Happy International Left-Handers Day! Did you know that left-handed people make up only 10% of the population? If you are right-handed, you may not realize how being left-handed poses a few challenges. And if you are left-handed, let us know: did you experience these same challenges?
Learning guitar can present a challenge because the traditional way of holding the guitar means the right hand is the picking hand. This can be especially difficult for some songs that have fast passages and patterns. Many left-handed guitarists make it work, but some purchase or adapt guitars to be able to be held in the opposite direction. These guitars are re-strung so that the higher-pitched string remains in the bottom position. Another challenge for some is that guitar tablature then appears upside down. Many have risen to the challenge, though, and become quite successful. Did you know that Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix were both left-handed?
Violins are traditionally held with the left hand, which means the right arm is doing the bowing. Some left-handed violinists say they believe this makes it easier since the left-hand fingers have to move quickly along the fingerboard. This makes sense if you are thinking about dexterity and finger independence. Yet some left-handed violinists express frustration that their left arm doesn’t get to create that singing tone and depth of expression. To that end, some artisans have designed violins that are meant to be held in the right hand. Charlie Chaplin was famous not only for acting but also for playing a left-handed violin. These violins are mirror images of standard violins and require changes to be made to the neck and interior. Left-handed violinists who choose to play in an orchestra, however, would likely need to play the standard violin so when bowing next to other violinists the bows don’t run into each other. It is also more difficult to find a teacher who is willing to teach on a left-handed violin.
Typically drum kits have the hi-hat on the left side with the bass drum pedal being played with the right foot. In the typical cross-hand style of playing, this allows the right hand and the right foot to be in sync where needed. Left-handed drummers can set up the drum kit to allow for that to be in reverse so they can use their dominant hand on the oft-used hi-hat. However, this makes it difficult to play in bands or open-mic nights where drummers rotate. Learning to play with an open-handed style instead of arms crossed can help with this challenge. Even some right-handed drummers prefer this method because it allows more freedom and makes it easier to play stronger snare hits. This site provides even more benefits for those who learn open-handed drumming.
Many piano arrangements of pop tunes and classic hits utilize chords in the left hand, while the right hand plays the melody. This means the notes played in the right hand need to be heard above those being played with the left. It may take more practice to listen to your sound to create that even tone and not let the left-hand sound dominate. Having more dexterity in your left hand, though, can be a huge benefit when playing pieces that have many runs and trills. Baroque music often incorporates counterpoint, or two melodies happening at the same time, and right-handed pianists sometimes express frustration that their left-hand passages are harder to perfect. One study found, however, that if handedness affected the ability to play the piano, the amount and method of practice obscures that discovery.6 So, focus on listening carefully to your sound and remind yourself that for each note you play you are firing neurons in your brain. The more neuronal pathways that get reused, the faster the brain can communicate with the body—and the faster you can play your instrument.
In his book Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys But Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life, Samuel Wang explains, “One out of seven left-handers represent language on both sides of the brain. That’s in contrast to one out of 20 right-handers. The advantage of having twice as much [brain] real estate for handling language could account for verbally gifted [left-handers].” Since music is a language, left-handed musicians may have an advantage! So, if you are left-handed and struggling with some of the challenges above, know you are not alone. You bring unique talents and viewpoints that history has shown only improve an instrument design and performance technique. So, what do you wish was different? We’d love to know!