Say humans had 3 digits per hand instead of 5, 1 thumb and 2 fingers then which musical instruments could we play better and which ones would be harder or impossible to play?

-Computers do not count as musical instruments, sorry disc jockeys....

-I'm also excluding voice emulators like the kazoo or the digiridoo as they really don't require the use of hands.


closed as off-topic by TrEs-2b, Aify, Hohmannfan, JDługosz, Vincent Oct 8 '16 at 15:22

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    $\begingroup$ Everyone can play the Theremin ^.^ $\endgroup$ – Durakken Oct 8 '16 at 0:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Durakken Everyone can make noises on the Theremin, playing it to make music is just a bit harder. :) $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 8 '16 at 4:16
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android: But it probably doesn't depend on how many fingers you have. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Oct 8 '16 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ From my own experience, there are piano pieces written for one hand, e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_Concerto_for_the_Left_Hand_(Ravel) so it should be easy to compose/transcribe for fewer fingers. Struck instruments like hammered dulcimer would of course work. On harp, maybe a good player could use 5 digits per hand, but I don't think I ever used more than 3. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Oct 8 '16 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ @celtschk: Most likely (this is a reasonable proposition, but subject to experimental verification). From discussion I've heard on the Theremin, playing it musically isn't necessarily as easy as it looks. This is despite its early promotion as an easy to play instrument. Turns out it's not. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 9 '16 at 8:09

If humans had always had three digits then it would not be a matter of difficulty because all of the instruments would be designed for three digits.

If a three digit human were to appear in our world they would probably have the most trouble with advanced piano music where more than three fingers are needed to sound at once. But really, I think someone easily adapt to almost any instrument.

Actually, clarinet would be toughest because it requires closing the holes with three fingers each hand. Actually any open hole transverse instrument, since they normally have at least five holes, usually six, required to be stopped by fingers.

Guitar wouldn't be too hard. Look at Django Rheinhart. Other strings wouldn't be too bad either.

  • $\begingroup$ Actually, more complex piano pieces might be played by two three-fingered humans, one playing the left hand part, the other the right hand part. $\endgroup$ – celtschk Oct 18 '16 at 7:42

Basically you could still play most brass-section instruments like trumpet and baritone. Most actually have 3-4 valves, but variations with 2 exist (typically they're in the key of G, rather than the much more common B flat of 3-4 valve instruments, but that could be worked around). Trombone, which uses a slide and no keys, would work just as well with two fingers.

Woodwinds typically have far more keys and would need to be majorly rethought.

Finger-based keyboard playing (piano) would be very different of course. Still doable but music would have to be much simpler and/or slower.

Mallet-based keyboard (marimba, xylophone) would require a new grip to be invented, and the two-mallets-in-each hand technique some players now use might be impossible, but for the most part wouldn't change. Same for most percussion.

Plucked string instruments (stand-up bass): the answer is the same as finger-based keyboard. Bowed string instruments (violin): probably also the same as finger-based keyboard (because although the primary hand just has to hold a tool, as in mallet-based keyboard, the other hand still has to work frets).

  • $\begingroup$ You forgot string instruments rather than just key based instrumen. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Oct 8 '16 at 0:39