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I've been asked to teach someone to play drums. I noticed that he's predominantly left-handed. I play right-handed, and feel that for his future, he'll be better off learning with the kit set up normally.

What advantages/disadvantages will there be for him? Will it mean his potential progress will be slower, or would he eventually end up just as good as if he had a lefty kit. There seem to be a lot of good lefty drummers out there who play standard, so what are their secrets? Not seeking opinions, but experiences from players/teachers, please.

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The "left-handed" musicians (and people) that I know are not 100% left handed (hence the quotes). For example, my nephew writes with his left hand but plays violin right-handed and uses a computer mouse in his right hand. Other musicians I've known both write and play "left handed".

In short, my experience is that there is an overall misconception about handedness in that it is binary and applies to everything. While most people do everything right handed, I know many people (including myself) who do some things with one apparent handedness and other things with the opposite handedness.

I disagree that drumming is ambidextrous. Hi hat and snare techniques are different, and usually they are played at the same time, so players of drum kits will have one hand trained for the hi hat and the other hand trained for the snare.

If I were in your situation, I would work with the student as early as possible in the process to get to the bottom of whether they feel at all more comfortable one way or the other. They might naturally feel more comfortable playing right handed, or they might not care one way or the other. If they feel more comfortable with a left handed setup, I suggest you may do them a great disservice by teaching them to play right handed instead.

It may seem like a lefty drummer will have a disadvantage in kit setups, and there is a little bit of truth to this. When I stage managed a festival where our target changeover time was five minutes (!!), we had a few lefty drummers come through and we knew we would not be able to switch the kit right to left in such a short amount of time. So that was inconvenient, but that is an unusual situation.

Every other situation I've been in, the drums are personal enough and setup time is reasonable enough that lefty drummers have basically had the same amount of work to do as righty drummers in terms of setup. Bass players don't seem to have a consensus on whether they generally prefer hi hat side or floor tom side of the kit, so that's not an advantage or disadvantage either.

Finally, unlike guitars and basses, there is no special equipment for left handed drummers - it's all the same gear, just set up differently. So there's no disadvantage there.

So pros of a lefty setup for lefty drummers is they are more comfortable and likely will learn faster and enjoy it more. Cons are virtually none. While pros for righty setup for a lefty drummer are virtually none and cons are the exact opposite of the pros for a lefty setup.

Find out this particular student's particular preference and honor it. If they have no preference, go righty.

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As with almost all instruments, a successful player uses both hands for a wide variety of actions. For all practical purposes, a percussionist becomes ambidextrous. There is no advantage to reversing a setup, and it'll be much easier for him to "sit in" if he's trained in a standard orientation.

I mean, could you imagine teaching a lefty to play piano entirely cross-handed? :-) .

With apologies to Paul and Jimi.

  • Piano, no I couldn't. However, we're talking about something that can be, and sometimes is, moved around to accomodate. I'm trying, with the question, to find reasons why it's like it is - favouring, possibly, right-handed players, and what disadvantages there may be for someone who is not right-handed. – Tim Aug 31 '17 at 17:47
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    I disagree on the ambidexterity of kit drumming. Hi hat and snare techniques are not interchangable, and as a bit of a drummer who plays right handed, I'm completely useless sitting behind a kit that is set up lefty style. – Todd Wilcox Aug 31 '17 at 19:37
  • @ToddWilcox I understand your point. I misled you there -- what I meant was that a new learner can be taught to work with either a LH or RH drumset regardless of his handedness. Absolutely true that, once you've learned, it will be insane to try to play a mirror setup. – Carl Witthoft Sep 1 '17 at 11:52
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Yeah. Teach him to play the normal way. Any preference otherwise will be more political than practical.

  • But - his 'normal way' would most likely be the opposite from a right handed person's. There must be reasons why drum kits are set up as they are. I'm trying to elicit reasons, and reasons why or not this is good for lefties. – Tim Aug 31 '17 at 17:44
  • There's a convention. I'm not too sure there's a reason, particularly one applicable to today's playing techniques. – Laurence Payne Aug 31 '17 at 17:49
  • @Tim As a right handed drummer, I feel the dexterity demanded by popular hi hat and ride cymbal rhythms is easier to play with my more dexterous right hand. The typical snare rhythms that I play with my left hand require a lot less finesse. – Todd Wilcox Aug 31 '17 at 20:10
  • @ToddWilcox that just means you need to follow the rule about getting to Carnegie Hall :-) – Carl Witthoft Sep 1 '17 at 11:53

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