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I am looking to get a guitar for my step son.

He is largely left handed, but currently he plays the drums right handed without any difficulty.

Would the same apply with learning guitar from scratch?

Learning right handed has the obvious advantage that right handed guitars seem to be much more available. Everyone has a right handed guitar, so it would be easier for him to just pick up a friends guitar at a jam. Also, it would be possible for me to play it to show him the ropes.

What is the reasoning behind needing to strum with you dominant hand? Is it learned or is there an essential physiological barrier here that is no point trying to overcome?

I don't want to put him off playing by buying an instrument that he can't play, so will get a lefty if I have to...

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Many guitars are symmetric and you can just reverse the strings (with caveats, see the next comment. My guitar has an easily-exchanged nut and reversible bridge). – Matthew Read Nov 11 '11 at 14:27
@MatthewRead the notches in the nut are sized for conventional stringing. Also the bridge is set up to give the right intonation for the conventional strings. Many acoustic guitars have non-adjustable bridges. – slim Nov 11 '11 at 17:16
Thanks for pointing, the answers there were very helpful, I guess it is just a matter of trying out and finding which one is best, although my main concern was, like many pointed out, the strumming, which I felt could be easier with the left hand. I guess I'll be experimenting with it very soon. – vinir Dec 28 '11 at 17:00
Don't forget every violinist learns to play the same regardless of handedness! – NReilingh Feb 1 '13 at 20:13
If it is at all possible get him on a right hand guitar. He will have his strong hand on the neck which would be great. – Neil Meyer Nov 27 '13 at 12:09

16 Answers 16

I am left handed, but play guitar right handed with no problems. My 10 year old son does some things left handed and some things right handed (including playing guitar). I think as long as he's not trying to "un-learn" how to play left handed he shouldn't have any issues.

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It's a matter of experimentation.

Some left-handers play right-handed.

Some left-handers play a right-handed guitar, but hold it with the neck to the right, so the bass string is nearest the floor. They learn the chord shapes up-side-down. As you've already observed, this is handy for picking up someone else's guitar and jamming.

Some left-handers play left-handed guitars.

Some right-handers play left-handed guitars. Paul McCartney is a famous example; he is right-handed for most tasks, but he struggled with the guitar until someone suggested he try a left-handed one.

I suppose the easiest way to find out is to watch how he instinctively holds a guitar.

To avoid spending money on a lefty guitar, you could try him out on a right-handed guitar restrung with the strings the other way around. If it turns out to be more than a temporary experiment, you'd want to have the guitar set up for that configuration (adjustments to the nut and the bridge), and of course if there's a scratch plate or a cutaway, those would be in the wrong place -- and when that becomes an irritation, it's time to invest in a left-handed guitar.

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Using a right-handed guitar left-handed, it will be possible to use the lower four strings to play major and minor bar chords in any inversion without "crossing fingers". I'm right handed, and I haven't tried playing a left-handed guitar, but when I started trying to play the instrument, I was curious to try a left-handed guitar for that reason (as it is, I tune my upper strings to minor thirds to achieve a similar effect). – supercat Jul 9 '13 at 15:47
What do you mean by "crossing fingers"? It seems to me that playing the mirror image of a F/Fm/B/Bm are all easy enough shapes to achieve. – slim Jul 9 '13 at 16:02
An Ab chord (the lowest closed-form bar chord) on the bottom four strings would be 4311XX. If one reverses the string order, the pinky plays the first (bass) string, the ring finger plays the second string but may safely touch the first, and the index finger plays third and fourth strings but may safely touch the first and second. – supercat Jul 9 '13 at 16:53
Good answer. Just one point: so far I know Paul McCartney isn't right-handed but left-handed to most tasks (if not at all) wirting, footing, eating, etc – Jack Oct 14 '14 at 1:57

That your son already plays right-handed drums is a good indicator that he will be able to play right-handed guitar.

I claim this, since the right hand (whether on the hi-hat or ride) in drums plays an identical role to the right hand (strumming) a guitar. Many drum beats require straight 8th/16th notes on the hi-hat (ride), and - at least for acoustic guitar - downstrokes on the guitar are typically straight 8th/16th notes as well. (And accented sticking would be analogous to strum patterns...)

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it is funny that I never thought about this, but the left hand for a right-handed guitar player is actually doing a lot of the hardest bits (at least for rock music). – horatio Nov 11 '11 at 21:32

Some of my favorite guitarists -- Mark Knopfler and Duane Allman come to mind first -- are left-handed people who play right-handed. And at least one guitarist I know of -- Eric Gales -- is a right-handed guitarist who plays left-handed. Name a way you can play a guitar and I can name a guitarist who made brilliant music like that.

But I would certainly try right-handed before you go left-handed, to see if you could pick that up, because the choices of instruments are just that much greater. If you want a right-handed Strat, you have lots of choices. If you want a left-handed Fender Strat, you have the choice of white, black or sunburst.

Also, consider an orchestra. You think all the people in the strings section are right-handed? But they all play right-handed, because ... if they didn't, they'd always poke each other with the bows.

But, ultimately, for me, I tried to learn lefty, only about 25 years ago, and my left hand always wanted to turn out and my right hand wanted to turn in. Playing lefty just felt wrong. Playing righty might just be wrong for your stepson, like playing lefty is for me.

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I'll add Steve Morse and Mattias Eklundh to the list. I actually asked Mattias how it felt learning to play right-handed guitar and he replied "As far as I'm concerned I'm playing left-handed guitar" ^^ – Pif Nov 14 '11 at 14:23
Also Robert Fripp is left handed but plays right handed. – No'am Newman Dec 5 '13 at 4:24
Would certainly add Steve Morse, Mattias IA Eklundh and Robert Fripp to the list of my favorite guitarists. Mattias is a freak. – VarLogRant Jun 2 '14 at 14:04

My brother is left-handed, and learned the bass guitar "normally" (right-handed). When he first picked one up, the right-handed orientation was comfortable to him.

IME, whether you're "left-handed" or "right-handed" at anything is a coin toss. I'm right-handed in almost everything I do, but I shoot left in hockey. It's the oddest thing, cause I bat and golf right-handed (opposite hand position).

I would put the guitar in his hands and ask if it feels comfortable. If it does not, then flip the guitar over. If that feels more "natural" to him, then he's a Southpaw plain and simple, and he has three choices in a right-handed world; learn to play right-handed anyway (despite it feeling "odd"; he will gain some feeling of familiarity with practice), learn to play ambidextrously (so he can play a right or left-handed guitar), or learn to play "upside-down" (quite a few notable Southpaws learned the guitar/bass by flipping a right-hander over so the high E is on top of the guitar, and mirroring all the chord and scale patterns).

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Let him try a guitar of each type, but I don't think he will have any problem learning and playing a right-handed guitar. My brother is left handed but he started playing a right-handed bass some years ago, and since then he has been able to play some guitar and uke too with no problem.

Also, as you pointed out, it will be easier for you to teach him (and easier for him to jam with someone's guitar).

But if you can, let him try a left-handed, so he can judge what suits him better, and if the difference isn't noticeable, I'd go right-handed (for the benefits explained before).

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The answer is definitely yes. The preference for using one hand to another is generally tempered by other activities of skill in these modern times. It is now more common than ever to find left-handed individuals being able to perform right-handed activities, as you say your step-son can play right handed drums.

I myself was a right-handed guitar (Hendrix) beginner when I was 10 years old and I forced myself to play guitar on the left - my dominant hand (right) thus becoming the strumming hand. This was not natural for about 3 months but again, the through practice and conditioning, like all skills, this can be acquired.

The reason I will put forward for the dominant hand being the strumming hand is due to rhythm and your possession or control of it. Ambidexterity (which is rare in guitarists) is where a player has cross-dominance of either hand. This means that you essentially do not have a MUSCULAR PREFERENCE. But most of us do not have cross-dominance - but prefer a side. In fact, humans as a species tend to be more right-handed. Some studies indicate that this right-handedness has something to do with the right hand's (and the brain's) ability to interpret and perform rhythmic patterns.



I'm not a neuroscientist, but it's interesting to note that the DOMINANT hand has been observed to be able to carry a constant and "faster" beat. ie. 16ths notes as opposed to 1/4 th notes: similar to a drum pattern for a standard drummer where the high-hat is tapped by the right hand and the "slower" beat is kept by the left.

So, the guitar without the fretting, is essentially a rhythm instrument. The strumming hand needs to perform a skilled task of keeping time and being dextrous to also be able to accent individual notes/strings. This is similar to the drummer analogy above. This preference is innate and "natural" - similar to tapping your hands against your hips, one keeps a fast beat the other keeps a slow beat but both in time - which hand do you prefer for the faster/slower? This simple test should be a good indicator of which end your guitar will go.

Most people focus solely on the fretting hand as being the driving factor in determining guitar "sides". I think this is really a judgement of comfort between the jobs that the two hands need to perform: If there is a natural order to strike the strings instead of intricate finger-work you will quickly see this and that should determine whether you are left/right handed.

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So... perhaps this is why lefty drummers usually hit the hi-hat with the left hand? This is some interesting info. I wonder how it affects me now that I'm playing the Stick, tapping the bass strings with the left hand, which is new to the fretboard after years and years of playing guitar and bass... – Chochos Jul 2 '13 at 5:01

If your main aim is to be able to play a regular guitar wherever you go, I would suggest learning regular, but as a pianist I would imagine you could learn either way.

Various famous guitar players learnt the 'wrong' way so it shouldn't stop you, and it will make understanding tablature simpler.

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I am left handed and learned right-handed guitar without too much trouble. The first few weeks are a bit awkward but it goes away completely after the hump. Nice left-orientation classical guitars are extremely expensive and not as common. There is also the consideration that 90% of the people who you hand your guitar to won't be able to play it. – enthdegree Jan 24 '12 at 16:08

I've been playing for 20 years, am left handed, and learned right-handed. In my opinion, this made it easier for me to learn, as my dominant hand was doing the "more complicated" stuff for a long time. The strumming is largely simple motions unless you're looking at playing really sweet fingerstyle (which you shouldn't have a problem with anyhoe if you're picking up piano).

The other major benefit to learning right-handed is that it'll be way easier to play guitars that other people have.

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I would definitely recommend learning left-handed. I initially began playing musical instruments (violin) at an extremely early age, before I or my parents knew I was left-handed. The teacher said "get a right-handed violin because left-handed violins are rare and typically far more expensive". I learned how to play righty, but I was always behind my peers which was frustrating but, in hindsight, was the result of having a more difficult time learning. I still play right-handed, and learned guitar right-handed, and overcame the obstacle, but, in my eyes, any way to remove obstacles in learning a new (and often frustrating) instrument further ensure your maintained level of interest and enjoyment.

Of course, the best answer is to learn both hands...

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I have that kind of feeling too, that I might be a little slow if I decide to go the righty way instead of the natural one. But as I stated before, I really would like the idea of being capable of jamming anywhere, not only when I'm with my custom guitar, although that might be thinking to much ahead. If you managed to survive and overcome your problem with the right-handed violin, I guess I could try it out. – vinir Jan 7 '12 at 2:15
I understand where you're coming from about having to have your custom guitar for jamming, but if you know you're going to be somewhere that jamming is going to happen then bring your guitar! Playing someone else's guitar kind of sucks. Their action might be too high, too low, or their string gauge could be different than what you're used to. It's nice to be able to just jam with anything on hand, but having your own instrument with you is the way to go. – MrTheBard Feb 11 '14 at 15:33

Jimmy Hendrix played a right handed guitar left handed his whole life, it is possible but like everything else it will need some practice.

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I am a lefty and play righty guitar. I can finger pick ok and am learning alternating bass finger style and also singing to strumming. The finger picking felt mind bending at first but is getting easier. I picked up a lefthander guitar the other day and it felt super weird. My left hand is however much stronger and more dexterous than my right. Sometimes I wonder if whoever invented guitar had it backwards, or maybe they were a lefty embittered by the righty dominated world and took revenge by making them play backwards. Driving with a stick shift feels good being a lefty, I get to hold the wheel with my dominant hand, and it would feel pretty bizarre the other way around, like in England.

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I'm left-handed but I've played guitar right-handed for decades, reaching a rather competent level in classical guitar before I quit at my 20s because I got bored with classical guitar repertoire.

If holding your guitar left-handed feels more natural, go with leftie, whatever the cost. For a beginner a fretting hand might feel having a more demanding job but actually the plucking/picking hand is more important. Yes, even if you like to play slurs and legatos.

That's because you'll always have a better command on your dominant hand. This affects the rhythm and precision, the things that in the end make your playing sound good or bad.

I'm personally learning electric guitar and occasionally thinking about learning to play it left-handed. Especially because I still tend to strum air guitar like a southpaw.

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My older brother who is left handed learned left handed guitar. I would suggest that you do the same. Do not allow us right handed folks to corrupt you and make you think that you must adapt to our right handed ways! Embrace the left hand and get a left handed guitar.

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A friend told me about a show she attended the other night: one guitarist, playing solo. He is left handed and plays a 'normal' guitar upside down (ie the pick guard is above the sound hole and not below), but the strings are strung 'normally' (in other words, the high E is on the top side of the guitar whereas the low E is on the bottom side). As far as I know, Jimi Hendrix used to play a normal guitar but would restring so that the low E as on the top and high E on the bottom.

The obvious advantage of this setup is that the guitarist can play any guitar that he comes across. The obvious disadvantage is that most learning material has to be read in a mirror fashion. Apparently he strums upwards as opposed to the normal down strum.

So, as a left hander, you have a variety of options:

  1. Play right handed (famous examples: Robert Fripp, Mark Knopfler)
  2. Play left handed on a normal guitar, strung reverse (Jimi Hendrix)
  3. Play left handed on a normal guitar, normally strung (above example)
  4. Play a left handed guitar

Final advice: do whatever is most natural for you!

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Do you mean a right handed guitar, left handed?

That is most unconventional, however some people have played like that their whole career.

Albert King

Kristopher Roe Of The Ataris

Gurrumul Yunupingu

But playing a right handed guitar, left handed, with the strings rearranged should be no problem. What ever is most comfortable.

Also, I'd suggest learning on a nylon classical guitar. Restring according to left/right preference.

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