How to Play Guitar After Having a Stroke

A reader recently emailed me asking for some advice. He has suffered from a stroke and lost use of a couple of his fingers in his left hand. I’ve got his original email and my response response (with some editing to make more sense in a blog format and fixed typos).

Here is the original email:

Hello Sam. I dont know if you or anyone can advise me. Earlier in my life. I self taught to play guitar. I managed to supplement my income playing in pub rock bands. I never regarded myself as a pro player, I enjoyed playing. Fast forward to 2010. I suffered a major stroke that paralysed my left side. I had treatment to help regain my ability to walk and do stuff, but my cording hand is all but useless for playing. I can use first and second fingers. My ring finger and pinkie are useless. The movement of my hand is slow and takes effort. I do try to learn to play again just using open G and 2 fingers. Is there anything I can learn to improve my playing. I don’t want to be a pro

I just what to enjoy the twilight years of my life. Thanks in advance

Here is an edited version of my response:

Three Options for Playing Guitar With Reduced Mobility In Fret Hand

I think there are four options here:

  • Learning to play left handed
  • Keep playing right handed and learn songs that only require a couple of fingers
  • Both
  • Learning other tunings

Learning to Play Left Handed

This is going to be a challenge but… have you considered playing left handed? It sounds like you have enough fingers working to hold a pick, and then you can use your fully functioning hand to do the fancy fretwork, chords etc.

I imagine it’s going to feel like starting from Day 1 with learning again and it would be a challenge, but with your situation itwould give you “full” guitar playing ability.

Learn Songs That Only Require Two Fingers

Another option would be playing rock songs with simple power chords and riffs (e.g. Fortunate Son by CCR, lots of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath) where you only need a couple of fingers to get going.

You can find simplified versions for chords, and rewrite songs using your simplified chords.

Chords can also be replaced by power chords. For example, instead of playing a G# major barre chord, you could play a G# power chord:

Guitar tab showing how to replace a barre chord with a powerchord
Replacing barre chords with power chords is one option

A beautiful song for just two fingers is Blackbird by The Beetles. The song was specifically written to be played using only two fingers.

Learning Other Tunings

A final option to consider is learning other tunings. This could be useful if you are wanting to explore writing your own music, as alternative tunings will give you new and creative options for playing chord progressions.

Which Options to Choose?

Personally, I think the best option is to do everything. Find some easy power chord and simple songs that you can play, so that you can have fun playing right away.

While doing that, start putting some time into learning to play left handed. This will be challenging, but it will eventually give you full options for playing guitar.

I hope that helps and have fun!