Should I Learn Guitar Right or Left Handed?

Neal Beedie August 13, 2010 277

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!

Every day I waste at least 30 minutes 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?  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 to 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.

But Another Left Handed Person Told Me He Plays Right Handed

This person is most likely not a true 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.

I’m fairly active on Twitter and on a daily basis I see right handed people talking about how they play guitar left handed.  Everyone is unique.  As I said above, only you can decide which way you should play.

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.

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.

Sure, there are far less options in general when it comes to choosing your guitars but this is a terrible reason to possibly hinder your learning over.  I don’t know about you, but I got into guitar because I loved the way it sounded, not because it looked cool.  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.  This year has seen increased left handed ranges from the bigger brands such as Gibson and Ibanez, and even companies who had ceased making lefty models (such as PRS) have started to resume at least limited productions.  Things are looking increasingly peachy for the southpaw guitarist!

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 my 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 I strongly suggest you play the way 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.

To back up my point – Andy James gave an interview last month 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.  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!

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

277 Comments »

  1. Monika March 31, 2014 at 10:10 am - Reply

    Oh wow, thank you so much.

    I will start looking around for a lefty guitar :)

    Cheers!

  2. Peer May 3, 2014 at 7:22 pm - Reply

    Always play Guitar with the hand you write with !!!

  3. Lemuel May 15, 2014 at 10:04 am - Reply

    I am left-handed. The only thing I do right-handed was playing guitar in high school.

    I’ve stopped playing since then. I’m now in my 30s and started practicing again the guitar.

    Would it be better to learn again at left-handed, or i should pick up where i left off with the right-handed form?

  4. Donnita May 26, 2014 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    Thank you sooo much! I am 58 years old and recently decided to learn to play a guitar. I am a lefty but EVERYONE has been telling me I should get a right handed guitar.. I did the air guitar test before I even read your article and I was definitely a lefty.. There was a huge difference even with air guitar! My goals are to have a relaxing hobby that makes me happy.. certainly it is not to be frustrated and think I am a failure! AND it really really ticks me off when a righty has the nerve to tell me to just learn it right handed. Even JamPlay has a video saying that exact thing! By the way since I am a petite woman I purchase a Taylor GS MIni Mahogany left handed guitar.. I can’t wait for it to arrive. I’ve found a private instructor that said absolutely no problem that I am a lefty!

    • Neal Beedie May 26, 2014 at 6:13 pm - Reply

      The GS Mini is an absolutely fantastic first guitar Donnita, congrats on a great choice there – I am sure you will love it.

      Be sure to sign up for JamPlay using the banner on the top right of the site ;)

  5. Longbone May 26, 2014 at 9:08 pm - Reply

    I am a right handed person but it only feels natural for me to hold and fret a guitar left handed. I also play guitar hero left handed. When I’m holding a guitar right handed I usually get a headache after a while and my coordination sucks.

    But should I learn guitar right handed or left handed? Many people say that the strumming requires more precise coordination than the fretboard.

    • Neal Beedie May 27, 2014 at 9:41 pm - Reply

      If you get headaches whilst playing right handed and not left, I think you’ve answered your own question.

  6. Sudarshan June 6, 2014 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    I’m lefty. So reading this would make me feel that I could do more with left hand rather than with right hand. Actually, which hand of mine would be able to play guitar? Pls help me… Thanks.

    • Hannah June 8, 2014 at 8:02 am - Reply

      I’m a lefty also. For me I find the guitar heaps easier to hold but you might be different.
      If you write with your right hand it will be so much easier playing lefty because you wouldn’t have to teach your left hand all the chords, but if you write with your left hand a right handed guitar would be easier, but I’m not an expert. Do what you feel is natural!
      Hope this helped!

  7. Kieran Roberts June 22, 2014 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    I started playing guitar around 6 months ago, but found that I struggled and got cramps in my left hand when trying to move quickly into chord shapes, my muscle memory was fairly bad as well. I tried both tests, and It seems I’m a lefty, should I give it a try?

    • Neal Beedie June 22, 2014 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      Hi Kieran. As I’ve suggested in this article, play whichever way feels to most comfortable to you. I can’t tell you which way to play.

      As an aside. If you are getting cramps in your hand you need to at the very least address this. Tension in your playing at this early stage will only lead to bigger problems later on. Slow things right down until they feel relaxed and SLOWLY increase your speed. Tension is your absolute worst enemy.

  8. Johnny B. Hall June 22, 2014 at 11:30 pm - Reply

    I am a lefty. When I first picked up a guitar in about 1957, no one else I knew personally played guitar. So, I turned it upside down with the bass string on the bottom and started playing it that way. By the time someone noticed my unique style, ti was too late; I was committed. I have found many fine guitarists who play that way, perhaps the most famous being Dick Dale, king of the surf guitar. John Engel has written a two-volume work on left-handed players, called “Uncommon Sound.” It is a massive, thoroughly-documented set, with pictures of many beautiful instruments. I play bass the same way.

    • Neal Beedie June 23, 2014 at 8:35 pm - Reply

      I’m actually in the middle of writing a review on Uncommon Sound – great books!!

  9. Joe July 14, 2014 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    Hi Neal! enjoyed your advice but still confused. I play “air guitar” instinctively left handed but my right hand is dominant in clapping. I write righty, shoot a bow lefty and bat either way! I have a right handed electric guitar but am just learning. my hand is a bit more effective in fine motor skills. Any suggestions? Another question is the guitar I have is a cheap model, a Greg Bennett Malibu and cant afford a change right now. Does the quality affect your learning?

    • Neal Beedie July 14, 2014 at 8:16 pm - Reply

      If you air guitar left handed then I would suggest that’s a pretty strong indication that you are naturally a left handed player.

      The quality of your guitar won’t make a huge difference right now, unless it is an absolute lemon.

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