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’d never owned 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.  The majority of 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?

Should I Learn Guitar Left 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 experience, the picking hand demands 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 silly 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, has accepted some poor advice, or simply isn’t interested in reaching a high level of proficiency.  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 keep 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 unfortunately many will not hesitate to make a quick buck rather than sell you the product you actually want and/or need.

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 2016, 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. Besides, how many guitars do you really need?

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.

The only real difference is that chord diagrams are mirrored, but it’s not too taxing 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. Or, if you’re super awesome and would like to support the site, check out our massive new lefty chord book.  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 in 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 being an average player 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 into 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.

467 replies
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  1. Dee
    Dee says:

    I find myself becoming a bit militant about this question because such lack of respect for left-handed musicians can keep people from learning and enjoying playing. I’m learning left-handed while traveling. Yes, it means carrying my guitar with me, but for me it’s worth it. I find that right-handed people who say “just learn right-handed,” have almost never even touched a left-handed guitar. I’m carrying a nice Martin 00-15M and most guitarist I meet wouldn’t mind have a go at it. The times I’ve handed mine over, though, I always get the same reaction – a rather shocked and horrified look and a oh! yuck! no! and they hand it right back. In short, they can’t even hold it comfortably. I think if it were so easy to switch, then wouldn’t Django (fretting), Tommy Iommi (fretting), and Jerry Garcia (strumming) have done it? The story goes that Iommi tried briefly, but it didn’t work for him. All of these guitarists with injured hands could’ve switched, but none of them changed to play on the non-dominant side. Chord diagrams are no problem, either way. As a left-handed person, I’m used to being shown things upside-down and backwards. Btw, even though I’ve been playing left-handed for about 10 months and I’m sure it’s the most natural way for me, I still find myself doing air guitar right-handed, maybe cuz I started older? Who knows? Best of luck to everyone.

  2. Jeffery Davis
    Jeffery Davis says:

    Unfortunately, I am a right-handed person who is missing half of my left-hand middle finger because of a childhood accident. So I am playing left-handed. Am I completely screwed?

    • Neal
      Neal says:

      I would suggest that playing right handed without a middle finger would be far more limiting than going the left handed route you have chosen. In your case I think you made the right choice.

      • Fred Grable
        Fred Grable says:

        Your reply to Jeffery got my attention. I too had an accident long ago that cut off my the tip of my left index finger. I would like to pick up guitar but as a right hander, I thought I was “screwed”. THATS why I started considering going lefty. But maybe my affliction is minor enough to not warrant starting on a lefty. Thoughts?

  3. Cary
    Cary says:

    I am very left handed. I have a right handed bass I picked up for my wife and have been goofing around on it for a couple weeks as is. As I was speeding the songs up I was practicing I found that I was having trouble with my right hand and my left was doing fine with fretting for the most part. I flipped the bass over and found my left hand was having an easier time and it felt better strumming. So I inverted the strings to give it a try. So everything I have learned so far is out the window. It feels more natural but both my hands have gone dumb. I tried your two methods of finding out which way to play. When I “strum” I do it right handed but when I clap it is 100% left handed my right doesn’t even move. I know that if I give it hell I can do it either way I want too. But being very left handed in a right handed world I have had to adapt to right handed things. I cant swing a hammer right handed, throwing a ball right handed isn’t even gonna happen. So I find myself in a pickle deciding which way to play. So any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  4. Denise
    Denise says:

    When I tried to take guitar lessons a number of years ago, I was told by my teacher that I should just play right handed because you have to use both hands anyway, like on the piano. Playing a bit of piano, the idea made sense to me. But when I tried guitar, it seemed very different. It felt so uncomfortable, but I thought it was just due to it being a new instrument. The chord shapes felt very awkward and I had very little fluidity in my picking–even the simplest pieces. I ultimately realized I was getting nowhere had little time for it anyway and decided to give it up, even getting rid of the guitar.

    I only recently realized that my problems with the guitar were due to trying to play right handed. Your point is so true that if it really didn’t matter or the dominant hand needed to do the fretting, then we would see righties playing left handed; but we don’t because it doesn’t work well. Wish I had gotten a second opinion (especially from a lefty) before giving up guitar before, but I plan to get another one tomorrow and dive back into it. (will definitely check out the rest of the site as well!)

  5. Robert McFaddin
    Robert McFaddin says:

    Hi! I’m 51 years old and have played with the idea of learning guitar for years. I told myself that 2017 is the year to do it. I did the “tests” and am pretty sure I should learn left-handed. I strummed my air guitar with my left and my left hand does the majority of movement when I clap. I throw with my left hand as well. However, I write and draw with my right hand. Anyway, I plan on learning left-handed.

    However, I am 6’7″ tall. Thus, I have a BIG wingspan. Should that factor in at all when choosing a guitar to learn on?

    Thanks for your time!

    • Neal
      Neal says:

      I wouldn’t worry too much about your wingspan Robert. However, if you have big hands/fingers then you might like to consider a guitar such as a Stratocaster or Telecaster type. These have a slightly longer scale length (25.5″), so the spaces in between frets are a little wider. Guitars such as a Les Paul or SG have the shorter 24.75″ scale length, which you might find a little cramped.

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