Should I Learn Guitar Right or Left Handed?

Neal Beedie August 13, 2010 285

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.

285 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.

  10. derek August 9, 2014 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Hi Neal. I wish I would’ve seen your advice, which makes sense, when I started playing. Probably because there is more right handed guitars that’s is why I have one. My right hand is my dominant but old left wrist injury left me with 30% less flexion, so freting hand was a struggle from the begining. New pain in the middle finger triggered a question… What are your thoughts on switching to left hand after playing 5 years with the right? Just thinking of it makes me feel – it’s impossible but I know is not. Thank you. Derek.

    • Neal Beedie August 9, 2014 at 5:26 pm - Reply

      If you are experiencing pain it is a strong signal that you are doing something wrong. Carrying on in the same way will only likely make it worse. If you can’t address the problem with your hand then switching sides sounds like the best option if you want to carry on playing. It does sound like you would have an easier time once you adapt.

  11. Blair Rockefeller August 17, 2014 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    Thank you. I’m left handed, and play guitar right handed. Im good, but have never been happy with my playing. I’m about to start playing the ukulele. I’ve decided to learn the uke left handed. It’s easy to change to left with a uke. I’ve never been able to pick or strum as fast as I’d like to playing guitar right handed.
    I don’t understand the need for a left handed chord guide. If i chane my strings I see the chords the same. Am I missing something?
    Again, thanks for this article. It’s made up my mind for me.

    • Neal Beedie August 18, 2014 at 4:05 pm - Reply

      For most people, myself included, the idea of left handed chord charts won’t even come up whilst learning. However some people really seem to struggle with flipping things around (at least to begin with), so the lefty chord charts are for those people, just to get them off on the right foot.

  12. Chazie August 23, 2014 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    Hey there, your article sprung a lot of questions for me. I’m left-handed, I started playing guitar right-handed when I was 14, my teacher was a leftie who played right handed, so he told me to just learn right handed. But I got frustrated very fast because I wasn’t making progress and quickly gave up. I picked it up again earlier this year (I’m 24 now) and faced the same problem, my right hand just can’t keep up. I looked up things about playing leftie, including this article, and borrowed a leftie guitar to give it a try. But it’s like I’m learning everything all over again, my right hand has a very hard time fretting. I wonder if I should keep trying and if I’ll eventually be able to make progress or if I should just keep going righty?

  13. Jan August 25, 2014 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Hello,a very interesting question I have a unverified theory about.I’m lefthanded and started learning guitar about 40 years ago.The first time I took a guitar in my hands,I took it like a left-handed ie. right hand on the fretboard.First question that came to my mind then was “why is it natural for a left-handed person to play the fretboard with his right hand?”
    Anyway,I started learning guitar right-handed as “common knowledge” in those days was that playing left-handed was wrong,even for a left handed.
    Now,forty years after,I have this theory that,if I would have learned playing left handed,I wouldn’t have the problems with playing very fast phrases as I have now.I don’t think that learning to play left-handed is more difficult than learning to play right-handed and I even think that learning to play left-handed being left-handed will avoid problems later on (like my own speed-problems).If it’s natural for a left handed person to take a guitar,even if he never touched one,the way a left-handed person generally does then why not continue this natural road ie learn to play left handed.For a left handed person this is the most natural way which should be a very strong argument for doing so.
    disadvantages :
    -for teachers : they’ll have to adapt their tablatures,chord and scale diagrams etc…to suit the left-handed view of the guitar neck
    -Almost all guitar books are written for right-handed guitarists so left-handed guitarists have to adapt all the tablatures,chord and scale diagrams for left-handed needs…so to speak
    -I don’t see any other objection (fysically,psychologocally,some secret law of nature,….) for learning to play the guitar left-handed for left handed people.

  14. Roy August 29, 2014 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    i posted a comment here a few months ago about my progress playing left handed and now that my skills have grown i will post what ive experienced since then. This piece of indisputable advice should help alot of people. i played guitar right handed for 5 years and i am right handed in almost everything except for a couple things like pool i shoot mainly left and sometimes right depending on the angle shuffling cards i shuffle with my left hand thats about it but my right hand is by far my strongest hand. 2 years ago i bought a bueatiful looking left handed raven west guitar (you prob never heard of them but they make a lot of left handed guitars) that was on sale on ebay and they only had lefties left but i never came around to playing it until like almost 8 months ago when i got a pinched nerve in the fingers of my left hand and the pain wouldnt let me play(i was able to play my right handed guitar a couple months ago after my nerve slowly came unpinched or whatever it is that happend to it). it was a very numbing sensation and when i tried sliding my fingers on the neck of my guitar it would really smurt but seeming i had that leftie lying around and i did really want to play it ever since i got it just to see if i could learn but just the thought of relearning all over again discouraged me until 8 months ago i would take the guitar and play it while watching movies to take my mind off the boredom and frustration of sucking at it. But now my left handed playing skills is finally caught up with my right hand playing and i will describe the differences between playing the opposite of what you should be playing. picking is not hard espically alternate picking. i can pick equally as fast left or right handed just really fast down picking is hard. I can down pick but not as fast or as long as i can right handed. thats the only downside to it. my vibrato is way better left handed and that is something i always wanted to improve in my right handed guitar playing. I can shred twice as fast litearlly. Not when i first picked it up but last month is when i really started to notice it. the fingers on my right hand can move way faster then my left now and i can play fast solos a alot longer. Bar chords just seem more natural sweep picking, alternate picking, guitar solos and pinch harmonics are just as easy as right handed. But the main advantage is the relative ease of doing insane vibrato and the speed advantage in your fingers. Like i said the main trouble is really fast down picking but ive only played it for 8 months and honestly I never really praticed it alot like i did when i picked it up right handed 5 and half years ago its just this time around i knew exactly what to do during my practice time to get good at it.
    So the way i look at it if your a lefty and debating which way you should play there are advantages to playing right handed. If your style is blues or hard rock i would say get a right handed guitar and play that way. If you want to play really fast thrash metal riffs from bands like slayer. i would say stick to those lefties because there will be times when your picking hand might have a hard time keeping up with those super fast riffs.
    So there are advantages to which ever way you wanna play and what style you want to play. If all you wanna learn is mid tempo songs i can tell you for certain from my experience you will have a easier time playing on a right handed guitar(left handed guitar for me). If you want to play really fast solos then get a right handed guitar. If you want to play alot of really fast riffs then get a left handed guitar if your a lefty. I’m right handed so i find it takes a little bit less effort playing fast riffs with a right handed guitar but ether way i find there still ain’t much of a struggle playing on a lefty i can still do it just as fluently the only thing i struggle with is fast down picking. most fast metal riffs is alternate picking anyways but songs like master of puppets where it is spose to be downpicked i got to alternate pick it playing left handed and you just don’t get the same sound as what it is suppose to be.
    anyway I believe anyone with a couple of working fingers can learn to play guitar at any skill level. all you got to do is set your mind to it. After playing long enough(year and a half it took for me ) and the muscle memory really sets in there aint much left you can learn that will challenge you anymore and if you got the will power to put a little bit of time and brains into it then which ever way you pick it up you will get good at it. just practice the right stuff. stretch you fingers before you play and practice whatever combination of notes you can think of. I would also suggest getting a drum program to play with cause it is crucial to learning to stay on time and getting creative. learn how scales and chords connect and when you see a chord you see the scale and whenever you see a scale you can also visualise the chord that it belongs to and the chord formations that you can form from it. Its better to learn one scale inside out anywhere on the neck then to know thousands of scales in random places of the neck and then go somewhere else and you don’t know where you are at.10 minutes to half hour 2 or 3 times a week of practicing the right stuff and within a year or few months you just might be at levels you never dreamed you would get too. I taught myself to play but i know for certain that having an experienced teacher who is good at it will really help speed things along for you.

  15. Vlad August 30, 2014 at 11:39 am - Reply

    Very nice post.

    I’m left handed and just bought a right handed guitar, because I’m starting and was convinced that there wouldn’t be any problem (althoug by instinct, when playing…air guitar, I would use the left hand for strumming).

    In addition I thought that doing all the fretting with the left hand would be advantageous, because it seemed to be the hardest part of guitar playing ).

    I’m just starting, but it seams that reality is showing me otherwise…

    That being said, I would like to ask (I’m sure that it has been answerd) if simply changing the order of strings can do the trick?

    Thamk you very much

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