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Looking at a recent question, my thoughts turned to instruments which can be played left- or right-handed, without alteration. Given that approx. 85% of us are right-handed, it's hardly surprising that most instruments are appropriately made. However, bugle/trumpet/flugel seem to be ambidextrous,as are drums, but maybe not a kit of drums, which often gets set up opposite by a lefty drummer. Which other instruments could fit into this category. And - apart from one left-handed piano I heard about (!!!!) are there specific other instruments ?

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I've often considered the guitar (which I've taught for many decades), as actually being better designed for lefties.Apart from finger picking or classical playing, the left hand fingers do most of the work. Right hand is more right arm when strumming.In fact, I think it's more versatile being played on one's lap, but still left-handed. Of course, most guitarists will disagree, as they've already learned the orthodox way. Food for thought? –  Tim May 22 '13 at 6:33
    
Long before I ever got shown the "correct" way to play a guitar, I naturally picked it up in the 'left-hand' position. It makes sense to me that my dominant (right) hand should do the intricate work of fretting the strings while my useless left hand just went back and forth strumming them. –  Widor May 22 '13 at 11:01
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I tried to play lefty guitar immediately after starting and it was incredibly unnatural and awkward, I was completely useless (and surprised since as Widor says my main hand out to be better at fretting). I'm strongly right handed in all respects -- writing, baseball, tennis, golf, hockey, etc. -- so take from that what you will. –  Matthew Read May 22 '13 at 19:22
    
Matthew, thanks for your input. I don't believe any of those activities use fingers, only full hands. Just a thought, as maybe the term 'handed' is actually too vague. –  Tim May 23 '13 at 13:39
    
"the left hand fingers do most of the work" just isn't right. The two hands do completely different kinds of work, but you can't really say which is more important, or more difficult. Nor is it actually correct to assert that a right-handed person is in every regard more skilled with their right hand; rather, there will be many things they can do better with the right hand – but possibly also a few where the left hand is better. I am left-handed, yet I can do a lot of things better with my right hand, the fretting of strings being amongst them – but not bowing or plucking. –  leftaroundabout May 26 '13 at 23:03
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5 Answers

TL;DR: With the notable exception of guitar, all classical instruments are taught "right-handed" regardless of handedness of the student, as there is no detriment past an intermediate level of instruction.


Now that I think of it, the only truly ambidextrous instruments might be the harmonica (since you can flip it upside down), slide whistle, handmade or otherwise invented instruments, or certain types of "found instrument" percussion.

Even instruments like the harp or piano have pedals to contend with that favor one side over the other, and all instruments with a keyboard layout are ordered low to high from left to right, which makes sense when you consider that bass lines are usually much less active than higher melody lines.

The vast majority of instruments, including all of the wind instruments and classical bowed string instruments, come in only one variety--and while that variety is biased towards right-handed people, they are learned by left-handed people all the time without alteration.

There are very few notable exceptions where instruments can be set up for left-handed people differently from right-handed people. Guitar and drum-set are the two that most readily come to mind, and I would attribute that to those instruments' sheer popularity and use in popular music, as contrasted with a more formal style of classical training used for other instruments.

Some specific examples addressing instruments referenced in previous answers that only come in one design:
- Snare Drum - music is written with L/R sticking
- Trombone - valve attachments can only be actuated by the left hand; teachers intend for the students to eventually graduate to instruments with a valve, so a reversed horn is never taught.
- Trumpet - 2nd valve slide and bell throat are designed so the instrument is held by the left hand
- Recorder - many soprano recorders come in one-piece varieties (without a separate bottom joint), and larger recorders only come in "right-handed" configuration, so, like the trombone, students will just be taught the standard configuration so they have more opportunities later
- Flute - even without keywork, they are typically designed with an important leading edge inside the tone hole that can only be blown across from one side with any success
- Theremin - In addition to the antennae designed ever-so-ergonomically to favor one side over the other, electronics controls are only located on one side of the instrument (ostensibly the one facing the player).

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Few classical guitars can be set up for left-handed play with no modification. At least the bridge must be skewed the other way. If the bracing is asymmetrical, it may or may not work, or even be damaged by reversing the string order. –  n.m. Jan 27 at 17:56
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A trumpet is difficult to play lefty, as the tuning valve is placed to one side of the main valve set, and hard to reach from the far side.

Now, any flat-necked string instrument (e.g., guitar, erhu, banjo) can be played as-is lefty, tho' you have to rethink your methodology since the strings are effectively reversed.

The recorder, at least the upper (no keys) ones, can be played lefty with a little finger stretching and rotation of the bottom joint. As to piano-- I'm not sure what you define as "lefty," given that both hands are pretty busy, and there are known pieces w/ cross-hand action. The washtub bass (or any single-string instrument) is ambidextrous. I dunno how accordionists would feel about their line of instruments being included here.

didgeridoo

Percussion instruments don't really count.

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Only higher pitched recorders (soprano and up, possibly alto) can be played with the right hand on top. Try playing a tenor or a bass with your right on top. Impossible –  American Luke May 21 '13 at 19:18
    
@Luke - that's why I put that disclaimer in there. Don't all tenors have keys for the bottom notes? –  Carl Witthoft May 21 '13 at 19:54
    
Not all, but if you look at the barrel of a recorder, the holes are not in a straight line. They are aligned on two curves, one for each hand (see the alto in this image). The curves are larger for the larger recorders. The alto, which never has keys is difficult to play with the hands switched unless you have unusually large hands, which few people do. –  American Luke May 21 '13 at 20:35
    
Apparently, some rich guy - muso - had a piano made that WAS left-handed, as in high notes on left. It may be an apochryphal story. –  Tim May 22 '13 at 5:39
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"Percussion instruments don't really count" - I've had the same problem with some drummers.......... –  Tim May 22 '13 at 5:57
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Here are some, in a wide sense, symetrical instruments:

  • Harp (possibly except for the pedals)
  • Trombone (without valve extensions)
  • Harmonica (with exceptions such as the double decked bass harmonica)
  • Theremin
  • Digeridoo and similar non-keyed instruments
  • Some flutes with straight finger holes
  • One-chord instruments such as a traditional washtub bass
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Playing the trombone wrong-handed is nontrivial, more so if you have a model w/ tuning valve. –  Carl Witthoft May 21 '13 at 19:07
    
@carl:Why would a regular trombone (w/o valves) be non-trivial to switch over? Except for my left arm being untrained I've found no problems when I've tried it. –  Ulf Åkerstedt May 21 '13 at 20:11
    
I wasn't certain how far one could rotate the slide with respect to the body. I'll defer to your experience. –  Carl Witthoft May 21 '13 at 21:20
    
My trombone (no valves) will rotate, so it could be played left-handed. –  Tim May 29 '13 at 15:45
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I'm a lefty and have been playing the Chapman Stick for a year now. I really believe this is an ambidextrous instrument. Usually, you play the bass strings with your left hand and the melody strings with your right, but you can also use your right thumb to tap a bass string or your left thumb to tap a melody string. Or you can play uncrossed (left hand on melody, right hand on bass), or play a bass part with both hands, or a melody with both hands, or even some more interesting harmonic stuff, playing "split arpeggios" or "big fat chords" with both hands, by leveraging the overlap between bass and melody.

When I first wanted a Stick I thought about ordering it "lefty", that is with the strings inverted, but then I decided against it after thinking about it for a while, realizing it's a completely different instrument and I should learn it as such, instead of wanting to "map" it as a bass+guitar or a piano.

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Tin whistle and their relative the low whistle are truly ambidextrous instruments.

There are some examples of the larger low whistles having their finger-holes offset from the centre line to make the reach slightly easier, but they aren't the norm.

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