Whether you have a physical condition that means you can only one hand, or are simply curious about one-handed instruments, you’ll be surprised at how many options are available.
Some of the instruments featured in this guide require the development of unconventional techniques to play one-handed. Others are relatively simple. Whatever your needs, you’ll find a suitable instrument that you comfortably play using only one hand.
Table of Contents
11 Instruments You Can Play with One Hand
Popularized by folk singers of the 1960s, the harmonica became the weapon of choice for singer-songwriters who needed to keep their hands free to play guitar. Harmonica can be either plated using one hand, or no hands at all.
Conventionally, harmonica platers would use one hand to move the instrument across their mouth, while the other hand cups the sound holes. This allows for various notes and tones to be created.
This technique can quite easily be performed using one hand, however. In addition to that, you can also get a neck-rest which removes the need for using your hands completely.
These devices go over the head and sit in around the neck of the harmonica player. The instrument is positioned in front of their mouth, so they can move their head to play different notes while focusing on playing guitar or another instrument with their hands.
Keyboards & Synthesizers
When you go to watch a live band that uses a variety of synthesizers, programmers, and samplers, it’s common to see the keyboardist juggling a range of these instruments. Although the piano requires two hands for full expression, more concise keyboards do not.
One of the main reasons that synthesizers and keyboard can be played one-handed is that you can choose which sounds you play with them. Certain instruments and presets will only require one hand to create their desired effect.
Many synthesizers also offer the choice of automating a bass note when you play a certain chord or melody. Therefore, the need for two hands is reduced, because the instrument essentially does half of the work for you!
The tricky part is navigating the various buttons, knobs, and parameters that keyboards and synths commonly house. Nevertheless, with practice, it is certainly possible to use these instruments to their fullest capacity using a single hand.
The trumpet is traditionally held with the left hand, while the right-hand pushes the valves. The reverse would be apparent for a trumpet that is specifically designed for left-handed players.
That doesn’t mean that it can’t be played one-handed, though. It is relatively easy to do so once you get the hang of it. The technique involves holding the instrument solely with the right hand, supporting the weight with your pinky finger and thumb.
The rest of the fingers are then free to push the valves. Although this might take some getting used to initially, it’s a technique that many trumpet players use during live performances either as a stylistic aspect or to free up their other hand to tweak effects, and so on.
There are other ways that a trumpet can be used one-handed, too. These include the use of amount, which is popular amongst trumpet players who suffer from back or shoulder problems.
Tambourines & Shakers
Perhaps the most simple instruments to use one-handed are shakers and tambourines. These two instruments are used for building percussion sections, and although they don’t alter pitch, their presence is significant within a piece of music.
Tambourines and shakers often don’t get the credit they deserve due to their relatively subtle sound. However, if they are removed from a piece of music, their absence is instantly noticeable.
The great thing about playing shakers and tambourines is that you can use one hand to keep the rhythm, then tap the instrument against another part of your body to emphasize the pulse of a song.
They are also valuable instruments for developing your timing. This skill is extremely important if you want to play music with other people, or along to a backing track. There’s no better way to improve your sense of time than to practice with a simple percussive instrument like the tambourine or shaker.
Guitar (Acoustic & Electric)
With a quick search on YouTube, you can find some incredible one-handed guitarists who play both acoustic and electric. They use only their fretting hand usually so that they can create chords and vibrations on the strings.
Indeed, this is a challenge at first. But with practice, your fretting hand will become much stronger, and you will be capable of generating audible noises by tapping against the frets.
There is also usually another device involved in one-handed guitar playing: a compression pedal. These devices raise the level of your quietest notes and make them much more audible.
Other effects pedals like gain boosters and EQ are likely to help. If you want to get experimental, you can use fuzz pedals and ambient pedals like delay or reverb to create some incredible tones playing guitar with one hand.
Thumb Piano (Kalimba)
The kalimba, or thumb piano as it is commonly called, is an instrument that can be played one-handed with relative ease. It is a quiet instrument that produces an array of beautiful, high-end tones.
The kalimba has a series of metal tines that are tuned to specific notes in a key. To play these notes, you pluck the tines with the edge of your fingers. The sound is then amplified by a mini soundbox that faces the player.
It’s easier to play a thumb piano with two hands, but playing one-handed is also a lot of fun. Once you master the technique, you can play fast melodies using the fingers on one hand, and the thumb piano can rest on a surface as you play.
There are countless tales of drummers playing with one hand when injured, or of people becoming exceptional drummers playing one-handed. The beautiful thing about a drum kit is that you can use both of your feet along with your hands.
In the conventional setup, the drummer’s left foot opens and closes the hi-hat pedal, while their right foot plays the kick drum. When playing one-handed, the left foot can be used to keep time on the hats, while your hand plays the rest of the kit.
Techniques such as snare rolls and paradiddles are certainly more challenging with one hand, but they are achievable with practice. Playing drums one-handed focuses you to be more innovative, and can lead to some interesting rhythms that perhaps wouldn’t have occurred using the two-handed approach.
The Melodica is one of the simplest instruments to play. The tones it produces are complex and immersive, due to the combination of breath dynamics with the tonal shaping caused by pressing the keys down.
Playing melodic one-handed is possible by using an attachment known as a tube. This allows you to lay the instrument flat so that you can blow into it from further away, and use your hand to shape the melody.
Despite the relative simplicity of a melodica, it is very effective when used to add textures to a chord sequence or accompany a melody, and learning it is a lot of fun!
Bongos & Congas
Drums that are played by striking the skin with your hand are extremely simple once you master the basic techniques. Bongos and congas can easily be played one-handed, and to good effect.
The great thing about these drums is that you can change their tone by adjusting the shape of your hand, and the location of the skin that you strike. This means that when playing one-handed, you can create lots of variations on basic rhythms.
In my opinion, the trombone is one of the most beautiful sounding instruments we’ve ever created. You simply can’t beat the tich and powerful tone that these instruments produce.
Much like the trumpet, a trombone can be successfully played one-handed using an attachment that bears most of its weight. This mechanism straps around the shoulder and chest of the musicians, and holds it in place so that your hand is free to move the slider and adjust the pitch.
Perhaps the most obvious “instrument” that can be played without the need for using two hands is the human voice. I refrained from putting singing on this list, as that would be too obvious, but beatboxing is worth mentioning.
Learning to beatbox is a great way to develop your sense of rhythm. It can also be used to create interesting percussion tracks to accompany the other instruments on this list.
By thinking outside of the box and being willing to learn unorthodox techniques, many instruments can be played one-handed. Using one hand may limit you initially, but in the long run, it will help you to develop a unique style!