be resistance from the musician. Children rarely want to wear these devices, and if they aren’t well designed and fitted, you will hear about it. Ask their OT or PT for direct assistance or find one that can do a consultation. Ask their instructor to explain why wearing a well-chosen brace makes playing easier and better. And don’t wait until an injury happens. Get in front of this one.
- Musical skills require practice, but hypermobile kids may need to break up their practice or do targeted practice to shorten the total amount of time spent and reduce the physical strain. Targeted practice requires that their instructor knows which types of practice are the most likely to build skills, rather than just adding minutes to a practice session. Breaks are important, and most kids don’t have the ability to know when and how to take them. They need to be taught, and the little ones need to be supervised on breaks.
Looking for more information on raising a child with hypermobility?
My latest e-book, The JointSmart Child: Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume Two: The School Years is now available on Amazon as a read-only download and on Your Therapy Source as a clickable and printable download! It has practical information about improving independence and safety for kids 6-12, including sports and the hypermobile child, improving communication with your child’s teachers and coaches, and how to address handwriting and keyboarding problems. It has more forms and checklists than the first book (Volume One: The Early Years), but still covers all the important self-care issues like toileting and how to make your home safer for your child while keeping it comfortable and attractive.