Should I Learn Guitar Right or Left Handed?

Neal Beedie August 13, 2010 261

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 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 person’s brain is configured differently and will enable you to perform various tasks in the most easy and efficient manner.

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.

But Another Left Handed Person Told Me He Plays Right Handed

This person is most likely not a true left handed guitar player.  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.

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 2011 not 1966 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 at the start, check out our left handed chord diagrams.  Tabs are not backward, learning materials are not backward 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 did 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 .

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 get in touch if you require any extra advice.

261 Comments »

  1. steff December 13, 2013 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    Hi, this really helped me understand things better. My son is a lefty. He is taking guitar at school, and after a couple weeks he asked his teacher if he could switch to bass. Fortunately, his teacher is open-minded & is encouraging him to go for it.
    Is it normal to switch from one to another with only taking lessons for 2-3 weeks prior? I guess we were just a little shocked that he could pick it up so naturally.

    thanks for your time

    • Neal December 13, 2013 at 10:04 pm - Reply

      Guitar and bass are very similar, most guitarists can play bass and vice versa. Concentrating on bass is a great idea as bassists are very much higher in demand, whereas guitarists are a dime a dozen.

      The only downside is that there are far less production left handed basses when compared to lefty guitars – but this is a minor problem.

  2. Mary Richards December 18, 2013 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    I’m ambidextrous (even in writing) and was seriously considering whether or not to buy a left-handed or right-handed. Before getting on justinguitar and then being led here, I’d mostly been told some of the misconceptions you have listed. While I was doing reasonably well starting out right-handed on a borrowed acoustic, it never really felt as right as it did when I first picked up the guitar…upside down.

    Thank you very much for the tests, I strum when I do air guitar with my left and although clapping is almost equal, the left does move a tiny bit more. That coupled with an old injury to my left pinkie (which made me consider switching in the first place) and that my desired guitar is available in both orientations…I’m going lefty!

  3. Beti December 23, 2013 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    The air guitar test solved it all – it’s a lefty guitar for me. Air-guitaring right handed actually causes me pain. Thanks so much for the helpful post!

  4. Justin December 28, 2013 at 9:36 pm - Reply

    Sadly the air guitar test doesn’t work for me… because I learned violin for 6 months before. It’s my instinct to use left hand to hold the neck of a guitar, then of course I’d use my right hand to strum.
    I bought a right hand guitar cause I think it’s easier for me to learn the basics.

  5. Ade January 4, 2014 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Whaoh! What an intellectually stimulating web-site and so good usable and unbiased advice. I have never touched a guitar before, not to think of playing one. I decided to research and do loads of read-ups on guitars this morning, what the differences are between electric and acoustic etc. Then it crept into my mind that I am a leftie, even though I still do some things with right. I did not know what strumming was, but started air-strumming with my left, then I crashed unto this web-site which just opened my world with no-nonsense advice. Thank you so much. It’s only the fourth day into the new year, I am buying my left-hand guitar today. Well, maybe on my way to being the older version of Jimmy Hendrix. Watch this space.

    • Neal January 4, 2014 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      Excellent – good luck! :)

  6. Asilla January 6, 2014 at 1:09 am - Reply

    The air guitar test and clapping test confused me. You see I used my right hand to strum but I use my left hand more to clap. I also tried holding a guitar both ways and it felt natural. Does that mean I’m a lefty or a righty?

    • peter January 15, 2014 at 1:03 pm - Reply

      Asilla that might mean your ambidextrous(can use either style), but for me i played guitar righty for 5 years and im left handed, but im switching to lefty as my fingers seem to move faster and more accurately on my right hand so i want to try to relearn that way. as for you maybe trying either style in a store to find what feels comfortable.

  7. Dan January 8, 2014 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    I had similar troubles. I started teaching myself 20+ yrs ago but gave it up. back then I played righty. The closest I have come to playing the guitar is Guitar Hero and I played that righty too although I recently tried lefty and while not as good it felt reasonable comfortable. Now, I did have one thing come to mind that I hadn’t thought about previously. I sprained my left wrist many years ago. It no longer has the same range of motion that my right does. I’m wondering if long term that would be an issue when playing righty.

  8. unico January 16, 2014 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    Would testing to see which hand hand the most dexterity and accuracy in quickly placing fingers in challenging positions (a bit like playing twister but for fingers) give any useful guide as to which hand should be holding the neck? Particularly if you were planning on playing with a plectrum.

  9. Clint February 2, 2014 at 1:34 am - Reply

    I have in my possession a right handed guitar and ukulele. But I notice my fingers look very awkward and out of place on the frets. So I flipped the guitar and used my right hand to hold the fret board, which felt natural and comfortable. Although strumming is a little strange but I think it can be overcome. Does this sound like I could be a lefty with guitars?

  10. Roni February 10, 2014 at 3:13 am - Reply

    This is a great blog :) I couldn’t learn guitar as a kid because I was being forced to do everything with my right hand When I really wanted to use my left. Everything else I practiced secretly with both but with guitar I just got confused and frustrated until I was finally allowed to drop it. I discovered that I play guitar hero better in left mode and it made me wonder if it would be the same with a real guitar. What is most confusing to me is why it’s called left handed when you do most of the work with your right- or so it seems since you have to find the chords with the right fingers. I want to buy a guitar but I don’t want to waste money getting the wrong one. Definitely been an interesting experience for me! Any comments or suggestions are welcomed:)

    • Neal February 10, 2014 at 11:26 am - Reply

      Hey Roni. Why not sign up at our forum, I’m sure the guys will be able to give you a few suggestions :) http://leftyfretz.com/forum

  11. Cynthia February 12, 2014 at 11:41 pm - Reply

    Ok, I’m a lefty, but I was taught to write with my right hand when I was very young, and I write beautifully with it. However, my left still dominates and is very dextile. The important question is: Is more dextility needed to strum or to fret? I’d love to play acoustic like those Spanish flamenco guitarists, who beat on the guitar for extra rhythm, etc… I feel that I would be accomplish that with my left hand when strumming. So please answer that basic question: Which action requires more dextility? Please help. Thank you.

  12. Vlad February 15, 2014 at 8:26 pm - 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

    • Cynthia February 22, 2014 at 2:39 pm - Reply

      I feel your frustration. Being a lefty I finally decided on buying a lefty guitar, and I think I’ve made the right (um…correct.. ha, ha) decision. I still haven’t taken formal lessons, but I’ve practiced a little online, and I’m realizing (as I suspected earlier) that the strumming is very important. You have to be dexterous and fluid with your wrist to strum and pick certain strings, and it doesn’t feel that way if I use my right hand. Yes, it will take time and practice to flex my fingers on the fret board, but when I truly think about it: Most people are “right-handed” and they strum with their dominant, right hand, naturally. That clearly tells me that they use their most dexterous hand to do the loose / fluid movements, while their other hand learns the muscular movements on the fret board. Hence, I should be playing the exact opposite way being a lefty. I hope this clears things up for some.

  13. Vlad February 15, 2014 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    Hello again.
    Just find the article.
    Sorry…

  14. Sarah February 19, 2014 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    I play ukulele right handed. I play guitalele right handed. Yet when I try to take what I know on the guitalele and transfer it to normal guitar, I have the problem of (1) not being able to hold the strings down and (2) not being able to spread my hand far enough. I don’t know if that means I’m left handed for guitar or if I just need more practice on it because it’s a bigger instrument. Any thoughts on this would be great. Thank you.

  15. Roy February 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    I am 100% righty and I have played guitar left handed for not even 2 months for about an hour a day
    and i can already play stuff like holy wars and master of puppets by metallica and megadeth. I have played right handed guitar for 5 years and i just randomly decided to buy a left handed guitar off ebay just to see if i could play. It took me a month to get calaces with my right hand and i can honestly say theres no difference. I didnt have to relearn songs but i had to learn phrases patterens from those songs like sweep picking triplets quadruplet,octuplets(8 fast palm mutes) palm muting various finger excersices to get my fingers to move fast and finger stretches. I did it because i felt like it and there is no difference. I dont feel any strain picking fast and if you feel strain then you are using the wrong muscles.(aka anchoring which is bad technique) so dont stress out wondering if you should play left or right handed just pick one or the other or both if you want and just play it

  16. Tiffany February 27, 2014 at 12:29 am - Reply

    Hello everyone,
    I am ambidextrous, and even the air-guitar experiment did not exactly work for me – I have been air guitar-playing with both hands for years. However, when I pick up a guitar, I prefer finger-picking and strumming with my left, whereas I can only strum with my right. The problem is, I only have an old 3/4 acoustic guitar (I got that for $10 at a garage sale) and it is, of course, strung right-handed. The store clerk said that it could not be strung left-handed, and being a high school student, I don’t really have the money to buy a $200 3/4 lefty guitar. I tried picking up the guitar upside down – the strumming for my left hand is a lot more natural but fretting is very hard, I can only do about three chords. I need advice – should I try and get used to play my right handed guitar upside down, or play it the right-handed way?

  17. Peter A Edwards March 3, 2014 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    It is very interesting to read this article, as being ambidextrous I have found it natural to play with either a left or right handed guitar as well as other instruments.

    I believe that you choose a guitar that suits, your playing style, go to a music shop that sells guitars and ask to try a guitar for either left or right, to get a feel for what is natural too you.

  18. Prim March 25, 2014 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    Hi all,
    I’m sitting on a quite different chair here.
    I am a straight right-handed person, but due to a childhood accident I lost 3 fingers on my left arm, so, my only way of learning a guitar would be to try playing left-handed (and yes, I’m eager. I had to drop piano playing due to the accident). Additional issue is , cuz I’m quite clumsy on my left hand as well nowadays. Do you think it would be possible for me to pick left-hand playing, learning only with a guitar pick? Thanks

    • Neal March 25, 2014 at 10:20 pm - Reply

      That should be no problem at all Prim. Check out guys like Marc Playle who lack basically a left hand altogether and still kick ass :) https://www.youtube.com/user/Marcplayle

  19. Monika March 30, 2014 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Hi Neal

    I’m left handed and it’s natural for me to play left handed.

    I bought a second hand guitar that is strung right handed.

    If I have it re-strung, is that as good as if I had bought a left handed guitar?

    My second question is after it is re-strung, do I still need to read the sheet music back to front?

    Thanks heaps :)
    Monika

    • Neal March 30, 2014 at 9:42 pm - Reply

      You can do this, but it isn’t ideal – http://leftyfretz.com/restring-right-handed-guitar-left-handed/

      Playing left handed makes no difference to the direction you read sheet music. See http://leftyfretz.com/myth-busted-learning-left-handed-guitar-is-harder/

  20. 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!

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