learn-guitar-correctly

Should I Learn Guitar Right or Left Handed?

So you want to take up learning guitar but you’re unsure if you should be playing right or left handed?  Take a read through this article to hopefully find the answer to this tricky question!

I’m constantly wasting time correcting poor advice given by right handed players who think they know it all.  It really is unbelievable the levels of sheer stupidity I see spouted by misinformed players.  If you didn’t own a Porsche would you give advice to someone wanting to find out what it’s like to drive one?  No, you certainly would not!  The same principle applies to guitar.  Right handed players are in no position to be giving advice about playing guitar left handed.

So here we go, hopefully this will clear everything up once and for all.

Should I Learn Guitar Left or Right Handed?

Should I Play Guitar Left Handed or Right Handed?

This is a simple question that you can only answer yourself.  Do not let anyone try and tell you that one way is better than another, because they are in no way qualified to tell you this.  Every single person in this world is unique and will perform various tasks in the most easy and efficient manner for themselves.

How Do I Discover What Is Best For Me?

Stop what you are doing and play some air guitar for a second, don’t think about it, just do it.  Did you strum with your left or right hand?  If you strummed with your left hand you should play left handed, and  in the same way if you strummed with your right hand you should play right handed.  Simple right?  Another easy test is to watch how you clap your hands – the hand that does all (or most of) the movement is the hand that you should strum with.  People often assume that your dominant hand should be performing the “more complex” fretting job – however I generally have found that this is not the case.  In my opinion the picking hand needs more precise coordination than the fretting hand.

The one piece of advice that really irks me is the old “you’ll have an advantage with your dominant hand doing the fretting, cos it’s erm…harder“. Think about how moronic that advice is.  If that were true, why are all righties not playing left handed? Why is a left handed guitar not the norm? It’s just completely nonsensical.

But Another Left Handed Person Told Me He Plays Right Handed

This person is most likely not a natural left handed guitar player, or has accepted some poor advice.  As I mentioned above, different people do things different ways depending on how their brain is wired.  For example I write with my left hand and play guitar that way too, but I use scissors with my right hand and shoot a bow that way also.  Just because someone writes with their left hand doesn’t automatically mean they are predisposed to playing guitar left handed as well.

The Guy In Guitar Center Told Me Just To Learn Righty

Why do you think he’s telling you this?  If you buy a right handed guitar you are far more likely to go back to his store and buy more of his product, because that is what probably 90%+ of his stock is.  He may be too small minded to stock more than a handful of left handed guitars, but he does have the brainpower to deduce that he’ll lose you as a potential repeat customer if he sells you a lefty.  After all, are you likely to go back for a second look at his one black Strat copy in the corner?  I think not.  Bottom line – don’t listen to the store clerks if they tell you this…as explained above, only you can decide to play right handed or left handed.

And another thing – SALES INCENTIVES. Sales staff receive bonuses for selling certain items over others, and will not hesitate to make a quick buck rather than sell you the product you actually want. If you had the choice of the commission from this or this which would you pick?

They Also Told Me It’s Impossible To Find A Left Handed Guitar!

Anyone who tells you this is in possession of an incredibly outdated point of view.  This is 2014 not 1976, and this wondrous invention called the internet makes it absurdly easy to obtain almost any left handed guitar you could wish for. Look at this - it would take you all day to trawl through that! And that’s just one site…

Sure, there are less options in general when it comes to choosing your guitars, but this is a terrible reason to possibly hinder your learning over.  There are plenty of excellent left handed guitars available, and as the internet is making the world increasingly smaller the choice is only getting healthier.

Jerry'd Lefty Guitar Store, FloridaPhoto: Jerry’s Lefty Guitars, Florida USA

Isn’t Learning Left Handed Harder?

This is another myth I see crop up on a daily basis.  This idea is floating around purely because of misinformed right handed payers who think they are qualified to give advice on playing guitar left handed.  It is in NO WAY harder to learn guitar left handed. See this article on the Myths Surrounding Playing Left Handed Guitar

To sum up though! The only real difference is that chord diagrams are mirrored, but you’d have to be incredibly dim not to be able to read something as simple as this backwards.  If you want to ensure you are reading them correctly, check out our left handed chord diagrams.  Tabs are not backwards, learning materials are not backwards, and it makes no difference to a guitar teacher if you are left handed – in fact, many say that it is easier to teach a southpaw due to the Mirror Effect!

Will Playing Right Handed Hurt My Playing?

If you are a natural left handed guitar player then of course it will (eventually).  If you want to advance beyond the basics and become the best player that you can be, then I strongly suggest you play the way which your body feels the most comfortable with.  Alternatively, if you only want to learn a few camp fire songs then sure, you can get away with playing the wrong way around.  Most of us, who actually have some ambition would be unsatisfied with just settling for second best however.

Here is a great quote from Bruce Dickinson, head of the prestigious Brighton Institute of Modern Music:

I’ve seen many lefties who play right handed and have difficulties later on because their picking/strumming hand is the less sensitive and controlled of the two. Typically, if they are fully left handed, their sense of rhythm in the right hand will be less developed or just unmanageable. This problem, which does not build up until later along the learning curve, can be an insurmountable obstacle. This is why I don’t recommend that left handers learn to play right handed unless they feel very comfortable with it.

To further back up my point – world renowned shred maestro Andy James gave an interview where he answered questions from fans. One of the questions was from a lefty who had chosen to play right handed guitar. After six years of practicing for six hours a day he could still only play his favorite band’s songs at half speed. See the article here .. Andy James on Left Handed Guitar.

Over the years I have received countless emails and comments from people who have struggled (sometimes for years!) playing right handed, only to try out southpaw mode and suddenly have a complete epiphany. As if by magic everything falls in to place and they start progressing at a pace that they could only have dreamed about beforehand.  Left or right handed, play the correct way around and reap the rewards!

Please don’t feel that I am trying to push anyone to play guitar left handed. I am merely posting the facts because I am sick to death of reading the chicken scratch advice given to lefties on a daily basis.  The bottom line is to play the way that feels natural to you, do not listen to anyone but YOUR OWN BODY. If you decide that you are a left handed guitar player then go for it! Here’s a good place to start.

Newbie Guide

Now that you (hopefully) know which way you are going to play, check out our 8-part Newbie Guide where you’ll learn everything that you need to know to get started with your new hobby! This series of guides is relevant to both left and right handed players and includes gear recommendations for beginners.

Good luck, and feel free to leave a comment if you require any extra advice.

317 replies
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  1. Ryan Rojas
    Ryan Rojas says:

    Hi Neal. I’ve been learning guitar on and off for about 2-3 years now. I’m left handed, but i’m currently playing with a right-hand guitar because we had so many at home.

    Up to now because of my laziness, I only know how to finger pick. I never got into the habit of using a guitar pick because I never bothered to find some every time I wanted to play. I only started to learn how to use a guitar pick within the last week and i’m finding it hard. i’m not sure if thats due to my lack of practice or playing on the wrong hand.

    When I did the air guitar I strummed with my right hand. I don’t think this is a reliable indicator for my situation because i’ve already been playing guitar this way for three years, so by now I would do this instinctively. When I clapped my left hand moved significantly more than my right.

    I also play drums right handed to an advanced level. I bowl and throw with my right too. Tennis, badminton, golf etc anything with a racket or held equipment, I do with my left hand it seems.

    Sorry it’s so long. Got a complicated situation. Would appreciate your help thanks!

    Reply
    • Neal
      Neal says:

      If you are able to play with your fingers to a satisfactory level then you should be able to learn to use a pick just fine. A week is definitely not long enough to master a new technique. If you are happy with how your playing is progressing at the moment, just keep at it and see how you get along. You can try holding your guitar upside down to see how strumming with your left hand feels. If it feel more comfortable then that may be a good indication that you are more suited to playing left handed. As I mention in the article, I can’t tell you which way to play :)

      Reply
  2. Deryk
    Deryk says:

    I did the air guitar and clap test to see whether I should play right or lefty. It seemed I should play righty. I just picked up a right handed Ibanez to learn guitar using Rocksmith. I played for about an hour and it just didn’t quite feel right. I flipped the guitar and strummed with my left and immediately felt much more comfortable. Now I need to trade the guitar or something, but there is no way I’d progress anywhere beyond beginner if I stayed righty. I guess you really just have to play a guitar to know for sure.

    Reply
  3. Todd
    Todd says:

    Hey mate, I had a severe left wrist injury some years ago that has hindered my desire to play, I am thinking lefty is my only option as I can’t get my left wrist around the end if playing right. Ever heard of this before, thoughts?

    Reply
  4. Neal
    Neal says:

    There are plenty of people who play left handed (or right handed) due to physical constraints. Marc Playle is a lefty who was born without part of his left arm, so playing left handed was his only option. I often get emails from people with dodgy wrists or weakened hands. Playing the wrong way around is infinitely better than not playing at all!

    Reply
    • Neal
      Neal says:

      Get him to try the air guitar test and pay attention to which way he naturally opts for. If you decide to go for a lefty, make sure to check out the Newbie Guide (linked at the end of the article) for some good beginner guitar options.

      Reply
  5. Anwar
    Anwar says:

    Hi Neal,
    Thanks for your article!
    I’m a righty (and both the air-guitar and clap test confirm that). I play right-handed guitar as a hobby and am improving.
    My pinky on the left hand is warped, though, from birth. I have some use of it and do try to include it in my playing as much as possible. But I can’t use it as much for the chords needing four fingers or barre chords, nor for the more polished soloing techniques.
    I realize that advice recommending the use of the pinky of the fretting hand is meant for those with normal fingers, but would it be worth it to switch to lefty guitar if I want to play in a band?
    btw, I play mostly finger-style and have begun to use all four fingers on the picking hand.

    Reply
    • Neal
      Neal says:

      Hi Anwar. I wouldn’t worry about making the switch in your case. If you are unable to finger certain chord voicings there are always plenty of others that you can use. The same idea can be applied to soloing.

      Plenty of good players get by with minimal use of the pinky.Hell, Django Reinhardt only had two good fretting fingers ;)

      Of course it’s totally up to you though.

      Reply
      • Anwar
        Anwar says:

        Thanks much for the advice!
        I’ll stay with the right-handed guitar… yes, Django dazzled with just two, and that’s great inspiration.
        Best,
        Anwar

        Reply
  6. Ban Catalin
    Ban Catalin says:

    Hi there.I’ve got a guitar on my birthday which of course is a right handed and I’m left handed…I did the air guitar and clap test to see whether I should play right or lefty and it seemed I should play lefty.Is it worth to learn at least the basic then to change to a left handed guitar when I’ll have the chance??

    Reply
    • Neal
      Neal says:

      If you think you are going to be playing left handed the best thing to do right now might be to just string the guitar upside down for the moment. It isn’t ideal, but it’ll get the job done until you can get a bona fide lefty.

      To learn right handed with the intention of making the switch later on is a bit backwards, as you’d essentially be starting from square one again. Albeit with a basic knowledge of chords and the like.

      Reply
  7. Ema
    Ema says:

    Hi Neal! I’m left-handed but I’ve been learning how to play on a right-handed guitar. Since it’s an old one my parents got me when I was a child, I’m getting a new one. I want to learn how to play like a lefty, but I’m afraid I end up giving up or that, in the end, playing right-handed was the best for me. So what should I do!? Isn’t there a right-handed guitar that I can simply change the position of the strings and turn it into a lefty guitar? (I did the air guitar test and I strummed with my right hand, but I clapped and I movimented my left hand the most).

    Reply
    • Neal
      Neal says:

      It won’t be ideal, but you can simply restring the guitar upside down and give it a month or so. There’ll be a few issues, but it’ll at least give you enough of a taste to see how you might get on.

      Reply
  8. reza
    reza says:

    Dear guitarists,
    Im left handed and Im playing guitar right handed for 10 years now .
    After all these years I just figured out that the strumming could not improve !! and never improved for all these years!!!
    Its amazing that when I plays some strings with my left hand and start to strumming I can strum so well ( just on one note without any practicing )!
    I strongly advice guitar students and instructors that left handed players should plays with left handed guitars.
    Thank you
    reza – Iran

    Reply
  9. Yash Hanj
    Yash Hanj says:

    Hi there,I am playing guitar since 6-7 months,after that air guitar and clapping test I came to know I am lefty.and glad to know that I am playing left handed already. I was thinkink about to start right handed because I didn’t know about Amazon.com ,so i purchased right handed dreadnought GREG BENNETT. And changed its string pattern to play it as left handed guitar. But when I changed strings,the thin E string and thick E string didn’t place properly. So both strings ‘ sound has bit much chaged in some octaves.what’s your suggestion?

    Reply
    • Neal
      Neal says:

      You have a couple of options. Either take it back and exchange it for a proper left handed guitar. Or take it to your local music store and have them convert it for you.

      Reply
  10. Mrinmoy
    Mrinmoy says:

    When I picked up a guitar the first time, I realized that I did it the “other” way and now that I’m looking online for a Fender Standard Tele/Strat, I have reached a dead end. Stores in my country (India) don’t have any stock of lefties that I prefer (there are Ibanez guitars but I’m not a fan of their sound).

    On top of that, insurance couldn’t be added as a part of the deal when I tried to import a Fender lefty Strat from Amazon US. (and no other international online stores are selling any lefty Fender Standards at all or for an affordable price)

    So, now I pop my question. How safe is it for me to buy a right handed Fender Tele/Strat and learn it the “right” way?

    Reply
    • Neal
      Neal says:

      As I mention in the post, you can learn either way and your body will adapt. You just might not become all that you could have been due to a lessened sense of rhythm in your picking hand for example. As long as you don’t plan on becoming the next John Petrucci then it may not be a huge deal for you.

      Have you tried asking your local store to order you in a left handed Strat? They may not have any in-stock, but it shouldn’t be a problem for the dealer to order one.

      Reply
  11. Carina
    Carina says:

    Hi!
    Thank you for your post, it was very insightful.

    I’ve started playing Rockband & Guitar Hero around a year ago and I got really good at it, which made me become really interested in learning the real thing.
    I write right-handed, but I do a lot of things left handed. Including playing plastic-guitar and drums on those games… it just felt natural to me.

    When I read your suggestions about testing with air guitar and clapping I remembered I used to strum with my right hand when doing air guitar… up until I started playing Rockband so often that I reminded myself “you strum with your left hand”.

    My question is…I got a righty guitar for Christmas; (I’m so excited to start learning!). Should I try to learn righty, restring it upside down or simply swap the guitar for a lefty?
    Just holding it when I first got it and trying to play around with it it… just feels better as a lefty.

    Reply
  12. Josh
    Josh says:

    I’ve been playing a lefty bass for some years. I want to start learning guitar. The bad thing about picking a lefty guitar is that I can only play my guitar since all the people have right guitars. So I cannot be somewhere else, pick a guitar and start playing.

    Reply
  13. Tre
    Tre says:

    I do a few things lefty – write, shoot hoops and a bow, sew, steer a car, scissors. I do a few things righty – throw, eat, bowl, golf, fly fish. Some things I can do both ways. I picked up the guitar 7 years ago at age 36. I decided to learn righty. I’ve progressed well enough. I can sit in with most garage bands and hang. However, my lead guitar seems to have developed better than my rhythm. I have trouble with blues shuffles and country rhythms and I generally feel like my rhythm is just OK. My theory is that my right hand, while it is stronger, has less fine motor ability. When I play lead, my left hand leads and my right hand follows it with the pick. So my left-hand brain tells my left hand which notes to play, my left hand frets the note, and right hand then quickly follows by picking it. I’ve thought about getting a lefty guitar to see if I could improve my rhythm play, which I consider to be more important. Any thoughts or others who have done this?

    Reply
  14. aky
    aky says:

    Hi Ryan ! I am a lefty. I clap in two different ways. One way in which I pat my right hand fingers on my left palm and the other way is in which I pat both the palms on each other but the left palm is above on the right and works more. So by your clapping rule, am confused on how to know my guitar playing hand.
    So please put an image of clapping about which you are talking in your post, which could tell that which hand I should use for playing guitar.

    Reply
  15. Ben
    Ben says:

    I did the air guitar and clap tests as you suggested and am clearly a righty, however I lost half of my left hand middle finger in an accident. Can I learn to play without this finger on my fret hand or would it be best just to learn to play left-handed?

    Reply
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