One-Handed Woodwinds Program

New innovations are being made each day, so that everyone— including the physically challenged— can experience the gift of music. The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s One-Handed Woodwinds Program has created a saxophone that can be played with, you’ve guessed it, one hand.

More than eight years ago, Dr. David Nabb, professor of music at UNK, suffered a stroke that paralyzed half of his body. He contacted instrument builder and musician Jeff Stelling to help him develop a saxophone that could be played with one hand.

“Although I’ve recovered a lot, I still can’t play the [regular] instruments properly,” Nabb says. “So the [onehanded] instrument enables me to do what I used to do, but in a different way.”

Stelling and Nabb developed a unique “toggle-key” system that holds down different combinations of keys when different areas of the mechanism are pressed.

“I practiced for 30 years with two hands, and this instrument is harder,” Nabb says. “I can do a reasonably good job on it; it’s an extraordinary thing.”

The one-handed sax cost around $45,000. Nabb hopes to secure funding to further develop the manufacturing process and lower the price to about $10,000. The funding would also help create one-handed versions of other woodwinds. Currently only two of these saxes exist. The student model that Stelling first created as a prototype is being used by a student at Clemson (S.C.) University, and Nabb is using a professional model. Although the sax has not yet been tried in a marching band setting, Nabb says that it could “absolutely” work.

“It’s made such a huge difference for me; I know it would for other people,” Nabb says.

According to Nabb, there is a need and demand for these specialized instruments.

“This is not the first one-handed saxophone that was ever built,” Nabb says. “It’s been done many times before in many different ways, and more than anything it demonstrates a continuing need for someone to do this and make it available.”

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About author

Elizabeth Geli

Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor of Halftime Magazine and a journalist/communications professional in Southern California. Her 11 years at the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band included time as a flute player, graduate teaching assistant, and student advocate. She holds a bachelor's degree in Print Journalism and master's degree in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.


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