Should I Learn Guitar Right or Left Handed?

Neal September 6, 2014 305

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.

305 Comments »

  1. Ryan Rojas October 12, 2014 at 11:16 am - Reply

    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!

    • Neal October 12, 2014 at 11:28 am - Reply

      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 :)

      • Ryan Rojas October 12, 2014 at 11:47 am - Reply

        Thanks! A very fast reply haha!

  2. Deryk October 18, 2014 at 3:48 am - Reply

    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.

  3. Todd October 27, 2014 at 7:50 am - Reply

    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?

  4. Neal October 27, 2014 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    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!

  5. Rhonda October 29, 2014 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    My 7 year old lefty wants a guitar for Christmas. Should I buy him a left handed or right handed one? I’m SO confused!

    • Neal October 30, 2014 at 6:17 pm - Reply

      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.

  6. Anwar November 1, 2014 at 3:36 am - Reply

    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.

    • Neal November 1, 2014 at 5:22 pm - Reply

      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.

      • Anwar November 1, 2014 at 8:56 pm - Reply

        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

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