Tips for the Left Handed Guitar Student
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.
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 (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.
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.
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.