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I don't think I've ever seen any orchestra that uses left handed violinists (or viola/cello/bass players). My guess is that they would clash with the rest of the violinists, and they would seem out of the flow with the rest of the musicians.

But what happens if a left handed violinist wants to play in an orchestra? Are there any regulations against it?

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    Maybe they just play the violin like the right-handed players do? I don't know anything about violin, but there definitely are left-handed people who play guitar right-handedly, eventhough left-handed guitars do exist and some people play them as well. (And by the way: when playing guitar, my left (i. e. off) hand definitely does most of the heavy work while the right (dominant) hand "slacks off".) – Ramillies Oct 12 '17 at 20:57
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    yes by tradition, all violinists are required to play right handed for the purpose of not accidentally slamming another guy's arm – Lenny Oct 12 '17 at 23:28
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    @Ramillies - this strengthens my theory that most of us should have learnt the guitar the other way round! – Tim Oct 13 '17 at 6:26
  • Can't remember seeing a left-handed string bassist, but they'd probably only be noticeable doing arco. Do you know of any? – Tim Oct 13 '17 at 6:40
  • Most left-handed musicians play "right-handed" anyway. It's such an anomaly to find a left-handed instrument that it wouldn't make sense for orchestras to make accommodations for it. – General Nuisance Oct 16 '17 at 23:15
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Do left handed violinists play in orchestras?

Well... I do... (cello).

I don't think I've ever seen any orchestra that uses left handed violinists

It sure isn't a common sight. The vast majority of lefty players plays right-handed regardless. And that's not without reason, because

My guess is that they would clash with the rest of the violinists, and they would seem out of the flow with the rest of the musicians.

Yup, it's definitely a bit awkward. I've gotten quite used to always watching out for my neighbours' bows and doing “evasive maneuvers”. Often feels like making life harder than it needs to be.

“Out of flow” may also be an issue, though perhaps less with violin/viola than with cello/bass, because they bow in fact more up/down than left/right, and are in that sense somewhat parity invariant.

Violinist playing lefty will thus indeed have a harder time finding an orchestral job. In somewhat alternative emsembles or amateur orchestras it should usually be accepted though, there aren't “regulations” against it. I doubt there are officially such regulations even in traditional professional orchestras, but it might still be virtually impossible to get a job in one of those when playing lefty.

Where you find such players more commonly is in folk, where synchronised bowing isn't a thing anyway. One great example is Kimberley Fraser, who with her left hand does some of the finest bowing work I've ever heard.

Whether it is playing-wise benefitial for a lefty to play the other way around is a matter of debate. Many people argue that “in standard playing, the left hand actually does the more difficult job, and therefore right-handed playing is in fact better-suited for lefties”.

I think that's missing the point though: dexterity isn't about “one hand is better than the other”, it's about what tasks each hand specialises in. In most manual working processes, both hands are involved; they need to do division of labour. The “strong hand” may do the actual “actions”, but the “weak hand” is just as important for fine-aligning and keeping the working material in place.
And that is much the same thing in string instruments: the right hand (for a righty) gives the rhythmic and dynamic impulses, whereas the left hand makes the conditions for this to be musically useful, by fingering the right notes/chords.

  • Met someone recently who plays cello right-handed, but guitar left-handed. Work that out ! And, funnily enough, 'dexterity' often means 'right-handed', ironically. I'm right-handed, and those fingers work better on a computer keyboard where accuracy not strength is important. Perhaps this heralds another left/right question... – Tim Oct 13 '17 at 6:38
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We could probably find a picture of a left-handed orchestral violinist. But, mostly, it just isn't a thing. Beginner string players aren't offered the option. The left hand does all the clever stuff anyway. Just like on guitar. Bit silly to give THEM the option, really. Pianists have to do REALLY intricate things with both hands, and no-one whines for a left-handed piano.

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    Pianists have to do really intricate and quite similar, or at least analogous things with both hands. That's why there's not much reason to think flipping the keyboard makes a difference. (Mind, left-handed pianos are still a thing.) But for plucked or bowed string instruments, both hands do completely different tasks. – leftaroundabout Oct 12 '17 at 23:20
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    @leftaroundabout - and with violin, the left fingers do the intricate bits, while the right hand/arm doesn't. Wonder if left-handed equates to left-fingered. Somehow yes. So why isn't the violin set up the other way, to cater for 8o%+ players? 'Cos we've always done it that way... – Tim Oct 13 '17 at 6:31
  • On piano, each hand/fingers do the same actions, unlike violin, etc. So there's much less urgency to swap around. – Tim Oct 13 '17 at 6:43
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My personal experience as a lefty playing cello right handed and violin left handed has been that playing violin left handed has worked far better than playing cello right handed. I can not explain why, but since playing left handed on violin (custom built lefty violin), I am virtually unable to play the cello any more in the right handed manner. I will probably have my cello converted to be a lefty instrument. (Maybe I was influenced by watching Rudolf Kolisch playing in the Pro Arte Quartet at the U of Wisconsin... :) )

  • Interesting! So to clarify – you started with cello right-handed, then also learned violin but lefty? – leftaroundabout Apr 8 '18 at 19:53

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