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. Bailey Britten February 17, 2012 at 6:24 am - Reply

    I am 13 and I cant seem to play barr chords right Can you help me with learning them in an easier way.

    • Neal February 17, 2012 at 10:26 am - Reply

      All you can do is persevere and they will slowly become easier. If you’re finding them hard because of small hands try playing them higher up on the neck before gradually moving back down. You can also tune your guitar down a half step or two and then use a capo to allow you to play the chords higher up until you become more accustomed to them.

  2. Bailey Britten February 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm - Reply

    thank you so much!!!

  3. leftyjesse February 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    About a year ago I decided to learn to play bass. I went to guitar center and looked at what they had and to all they had were bass for right handed players. The salesman gave me the whole deal about being better off learning righty instead of lefty. I bought an acoustic righty bass n i can play it OK but not great, all I can really do is strum with my thumb so I’m having trouble playing faster stuff. So I bought new strings and I’m gonna flip it to lefty, I have thought the whole time that I should b playing lefty but thought I would at least try it..

    • Neal February 26, 2012 at 9:05 pm - Reply

      Certainly doesn’t hurt to try. I love to play slap bass so I really believe I have a big advantage having my dominant hand steering the ship and my right hand doing the meat and potatoes work. I feel the same way for guitar, i.e the picking hand has the most important job.

  4. leftyarlynn February 27, 2012 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    i havent bought yet because i am left handed and i went to guitar center got a lesson now the teacher is really good but when he saw that im a lefty he said that they don’t have left handed guitars in stock so now what are the best brands for a lefty guitar and if not ill just buy a righty guitar and just flip the chords to a lefty guitar which one is easier and life is already hard for me because im a lefty and everybody in my whole family are all righties

    • Neal February 27, 2012 at 7:43 pm - Reply

      GuitarCenter are famously incompetent when it comes to catering for left handed players. So the first thing you need to do is find a store who aren’t so small minded.

      You definitely want to buy a proper left handed guitar over flipping a righty. You really haven’t given much info to recommend anything specific for you. Come join the forum (link at top of page) and we’ll answer your questions in there ;)

    • Steve EF-15 February 28, 2012 at 10:08 pm - Reply

      Agreed with Neal, as a lefty The Guitar Center near me just doesn’t cut it at all. About 1,000 guitars in stock, and I can count the LH models on one hand.
      Another independent shop a bit of a distance away was much better, and well worth the trip. you may even luck out like I did and find a shop that has been stuck for some time with exactly what you’re looking for at a reduced price. Shop around. You might surprise yourself with what you find, and where you find it.

  5. Tyler March 2, 2012 at 3:09 am - Reply

    I’ve been thinking and practicing alot. And have come to the conclusion that, it feels better strumming, and playing chords right handed, but finger picking and such, is easier left handed. Will it just start to feel natural with time?

    • Chris March 7, 2012 at 10:17 pm - Reply

      It varies from person to person. I personally am pretty equally skilled with finger picking in either orientation, slightly better at left-handed strumming, but I absolutely cannot flat pick right-handed. In general, strumming is easier and doesn’t require as much precision as finger picking and flatpicking. Of course, not saying you can’t do it, but depending on how left-handed you are it might be difficult.

  6. Sam March 7, 2012 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    I want to learn guitar these days, but the problem is I write with my right but do other thing with my left hand, what should I do? play with right or left?

    • Chris March 26, 2012 at 12:59 pm - Reply

      I am left handed. I write with my left hand, use bats left handed, throw left handed but I use a knife and fork right handed (probably that’s how they were laid out and putting a spoon of fork in my mouth makes more sense using the hand I have more controll over lol).
      If I air guitar I naturally strum with my left but when I clap I mainly move my right hand.
      I was told to try guitar right handed, by a left handed person who plays right handedly but the real test is to get hold of both left and right handed guitars ant try them.

      You’ll soon find out what is best for you.

  7. Shawn March 9, 2012 at 2:36 am - Reply

    Guitar Center has left handed guitars available, you just need to do some detective work and be very patient. I bought a Fender American Standard guitar from them in 2010. They didn’t have one available in stock, of course, but ordered one for me. It took about 3 months to get, and I live only about 25 miles from the Fender factory in Corona, Ca. So the moral of the story is that if a particular company offers left handed guitars, the local Guitar Center or Sam Ash can get them. The disadvantage is that you probably won’t get a chance to try it out and will definitely have to wait quite a while for it to arrive.

  8. Rosemary Keever March 12, 2012 at 4:28 am - Reply

    My son is truly left-handed but plays classical guitar right-handed. My brother is right-handed but plays sports left-handed.. Maybe your theory needs some more thought.

    • Neal March 12, 2012 at 8:38 am - Reply

      My “theory” that everyone is unique and that just because you write left handed you aren’t automatically predisposed to playing guitar that way as well? Maybe you should read the article before commenting ;)

  9. Robin Rosenberg March 16, 2012 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    I’m a lefty – Been playing righty for many years. Now get this. I bat righty and throw lefty and eat with the fork in my right hand. What a weirdo I am!

  10. JohnnyCNote March 25, 2012 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    When my left handed younger brother wanted to start playing, I suggested he try right-handed and he’s played that way ever since. He’s quite good, so it’s clearly natural for him to play that way. In any case, it makes things a lot easier because he can play any of my guitars, and I was able to give him a bass I’d bought. However, if he’d have found it easier to play left-handed, it wouldn’t have bothered me at all . . .

  11. ted April 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    I am left handed. In fact the only thing I can do with a right hand is write(because I was forced to by my teachers) but as a result my writing is barely readable,even by me. So I get the whole”don’t let the righties hold you down”. But if you are playing electric i(with a right handed guitar) aren’t you executing most of the complex fret work with your left hand? I couldn’t imagine doing all that with my right hand. I can barely cut my fingernails with it. I’ve actually had the great opportunity to try,at my own pace, a left handed Les Paul guitar(owned by a friend of mine,who is right handed bass player but plays guitar solos with a lefty) a month ago when my old self(25..ancient by guitar learning standards) and could not get comfortable with playing the fret with my right hand at all. Soon as i switched to the right handed guitar the lessons went much smoother.

  12. tom April 4, 2012 at 8:15 am - Reply

    I started playing guitar 30 years ago, I am left handed but played all my life like right handed people . I was misinformed that If I do not play the guitar like right handed guys I will never be able to learn. After 30 years playing Today I changed my string of One of my guitars and started to learn from beginning ( right handed ) . Well I had to get rid of my nails that is too bad however I am going to give it a try

  13. william April 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    Hi thanks for a very informative article. I have a question, my son plays left handed and in fact he owns 2 guitars both left handed, however now I wish to take up guitar lessons, is it possible for me to use his guitar but just switch the strings? What are the disadvantages? Thansk, keep up the excellent work.
    Regards
    William Gatt

    • Neal April 7, 2012 at 2:00 pm - Reply

      You can, but it’s not ideal. See this article for a few reasons why http://leftyfretz.com/restring-right-handed-guitar-left-handed/

  14. Amir April 7, 2012 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    I’ve been playing strum on my right hand for 3 months and I had too much progress. but now I feel I can do much better on my left hand. Should I change it to left or continue on my right hand?

  15. april April 8, 2012 at 6:24 am - Reply

    I didnt think to much about this but today i was helping my husband weed eat and mow grass. He ask me why are you weed eating with ur left hand? I didnt realize i was doing it. i tried right but didnt feel right.. I play the guitar with my left as well. I write with my right.

  16. Damien April 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    Hi,

    I’ve been playing guitar on and off for quite some time. Playing a lot more “seriously” in the last year or so.. I play ok – if I do say so myself. I am a lefty – through and through. I own a bunch of right handed guitars, and one acoustic left handed guitar.

    I’d like to put my two cents in – for the longest time I had believed the myth that I’d never progress with the “picking/strumming” right hand because of my extreme left handedness. I’m here to tell you from my point of view this is totally untrue.. I only started making progress when I put that whole thought process aside…. Oh and coincidentally when I also stopped holding a pick with two fingers and my thumb.
    if you want to play fast (god knows why I ever wanted to in the first place – ever heard a singer sing a tune in 16th notes? :-P)
    I’ve been making amazing progress since I just put all that stuff out of my mind, visualized and heard myself in my “mind’s eye” playing effortless and fluently… I also thought a little about the whole fine motor movement issue and decided to start writing with my right hand. Whilst this may seem extreme to some, I needed a way to support the co ordination and so on.

    It’s now my belief that the only thing holding me back is me – time, dedication and making sure I practice extremely slow, then speed it all up.

    On top of being left handed, somewhere along the line I had a stroke – total loss of movement on my right side (would have been a good time to change to lefty! I was 18 at the time). I’ve made a 100% recovery, so I think I have some experience on this topic..

    I just really wanted to say – if you’re a lefty playing right handed, and have done so for a number of years already…. Don’t change…! Keep going and you’ll get there – it’s literally all in your head (even if you have Focal Distonia)…. Build that neural map and kick that amp up to 11!

    Train your brain at low speed: smooth, clean and fluent. It is the simplest of all lessons but I believe the most important, but often overlooked..

  17. Sean April 17, 2012 at 9:07 am - Reply

    Truth be told, I don’t even have a guitar; I’m still thumbing through a lesson book my mom got me and learning to do the chords with my fingers (ie, air guitar). However, there’s one thing I noticed while I was doing this.

    Right off the bat, I was doing the chord shapes with my right hand. I am right handed. When I finally noticed this and tried doing it with my left hand, it felt uncomfortable, and I am fairly sure that my inability to control my left hand as well as my right will hurt my playing.

    So, what now? Should I learn to play left-handed, or should I bite the bullet and try to coax my hand into submission? It’s better at wrist movements than motor control, so I might be better off playing lefty.

  18. Alyssa April 25, 2012 at 4:25 am - Reply

    I’ve had so much trouble trying to play right-handed, to the point where I’ve practically given up. I’m naturally left-handed in practically every aspect of my life.

    However, I own two right-handed guitars. Is it possible to use them & try to learn lefty instead?

    • Neal April 25, 2012 at 10:12 am - Reply

      You can string them upside down and get by, but it isn’t the best option. See this article http://leftyfretz.com/restring-right-handed-guitar-left-handed/ If possible try and swap the righties for a decent lefty.

  19. Alyssa April 26, 2012 at 1:47 am - Reply

    Thanks so much!

  20. Farid Malik May 10, 2012 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    I am a lefty at everything. However, I bought a right hand guitar about 3 or 4 years ago due to the limited availability of left hand guitars. I only played recreationally. Now, I want to learn guitar with proper dedication and so I am thinking of buying a guitar. Unfortunately, your way of finding out one’s natural way of playing cannot work on me as I’m now used to play right handed and hence if i strum an air guitar I’d do it with my right. That method would only have worked if I did it before I started playing. Advice needed, what should I do?

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