As a left-handed guitar player, you may have questions about learning, playing or purchasing a guitar. If you are just getting started on guitar, you may even question whether you should play left- or right-handed. Although some left-handed people decide to jump in and play right-handed with the thought that they can change later, you will save time and avoid struggle by starting correctly.
Avoiding a Poor Decision
When making the decision to play either left- or right-handed guitar, you will want to consider your body’s natural rhythmic responses and the ease with which you are able to handle the instrument. Avoid the temptation to begin your guitar career with an instrument chosen primarily out of convenience. You may happen upon a free or inexpensive guitar, but unless it is appropriate to your musical goals and your body type, you will find playing to be a struggle.
Be equally cautious when gathering advice. There are plenty of misconceptions regarding left-handed playing, such as that it is more difficult to learn on a left-handed guitar or that quality instruments are too expensive or hard to find. In fact, it is no more difficult to learn left-handed guitar than right and you will find ample options for instruments. Take the time to discover the approach that is best for you. Handedness is not a matter of opinion – it’s part of who you are!
Two Tests to Help Determine Handedness
The majority of left handed people choose to play right handed and are comfortable and successful doing so. Many people, however, really need to play left-handed guitar. I have two ways of helping my left-handed students determine the optimum direction.
I first ask the student to use each hand separately to clap a few rhythmic patterns while I watch and listen for coordination, strength and accuracy. Right-handed people will have stronger rhythm in their right side, but surprisingly, many left-handed people will, too. These people all belong in the right-handed guitar-playing group. If the person performs the rhythmic exercises more easily and correctly with the left hand, I strongly suspect they will do better as a left-handed guitar player.
I then ask the person to sit and hold the guitar both ways, to allow me to see which way is more natural. I have always found the result to be consistent with the first test.
Both of these tests require an observer who is musically skilled, has a keen eye and is educated in body mechanics. If you are in doubt about your guitar handedness and don’t have a helper with these attributes, I am happy to help you and can easily do so via webcam. (Email me or read about options here.)
Left-Handed Guitar Options
In order to hold the guitar as a left-handed player, simply take the guitar of your choice and turn it upside down. Once you have found a comfortable position, you will be faced with two options: play it as it is, with the sixth string (the largest) on the bottom and the high E string on the top, or re-string the guitar so that the strings are in the usual order.
If you choose to restring the guitar, as most left-handed players do, you will be able to play mirror image to right-handed players. Because the pick guard, cutaway and controls are not in the usual places with this configuration, some guitarists prefer a guitar that is made for left-handed players. Nonetheless, many others have achieved success playing upside down, unaltered guitars. (Check out videos of Jimi Hendrix using the controls above the strings.)
Folk icon Elizabeth Cotton, surf guitar king Dick Dale and blues master Albert King are three famous left-handed guitarists who, instead of re-stringing an upside down guitar, chose to play with the sixth string on the bottom and the high E string on the top. Each of these profoundly influential artists produced a unique sound that is widely mimicked by right-handed guitarists.
Regardless of your handedness, it is important to practice healthy posture and technique in order to meet your personal musical goals and avoid pain. Keep an open mind, learn about music, learn about yourself and have a good time. Playing guitar is just plain fun, whether you play upside down, right-side up or behind your head!
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