January 19

Learning Guitar If You’re Left Handed?

23  comments

Old man with straw hat playing acoustic guitar on bench

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.

 

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.

 

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?

 

Wanna hear from a left handed guitarist? Check this out...

Tomas Michaud
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  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.

    1. 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.

  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…

    1. 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.

  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

    1. Hey, Tomas! I don't know if I agree with you. In fact, I would say this is more challenging for righty teachers than it is for any students. They're the only ones who are not okay with lefty guitars.

      I have met many lefties who try many things both ways like I and probably most lefties do. Some kick with right foot but throw with left. Some drum normally somehow where I lose my beat if I try to run a snare with my left, dominant hand. The list can go on.

      What you may not realize, though, is that left-handed guitars serve a purpose to those of us who are so damn pure lefty, that even hundreds or thousands of practice hours don't change the fact that I can STILL do some things better with a non-practiced left hand compared to my right, solely based on my brain's wiring and the other skills my dominant hand already knows.

      After three years of playing, I could STILL flip my standard axe over and keep a better strum for longer with my dominant wrist. I eventually bought a lefty axe and I am so glad I did. Now I have two guitarists inside of one body. Two different styles, sounds, set of emotions.

      You may not realize this as a non-lefty or a "kinda lefty"… one of those folks who writes with a left hand but does other things "commonly" as I like to say.

      Last point: I'm pushing 40 and still saw the public school system inhibit lefties from using their dominant hand for writing, sports etc. It has only become better for us as time goes on; I know people 10-20 years older than me saw even more extreme methods of getting the lefty out of a person in school. As time goes on, I think you will see increased need for lefty guitars. You know, now that we aren't being told our nature is wrong as frequently as we were not long ago at all.

      For any other lefties reading this, I encourage using righty materials. It might take a little bit but your brain will mirror them. Then you have access to chord charts and such from anyone. You can also scan, flip the image on a computer 180 degrees, reprint.

      1. Hi Randall. Thanks for taking the time to comment. That is an interesting idea that that the guitars are more challenging for the teacher than the student. It seems like it could have merit even though I personally have never had a student with a left-handed guitar. My ideas for this article came from reading many other articles by both teachers and students or left-handed. I certainly know some left-handed people disagree.

        One point of clarification in your response. You talk about “the public school system inhibiting lefties from using their dominant hand for writing, sports etc.” The point I was trying to get across was that both hands need to learn what to do more or less equally to play guitar. Whether you are right or left-handed the dominant hand doesn’t have to do the most complicated work, unlike writing or some sports where you’re using just one hand.

  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?

  5. 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!

  6. I am a left-hander but started playing guitar right-handed as a teen. Kept at it for four years that way but never got very good. Some things — like barre chords and note bending — came fairly easily but everything with my picking hand was awkward and sloppy. No amount of practicing seem to fix this. I considered giving up on the instrument entirely but decided I'd have my guitar converted to a left-handed model. It took a few months but I was soon playing better left-handed than I ever had right-handed. The truth is, some lefties can play a right-handed guitar just fine but others cannot. I'm thankful that there are options for lefty guitarists that allow them to fulfill their potentials as players.

  7. Hi, I used to play guitar right handed and I am a lefty. I am actually now learning left handed guitar and I have stopped right handed guitar playing. The reason is that I need the fine feeling on the fingertips of my left hand and the calluses built up from guitar playing affected that. I at the time was a paramedic and needed the fine sensitivity to feel pulses and blood vessels. So, yes there are reasons for doing this.

  8. I am a lefty. My guitar is strung lefty style. My brother is a righty and has many right guitars. Whenever I sat down and used his they never felt correct.

    Logically, If you go way back in history there must have been a reason that the right handed dominant society strung guitars for the non dominant hand to be on the fretboard. Otherwise they would have played it like a lefty. True? There was something that made them more comfortable picking with the dominant hand. So to tell a lefty that they should feel comfortable picking with the non dominant hand goes against the logic as to why guitars were created in the way they were in a right handed dominant society.

    Lesson online etc are soooooo much easier for lefties because you are looking at right handed instructors and see a mirror image which is easy to mimic. Same in a face to face instruction. Having the instructor across from you is great, including body posture.

  9. From experience: This is not exactly true. I am left handed and played right handed for 28 years. When switching to classical guitar I realised that the right hand (plucking hand) is the «make or break» of playing beautiful. Plucking is the task that creates the sound, and should be left to the dominant hand. At age 43 I made the switch to left handed guitar. It is a bit crazy as an amateur at this age to set out to do something that gives no
    meaning before at least 3000 hrs of practice – but I did. And glad I did. I already had my 10.000 hrs on right handed, so there is my testomony to the value of plucking with dominant hand.

  10. Hi I have been playing guitar a few weeks now, I am left handed for 90 percent of things. I have read a lot of conflicting info on web. I been playing right handed so far but as I progress I realise that my right hand is usless for strumming no rhythm. When I flip the guitar round everything feels great.
    I think you can’t really comment on this subject unless you are left handed.
    I’m going to try restring my guitar for now so I can play left handed.

    1. Hi Jules, do that switch! You're lucky to realizing that so soon, there are lefties who tried for months or even years before realizing that. From what I've seen, not even one has not been happy with the results they got after switching and going through the pain of relearning everything. The options of lefty guitars are limited and unless you enjoy restrung righty guitars, you will be limited but I've managed to find guitars I like at the end. Btw, for a restrung RH guitar, it's be ideal to switch the bridge and nut for optimal result. If you feel you wanna continue to play a lefty way, I'd recommend to get a true lefty guitar. 🙂
      I'm also like 90 % a lefty which is why I haven't really considered playing a right-handed guitar (except for fun) when starting. I'm actually planning on trying a RH guitar and test where I can get but I think I'm gonna have the same issue you're having – too weak sense of rhythm in the right hand.

  11. You're obviously right handed . I've never been able to even hold a guitar right handed from the first time I picked one up 40 years ago. I write left handed, play pool left handed, play tennis right handed and throw right handed but there's no possible way I could ever have played guitar right handed. I know that some left handed guitarists like Wilko Johnson have been able to play right handed but to tell people that there's no such thing as playing left handed is just plain wrong and very misleading

  12. I was born right handed and use my right hand exclusively for writing and eating. Tool usage is largely ambidextrous. Some activities such as gaming, keyboarding, and of course guitar playing, are two handed activities, but guitar is extremely asymmetrical by design.

    The left hand holds a chord while the right hand strums and keeps tempo. As much dexterity and strength is required by the left hand, the right or dominant hand is always the pacesetter. Its why arcade games place the action buttons on the right side and movement on the left. It's why we strum with the right hand.

    All of this can and should be reversed for left-handed players. I am a person of multiple hobbies and one of them is ceramics. The electric potters wheel was a thorn in my side during classes because they set to spin counterclockwise for right handed potters. Conventions be damned, when I got on the kickwheel, my right foot got tired of spinning the flywheel so I switched to the left foot and adjusted my hand position accordingly. I am a left-handed potter. Spinning the wheel retrograde feels natural to me. My dominant right hand is shaping the interior of the vase rather than exterior, and this pose is actually standard for japanese potters.

    What does this have to do with playing a guitar? Simple. Some people, are going to flip the guitar when they pick it up. These people should have a left handed guitar. The decision to learn left handed or right handed should not be dictated by convention but what feels natural. If a left handed person is comfortable learning right hand guitar, great. Otherwise, go to the store and demo a left hand guitar. If it feels natural, buy it.

  13. A lefty here. I chose to play a left-handed guitar. Why? Because it's where my sense for rhythm (especially when increasing speed) is – just like it is stronger in the right hand for right-handed people. For most of us, there are always exceptions, of course.
    Yes, some lefties have no trouble to adapt to a right-handed guitar. Great for them. Or maybe not. Maybe some of them never reach their full potential because of this choice.
    And many lefties that decided to play a righty guitar cos "it's hard anyway and it doesn't matter and you'll adapt and you'll have more guitar choices etc." are forced to switch at some point because it just doesn't work for them – and relearn everything! How demotivating it must be to realize that your choice of "being normal and playing a normal guitar" was the wrong choice and that you have to relearn everything because somebody more experienced advised you to to play right-handed??? And I have yet to see one who wasn't happy in the end they switched. Often they describe that it changed so much for them, stopped struggling so much to progress.
    If "both hands have to learn roughly the same amount of complex movements" were completely true, there wouldn't be people that have to play in one way and can't adapt to the other equally well. There also wouldn't be right-handed people who felt it a left-handed guitar was the right for them! Hardly anybody who considers themselves a right-handed person will willingly choose to play a lefty guitar since that comes with all these negatives.
    So, sorry, I can't agree with you. I think the right way is to determine which is the most natural way for the person in question and go with that, regardless of the perceived handedness. I think it's wrong to suggest that a lefty should always try a righty guitar as the first choice instead of going what feels natural, even if it's the most "strange" option of a right-handed person playing a lefty guitar. You remind me of the past where lefty children were forced to learn to write with their right hand cos that's the only right way. And maybe there would be more lefty guitars on the market to choose from if right handers would still try to force lefties to conform.
    PS: I don't require every one-handed object to offer in a lefty version. In many cases it's not that big of a deal. I can use a right-handed mouse or right-handed scissors just fine. But guitar is important to me and I don't compromise in that. I won't risk of not being able to reach my full potential.

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