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 2015 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's 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.

343 replies
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  1. caziel
    caziel says:

    I am a lefty by instinct and tests. I’ve only played right handed because that was what was around. I have trouble picking right handed. I want to go lefty. My question is, once you change over what kind of time frame do people experience before being able to play again? I was just playing with a friends lefty guitar and it feels like starting at square one. What kind of learning curve is there when switching? Does the pace pick up once you get going or is it more like starting over? And thanks for the article!

    • Neal
      Neal says:

      To a degree it is like starting over, in that you’ll need to train your hands to each carry out a new task. However, because you’ve already played right handed for a period you will progress faster as you already know some of the basics. I have no idea how long it would take to reach a previously attained level.

      For example, I know hundreds of licks using the Minor Pentatonic scale which I have built up over years of playing. If I were to switch to playing right handed those licks would come naturally after I got the scale shapes under my fingers again. I wouldn’t have to spend days, months or years building up my repertoire again. Similarly I would know the mechanics required to pull off an artificial harmonic, a sweep, or to use hybrid picking. So although it will certainly take some time, it won’t take nearly as long as learning from scratch with zero previous experience on guitar.

      • caziel
        caziel says:

        Thank you for answering. And you are so right. I was dreading starting over thinking it would be forever slow. It really hasn’t been that bad. The slowest part is building new muscle memory and getting it into your brain that you are mirror imaging now. But, it’s like when a train stops on the tracks and reverses direction. It may be slow to get going at first, but I am finding, once you get going you pick up steam and you pick up speed pretty fast. Glad I made the switch. It was clear even in the first few days that having the dexterity in my left hand will make a big difference. Never got smooth with a pick right handed, already better with one just a couple weeks in so I know the potential is now there. Thanks again.

  2. Cristal Montellano
    Cristal Montellano says:

    Thank you for taking your time in making an honest article! I am a lefty. I play baseball, box, i write and do everything with my left but when I was looking for a guitar i feel more confident with a right handed guitar. I guess ill keep testing it out and learn my chords first before making the big decision. I’m still indecisive of what side is best. They both just seem to have their pros and cons.

  3. ant1
    ant1 says:

    Great article. Comprehensive and smart. Good answer to the “moronic advice” : the stronger hand doing the harder job… etc
    BUT: To me the question ‘play lefty or not’ is not that relevant: i always knew i’ll have to play lefty, even before i try to play.
    I “play” lefty when as a child i pretend to play guitar with a tennis racquet, i always fancy guitars with a symetrical shape as i imagine the way to turn it upside down (and even today, funnily enough i still prefer the look of my SG to that of my LP, as a lefty LP look a little weird to my eyes), and with a guitar in my arms the ‘right’ way i’m like a hen who found a knife.
    The dominant hand have the rythm drive and must be on the strumming side. The exemple of lefty people playing succesfully righthanded (they are few but some are famous..) always puzzle me, and make me wonder if they are really ‘that’ lefty. Perhaps there are some people whose dominant hand is not the leading hand (in the sense of ‘leading hand’ in drum playing technique).

  4. Graham Norris
    Graham Norris says:

    Hi great article :0)
    I have a problem or decision maybe someone could advise ??? I am left handed by nature and do different things either way left /right.
    I was learning to play right handed as i thought at a younger age that how it was. I then stopped playing for a long time and in that time i had a viral infection that affected my left side ( remember i played right handed so would be my fretting hand). I am well now but noticed some of the very acute movements are less in my left hand now.
    I have started playing again and as i was learning right handed again which was the way i learned before as it seems natural to do so and the way i knew ???
    I am struggling to get on in my playing and learning i believe it could be down to the illness slowing me down i had, plus should i of originally learnt left handed ?? i did the test above and it is my left that moves most when i clap….
    Im just stuck and a little frustrated as to what to do is it hard practice am i am to break through with my guitar or try left and see if it works ?? any help would be great thanks for your time G …..
    played left in the first place

    • Neal
      Neal says:

      Hi Graham. As I mentioned in the article, I cannot tell you which way to play. Everyone is unique in their own ways, so you need to figure this one out for yourself. Ultimately you can play either way, but if you want to reach your maximum potential you need to play whichever way feels the most comfortable. In my opinion, your more coordinated hand should be your picking hand. This is the hand that dictates the rhythm – and without that you’re not going to get very far.

  5. jb
    jb says:

    I can attest to playing left handed. When I first picked up guitar, I tried learning it right handed. I didn’t improve very much. It was far easier, and a quicker (shorter) learning curve once I switched to lefty. The picking hand is absolutely where the most precision needs to be in my opinion. I play bass with my fingers, not a pick, and there is no way I would be able to stay in, or even get the groove if I were trying to play right handed.

    Yes, it sucks not being able to pick up someone else’s axe and jam on it – but it is what it is. Left handed thunder all the way!


  6. Charles
    Charles says:

    I am a lefty playing right handed. When I initially picked up guitar I felt more comfortable holding a guitar left handed rather right. I wound up playing right handed because there were no left-handed guitars available when I started. More I advanced in my playing, the more I regretted this decision. Primary reason is that my right strumming hand is not as coordinated or developed as the left hand. Strumming with your writing hand really makes a difference in picking with speed and cleanliness. .

  7. Wendy Misener
    Wendy Misener says:

    Similar experience to some of the folks posting above. I am left-handed, learned how to play a mandolin (albeit poorly) right-handed. It never caught on with me and why oh why didn’t I figure out that I feel plain awkward with a pick in my right hand. I am just about to purchase my first electric guitar and I’m going LEFT this time around. I tried your ‘air’ guitar trick and immediately strummed left hand. On the other hand (bad pun), I tried the ‘clap’ trick and I’m predominantly lead with right. I think this issue is very much as individualized as you suggested. I use scissors with my right hand, play most sports righty, but I write and eat with my left and if I am looking for detailed dexterity, it’s definitely my left. Thanks for helping me with a bit of an Eureka moment. I don’t know why I paused before buying a right-hand guitar, but I did and then I started actually thinking about it and what feels natural and then found this article. Peace~

  8. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    I’m in a real fix and have been for a long time with regard to learning the guitar which I love dearly. I began learning guitar in college playing some light classical pieces from the Aaron Shearer book. I didn’t have a problem with that initially and seemed to be making some small progress playing right-handed although I’ve always done everything left-handed except shoot a rifle. I never played golf so I don’t know how I’d approach that. Anyway, at that time I took very few formal lessons (months) but I always had the guitar in my hands. However, there was college to finish and then the draft with a few years in the USMC. Still the guitar wasn’t far away and I continued to play best I could without having taken formal lessons or study for any length of time. After the service I devoted some time to the study of flamenco guitar with a teacher for about 18 months, making some progress but still not sounding like it should. Eventually my right-hand fingers gave out and I stopped. They weren’t damaged or anything but I had been learning the technique poorly for some reason even with this teacher…maybe just lack of talent or ability I thought. After picking it up again now and then I tried left-handed which turned out to be a double-edged sword. After several years I had taught myself to play left-handed some of the flamenco pieces I original studied right handed…a Tientos and 4 Sevillanas. At first I had a lot of false starts with my left hand and it was a struggle so I stopped. But then (still teaching myself) the technique began to materialize so that I could play those pieces like a professional. Afterwards, I went to Spain and took a guitar seminar with Paco Pena where the students had to perform in front of Paco and before the entire class of almost 100 peers. I played a Tientos and with great technique I might add…even Paco said it was most beautiful and which captured the true essence of the piece. However, mentally I had become a wreck and only felt better when I didn’t changed the strings back to right-handed, but then I couldn’t play as I should. So I just stopped altogether.

    • Thomas
      Thomas says:

      Please change last sentence to “However, mentally I had become a wreck and only felt better when I changed the strings back to right-handed, but then I couldn’t play as I should. So I just stopped altogether.

  9. Hugh Jones
    Hugh Jones says:

    It seems to me if you’re playing lead guitar, you’re better off playing with the opposite handedness to what you use for other stuff. Why? I’m right handed and I play right handed. But I notice that I’m doing all the complex stuff with my left hand when I’m soloing. If you’re strumming and just moving your left hand a little bit for chord changes then it makes sense to play the normal way but if you’re mostly soloing then it seems that you’d be better off swapping hands.

  10. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    Hello. Thank you for all of this information. I have a slightly different question. My son is only 4 1/2 and is starting ukulele lessons as a first step to guitar. He is a lefty and when presented with an instrument he automatically holds it lefty. My concern is that he’s too young to understand “just do it in mirror image”. While I think it would be better for him to play lefty in the long run, would there be any benefit in starting him righty at this young age until he gets the general sense of how it works (we have not been able to find any teachers with experience teaching left handed) and then switch him to lefty when he’s older and more cognitively aware of the mirror effect, or should I start lefty and stay lefty?

    • Neal
      Neal says:

      There’s absolutely no point in learning one way with the intention of switching later on. He’ll essentially be starting from square one again, albeit with a little extra knowledge. Go with whichever way feels the most comfortable and stick with it.

      As for teaching – there is absolutely no difference in trying to teach a left handed or right handed pupil. If potential teachers are turning you away due to this then you have dodged a bullet. Any teacher worth their salt will be able to work with a left handed student without any trouble.

      As an aside, if guitar is the ultimate goal – start off with guitar. At such a young age he’ll pick anything up quickly. I’ve listed a few smaller guitars for children here if interested http://leftyfretz.com/left-handed-guitars-smaller-hands-kids/

  11. Dave
    Dave says:

    I tend to agree with the air-guitar idea, this is exactly what I did. It’s simply a matter of preference for as stupid as it seems to point it out….guitar is a 2 handed instrument. Which hand does what is up to you. For me the confusion we see today was caused by classical guitar. Legend has it the oldest example of guitar ever found was developed by a left-handed Italian guy. He designed a guitar which today we would call right handed. He did this so he could use his dominant hand on the fretboard which seems so complicated. After a time classical guitars appeared and became the norm and it is here that things changed. Right handed people were now encouraged to use their dominant hand on the picking because the finger picking style of classical guitar as we all know is quite complicated. Classical guitars were around for aeons so when steel string acoustics came along nothing changed because the same thought process applied, right hand would be better using the pick, much in the same way as using a pen. This works fine for everyone except natural lefties and right-handed guys who play left. To these people guitar shops are nothing but a tease.

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