Real Guitar Adventure for Grownups

Learning Guitar If You’re Left Handed?

in Guitar Basics | 11 comments

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If you are left-handed, should you learn left handed (upside down and backwards), or just stick with the way a right-handed person plays?

And the answer is…it depends. It depends on whether you are brand new and have never picked up the guitar or you have been working at it for a while.

 

WHAT DOES PLAYING “LEFT-HANDED” REALLY MEAN?

Here’s the deal: playing guitar left-handed is a misnomer. There really is no right-handed or left-handed. Sounds confusing right? Everyone has heard of the left-handed guitar. What about Jimi Hendrix? Didn’t he play left-handed? Let me explain it like this: If you were playing the piano and you were left-handed, would you switch your hands around?

Most people can immediately visualize how silly that would be. The reason we get confused with the guitar is that one end looks different from the other. It doesn’t really matter, because both hands have to learn roughly the same amount of complex movements.

There’s no reason to switch the guitar around. If fact, the left hand will have to perform more complex movements than the right hand, at least in the beginning. It’s right-handed people who should be switching the guitar around!

 

WHAT ABOUT JIMI HENDRIX?

What about Jimi Hendrix (one of my inspirations)? He just didn’t know better. He was great in spite of playing upside down and backwards. That’s what it actually is by the way: upside down and backwards. Not left-handed. Hendrix would have been great if he played the guitar straight up, behind his back, or standing on his head. Human beings are capable of incredible things.

What about the guitars for sale that are “left-handed.”? One word—marketing. They found a certain number of people who either believed they needed a “left-handed” guitar or who had been playing upside down and backwards. They knew these people would buy it, so companies made it for sale.

 

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UPSIDE DOWN AND BACKWARDS

There are problems with learning and playing a guitar upside down and backwards. You will always have to translate what another guitarist is doing in order to learn from it. It’s like learning by looking in a mirror. Everything look backwards.

You won’t be able to pick up a friend’s guitar and play it. It won’t be strung the same way as yours unless he happens to be in the same boat. You won’t be able to buy the majority of guitars in the music store, and you’ll always have to pay more for a comparable left-handed version.

You’ll have less choice of instructors available to you, and you’ll have a harder time with guitar videos and instruction books. Since it’s just not necessary, or even useful, I strongly recommend that if you are starting out, and you’re left handed, you learn with a right-handed guitar like anyone else.

 

SHOULD I CHANGE THE WAY I'M PLAYING?

What if you’ve been playing upside down and backwards already?

If you’ve been playing guitar “left-handed” for any significant period of time I most likely wouldn’t try to change you. It’s very difficult to undo the habits you’ve already created, and quite demotivating. It’s likely better to continue in the direction you’ve been going and buy a left- handed guitar.

A guitar manufactured to be played this way has been designed to sound and work better than a regular guitar turned upside down and strung backwards. In the big picture, practice will make all the difference.

 

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Tell Us What You Think – Please Comment Below!

We would love to hear your comments and questions. What specific things are you struggling with while learning guitar?

 

Tomas Michaud

Author - Tomas Michaud at Real Guitar Success
Tomas Michaud is an American born guitarist and music educator with a French Canadian heritage. He first developed the Starland Guitar System in 1982 when his 9 year old daughter asked him to teach her guitar. Since then he’s founded the Starland School of Music in the SF Bay Area, and RealguitarSuccess.com.

When he's not making guitar instruction videos or creating more music to record (currently 7 CDs including Beauty and Fire) he's riding his bike along the beach with his dog Marco Polo or traveling to interesting places with his lovely wife Pui.
Tomas Michaud

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    11 Comments

  1. What a load of utter nonsense. Clearly written by someone who isn’t lefthanded and therefore does not know what he is talking about. I play lefthanded, NOT because I didn’t know any better, but because after trying to play righthanded for a long while, I realized I didn’t have a choice. My lefthand was stronger and holding a guitar lefthanded (or upside down) felt more natural. My brother was learning the same time I did and he was totally at ease learning righthanded, because he is righthanded.

    Kiely Peter

    July 7, 2016

    • Hi Kiely, I’m glad you found a way to play guitar that works for you. I never pretend to have the “only right way” and only offer advice that works for most people. And I would never tell Jimi Hendrix how to play guitar 🙂 That said I didn’t make up the issues in my article off the top of my head. As the director of a music school I’ve had exposure to hundreds (possibly thousands) of students and listened to many of their experiences and struggles learning. In addition I’ve also talked to many other guitar teachers about this issue. I wish you the best Kiely.

      Tomas

      September 13, 2016

  2. Hello Sir ,

    My Name Is Arjun Kumar Dhar . I am From India . Since Childhood to this Time I almost Do Everything By left hand exept writting , so naturally when i started to learn guitar i try to learn in right handed way but its really uncomfortable and disturbing to me…and then i started left handed…and its feel natural to me…if i cant play something…just holding the guitar in this way i feel great ….and here is thing i want to share with you and that is…
    the guitar is given by my elder brother and its a right hand regular cutaway guitar …first i get confused that how i play the guitar in that way…the string direction is opossite…so i change the bridge and nut direction and reverse the string…and its look like a mirror image of right hand guitar…and i start practicing in that way… and just 4 months ago i starting to learn guitar…and yestarday i found your chord shifting lession video in youtube and then i found your blog…today…thank you very much sir for the video…its really easy and understanding…and obviously now i have to often searching your blog…pardon me for my english…
    that i want to ask you one thing is that…..what i do this to the guitar changing direction of strings is it right ???…or i have to buy a left hand guitar…please sir suggest me , what i do…

    Arjun Kumar Dhar

    July 12, 2016

    • Hi Arjun, I’m glad you found a way of playing guitar that works for you. The actual bracing on the inside of a good left-handed guitar is different than a right-handed and would sound better. It’s a small difference and probably not worth worrying about as a beginner.

      Tomas

      September 13, 2016

  3. Excellent advice on left-hand guitar,I have taught several left-hand players, and I always advise to try and play right handed to begin. However if the left handed person insists on playing left-handed then I find left-hand chords charts etc

    Ger

    April 3, 2018

    • Yes, I agree with you Ger. – Tomas

      Tomas Michaud

      April 5, 2018

  4. It’s incredible to me that you call Hendrix one of your “inspirations” yet you insult his knowledge and intelligence by saying he “just didn’t know better.” Not only is it insulting to his memory and genius, but it’s factually wrong. Curious, that you’re ignorant of the fact that your “inspiration” was forced by his superstitious parents who saw left-handedness as something that was “of the devil” to do *everything* right-handed, including playing guitar at first. Well, when they were around, anyway. Jimi being the genius he was, he could play a flipped-over righty just as well as a guitar that was strung lefty, but he definitely “knew better” which of his hands was better at fretting and which at picking and strumming. And all the other insane stuff he could do on a guitar that can’t really be called either fretting or strumming.

    I’ve nothing at all against lefties who find they’re able to play just fine on a traditionally-strung guitar. Pity those of us who play lefty are so often not afforded similar respect. I’ve actually had people get *angry* at me for having and playing left-handed guitars. Just…bonkers.

    Also, we’re not “upside down and backwards.” We’re just left-handed. Good lord, why does this bother some people so much that we play the way our bodies tell us we should play?

    Christopher Hoover

    July 5, 2018

  5. Erm the egyptians were left handed they wernt backwards either

    Peter

    November 6, 2018

    • Thanks Peter. I learn something new every day. -Tomas

      Tomas Michaud

      November 23, 2018

  6. There is a reason why most people have been taught to play with dominant hand by the strings and non-dominant on the fretboard.

    Think about the hand holding a pick, it’s a single pivot point..Try 1/16th notes on the left and then the right hand. you’ll find the dominant hand will obviously work out better.

    Now let’s try this on the fretboard, you’ll also find you’re dominant hand more capable..But the non-dominant hand can be trained, and become stronger with time..On the fret board it’s one finger per fret..

    For all stringed instruments the non-dominant hand is on the fretboard and dominant by the strings, it’s a time tested, most efficient, way to play guitar.

    My advice is righties play right, lefties play left..

    I’m a lefty, I’ve played both right and left handed, I think I’m playing better left handed because I’m playing the way right handers play, really! (Dominant on Strings, Non-dominant on the frets).

    I find that the dominant(string) hand is the driving hand the fretting hand the follower…If you reverse it and you put the dominant hand on the fretboard, it becomes the driver..Your no-dominant is by the strings (generally flopping about, in an uncoordinated fashion)

    Generally a lefty can learn righty guitar, but speed and accuracy and nuance will evade.

    There are many examples of lefties playing righty. Paul Simon, David Bowie..

    One (Paul Simon) is a strummer/fingerstyle guitarist and Bowie is a strummer..

    They can play, but it’s not speed metal, that’s for sure!

    Ralph

    October 23, 2019

    • Thanks, Ralph. This is interesting. Not sure I agree, but you make a good argument.

      Tomas Michaud

      November 9, 2019

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