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I'm going to start learning guitar in the next coming weeks, and I'm wondering which hand I should use for fretting and which to use for strumming. I am left hand dominant, and have tendonitis in my right wrest, as well as much more tension in my right fingers and a slight tremor as well. I am in physical therapy looking to resolve the issue, and wear a brace on my right wrist fairly frequently. That being said, I am pretty determined to learn guitar. I dont plan on doing anything super complicated, and I have a decent knowledge of basic musicianship from a year of piano lessons. I plan on using Justin Guitar.

TLDR: I have tendonitis and wrist/finger tension in my right hand. My left hand, which is my dominant hand, is pretty much fine. Which hand should I use for fretting and which for strumming? Thank you.

  • have you tried playing either way? what was the result? – b3ko Oct 17 '18 at 16:01
  • Not for a very very long time. Before I even developed tendonitis. If it helps, I don't think Ill have too much trouble strumming with a pick. I would like to be able to play simple Bon Iver songs that involve picking with individual fingers though. Similar to piano, I dont have trouble playing chords with my right hand - I only have trouble with really complex or repetitive and fast melodies-fly by Einaudi killed my right hand, gymnopedie no.1 is a breeze. I'm learning The Girl with the Flaxen hair right now, and what bothers me the most are chords where I have to either stretch wide or bend – ch_da_guru13 Oct 17 '18 at 16:07
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You should play right-handed. At least give it a solid try. Mainly for two reasons :

  • Not endangering more your wrist : From my experience, the fretting hand is the one that requires the more strength and put the more pressure on your forearm and fingers. Given that you have tendinitis, you should use your right hand to strum, as it requires less strength from that arm.

  • Convenience : As a left-hander that plays the guitar right-handed (right hand strums), I can only advise you to try to play right-handed yourself. It's much more convenient :

    • you will be able to play on basically any guitar you find. A friend brought a guitar at a party ? Fine, you can play on it, since the strings will most likely be set up for a right-handed guitarist.
    • if you ever have a teacher, even a friend or a relative, it'll make life easier for your teacher, given that he plays the guitar right-handed like most of guitarists. Same goes if you are the teacher (maybe in a few years, or even sooner !).

It's really no problem at all to play right-handed guitar as a left-hander. Back to when I started playing the guitar, I actually started left-handed as it felt more natural to me. For a few weeks, I learned guitar that way. But then when I started my lesson, my teacher immediatly told me to try right-handed play. I was okay with it when trying it and then she told me that I should play right-handed guitar from now on. I never regretted that I had followed her advice !

On the other hand, how big this brace is on your right hand ? If it's too big it might interfere with your strumming and that may be a problem. But most likely it's not that big I guess.

Good luck and have fun playing the guitar !

  • Hi there. Thanks for the response. It really isn’t too big. It covers more of my wrist than my hand, and besides a piece of the brace that wraps between my index and thumb, my hand/fingers are totally free - I just can’t bend the wrist much or angle it too weirdly, though I have no problem moving it up and down or being precise with my fingers, which is another reason I think I should play right-handed. – ch_da_guru13 Oct 17 '18 at 21:30
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I guess this is pure opinion/anecdote, but...

There are sooo many great left-handed guitarists who play right-handed guitar, it would feel a shame not to try it that way first... which would also fit your right hand tendonitis/brace better, imho.

  • Thanks for the feedback. I think I will try right-handed at first. It appears the bending and contorting of fingers when fretting would probably stress the heck out of my right wrist, and I likely wouldnt have trouble just strumming simple chords with my brace on. Again, considering piano is my prime area of interest, I want to just be able to play a few guitar songs that I'm interested in, and if my wrist begins to heal over time, I probably would have less trouble doing more complex strumming with my right fingers. Thank you. – ch_da_guru13 Oct 17 '18 at 16:17
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I gave this question a shot in a slightly different context a few years ago, and it's only slightly changed.

There are many left-handed players who play right-handed, availability of new instruments will be much greater if you play right-handed. There are benefits. That your right hand has issues only adds to these benefits.

But if your hands will not go that way, like mine the few times I tried to play left-handed, then they won't and you shouldn't force it.

Playing a guitar is awkward until you know what you're doing, but if your hands really want to hold it the other way, you will know.

I'll say this: playing guitar should not hurt, and if what you're doing hurts, stop right now. Fretting and even bending doesn't take much hand strength, and if you put too much in, you're hurting your fingers, making transitions harder and bending your notes sharp. There's no musical benefit to a heavy touch or a tight squeeze, and much to recommend a light touch for guitar.

I've been playing for over 30 years, and I've been fortunate enough that, with handedness and health, most guitar gear is built to just work for me without problem. I hope you figure out what's best for you and that music continues to bring you joy.

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Traditionally the left hand is used for fretting and the right for plucking/strumming. If your right hand is already injured fret with the left. Like others have stated, there are many great left handed (opposite of traditional) guitarists but if you don't have a prejudice to which hand to use for fretting you won't know the difference. It always feels strange at first. A side note: Many guitar teachers encourage their students to try flipping the guitar and play simple one string melodies. This helps you remember what it was like to be a beginner when you get frustrated, and who knows you could become the next Mike Batio or Stanley Jordan. I would watch that right hand and make sure your guitar playing is not making it worse (whatever it is). I've played guitar for 40+ years and now have carpel tunnel syndrome in the right hand due to working at a computer for hours a day. The guitar playing doesn't make it worse and in fact is therapeutic w/r to this issue. If things get worse tell your physical therapist. And I'd recommend taking lessons from an experienced instructor.

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