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Fun of playing ukulele for all (VIDEO)

Mike Jaquays
Staff writer
Posted 1/6/23

Deborah Guarneiri knows the healing power of playing music and thinks everyone should be able to enjoy the fun of playing the ukulele.

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Fun of playing ukulele for all (VIDEO)


VERONA — Music teacher Deborah Guarneiri knows the healing power of playing music and thinks everyone — regardless of any physical challenge — should be able to enjoy the fun of playing the ukulele.

“I am always looking to share that joy with others,” she said.

Guarneiri is the system designer and developer of the Ukulele Support System, an outreach dedicated to giving people with upper limb disabilities the ability to both fret and strum the four-stringed instrument.

She recalled she started playing ukulele seriously when her husband, Tony, retired and they were looking for something fun to do together. But a call in 2016 from one of her former students, now an elementary school teacher herself in a Mohawk Valley school, inspired Guarneiri to start the Ukulele Support System.

That teacher was starting a ukulele club at her school, Guarneiri was told. But there was a student in her class who had a bilateral birth defect leaving her with only 8-inch stubs for both arms. Guarneiri was asked if there was any way that she could help figure out a way for that child to be able to play the ukulele.

Guarneiri designed a system using a plastic chord maker device attached to the neck of the ukulele that depresses the strings at the appropriate frets. Straps attach to the girls’ arm stubs with bendable plumbing gas line tubing extending from those. One of the tubes holds the strumming pick and the other has a point to depress the buttons on the chord maker. The ukulele itself is strapped to a stand cradle that is clamped to a table.

Using all of these together, the girl — who Guarneiri did not identify to protect the child’s privacy — was able to play her ukulele from her shoulders and “took to it like a fish to water,” Guarneiri said.

(See this demonstration by Guarneiri)

“She said, ‘for the first time in my life I got to do something with my class,’” Guarneiri recalled.

Soon, Guarneiri was presenting at conferences and showing her invention to appreciative audiences of luthiers from all over the world. She has traveled as far as Hawaii to showcase her creations and her outreach.

With the use of accoutrements like hub straps, waist straps, finger splints and other accessories, the Ukulele Support System has given people of all ages around the world the ability to play the ukulele. And all the parts she uses to modify the ukuleles are readily available to anyone, Guarneiri added.

Her Ukulele Support System is now under the umbrella of the Ukulele Kids Club of America and Guarneiri has created her own local CLUES Ukulele Club that meets at the Canastota and Oneida public libraries that help in her mission. CLUES is an acronym for Canastota Library Ukulele Extraordinary Strummers.

This past August, Guarneiri brought ukuleles out to Camp Triumph, a camp for area pediatric burn survivors between the ages of 5-18 years old in Lowville. One of her new creations was a ukulele specially outfitted to be played by a child with one arm. It was modified with a lap brace to stay snug up against the child’s thigh and a dimple in the top to accept the connecting button behind the third fret.

“He decided it worked just right,” Guarneiri said. “Then as he played for a while, he realized it could be tweaked further and we worked together until it was exactly what would work.”

Each of the children was able to take that new ukulele home after camp, Guarneiri added.

In December, the Ukulele Support System was recognized for its work with the child burn victims by the Syracuse Corvette Club, who gave them a monetary award that was then forwarded to the Ukulele Kids Club to help offset the cost of ukuleles used each year to bring programming to children in need.

The CLUES Club meets Mondays and Wednesdays at the Oneida Public Library, and Saturdays at the Canastota Public Library. Sterling Oddo of Vernon plays the box drum and the tenor ukulele. He said the group is a great way to give back to the community and have fun at the same time.

“I welcome the chance to learn how to play a new musical instrument and enjoy the camaraderie of others who feel the same,” said Oddo. “Kudos to our mentor, Deb Guarneiri.”

Guarneiri taught in her piano studio for just about 50 years and taught K-6 and 7-12 general music/chorus and coached small chamber ensembles at different times during those years. She served on boards of the Suzuki Association of CNY and the CNY Music Teachers Association, as a member of Music in Medicine project and as a director of the Kallet School of the Arts in Oneida.

She retired her studio and most of her board duties when COVID hit, she said.

Guarneri has taught ukulele lessons since 2012. She also visits local schools with Artist in Residence programs through BOCES to aid school music teachers in developing ukulele for the classroom and ukulele clubs for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade.

She said the therapeutic value of playing the ukulele is not just for for the people who are given the instruments and the opportunity to play them by the Ukulele Support System.

“We really get as much out of this as they do,” Guarneiri said.

For more information, email Guarneiri at or find “Ukulele Support System for upper limb disabilities” on Facebook.


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