The Ashland Beacon
When Poage music teacher, Nickie French, decided to introduce the ukulele into her curriculum, she worried about one student in particular. Although fifth-grader Savannah Griffith is an excellent musician, she lost her right arm to a birth injury and a ukulele requires the use of two hands. The two didn’t have to worry for long. All they really needed was some help from some friends.
French made a plea for help on a Facebook page for music teachers. One of them sent her a link to a blog where someone had made a “strum buddy” for an elderly man with mobility issues who wanted to play the ukulele. She contacted the person that made it and, although they were
not interested in marketing it, they sent her the entire design to make one herself.
French said that she very quickly realized that trying to make a strum buddy herself was “beyond my skill set.” She then asked Savannah what she wanted to do. Savannah does not think of herself as disabled and does not usually use anything that is considered to be adaptive. She is even able to tie her own shoes by herself with just her left hand. French asked her if she wanted to pursue the option of getting the strum buddy or if she just wanted to “play” the ukulele on the app. Savannah was open to either, but French really wanted to try the strum buddy because the app was “just not the same at all.”
She posted the design on Facebook with another plea for someone to make a strum buddy for Savannah. She also sent out a group text to her co-workers at Poage Elementary asking for help. Fellow staff member, Amanda Hicks, told her that her husband, Zack Hicks could make the strum buddy. French said that she was glad Hicks stepped forward even though she had several other people, including former students, offer to make one and ship it to her classroom. But Hicks was able to get all of the parts for the strum buddy donated.
From the time that French sent out the text asking for help, to Zack Hicks creating a working version, to Amanda Hicks carrying in the modified ukulele was only one week. He brought it in and Savannah “took to it very easily,” French said. Savannah was able to join her classmates on the second day of playing ukuleles in class and she “jumped right in and was doing everything with us.” French made a video of her playing with the ukulele and posted it to Poage Elementary’s Facebook page. The video, which did not show Savannah’s face, very quickly went viral.
The strum buddy is a piece made mostly out of wood that is attached to the ukulele. The “arm” has a cord attached to it that is tied to Savannah’s foot. She taps her foot and the strum buddy “strums” the strings for her. A binder clip attached to the arm holds a guitar pick.
David McCoy and Rob Damron at the Four O’Clock Rock Guitar Shop offered to make a strap to help hold the ukulele. When she came in to be fitted for the strap, the duo also made a few more adjustments to the strum buddy to make it more of a custom fit to her. They spent over an hour of their personal time making sure that the strap supported the ukulele properly, that the guitar pick was secure, that the strum buddy was hitting all the chords properly, and that the string attached to Savannah’s foot had the right amount of tension to give her a full range of motion on the ukulele.
As soon as Savannah sat down with her ukulele on the strap, she started playing. Before long, she was switching chords and asking her teacher how to play “Wheels on the Bus.” Although she does not tend to use any kind of adaptive gear, she thinks her strum buddy is “awesome.”