Left-handed in music?
Should left-handers play 'the other way around'?
This question is addressed by numerous websites and books, which we link to here.
That it feels more natural and simply 'right' for many left-handers from an early age to hold their instruments the other way around than the current norm, is confirmed by professional left-handed players in our interviews.
Here we collect statements on the subject of handedness and instrumental playing from teachers, students and left-handed professionals who have learned to play their instruments in the conventional 'right-handed' way.
Statements by music educators
Elfriede Stahmer former professor for methodology and didactics of violin playing (Hanover University of Music)
"Not playing according to your handedness as a beginner usually causes increased difficulties (too much power in the fingering hand, too little expressiveness in the bowing hand) and creates unnecessary hurdles that are avoidable. Teachers should have the courage to get involved in this topic, because in the end, playing music according to handedness makes so many things easier - above all, healthier.
When I experience a musician, the most important thing for me is whether they make a healthy impression on me. If the relationship between body and instrument is not harmonious but strained, there is usually something fundamentally wrong. This can be, for example, playing contrary to the handedness." – Read interview
Lioba Thiel Piano and keyboard teacher
In fact, when left-handed people can learn on a reversed keyboard, they feel much more comfortable, have a nicer tone, more expression, better rhythm, and are much more relaxed and balanced. Almost all of them also improve their performance at school. In males even more seriously than in females. But unfortunately not all parents allow their children to play left-handed, for example when they have an acoustic piano at home – that is such a pity.
Karoline Renner Orchestra musician and flute teacher
"My experience from more than two decades of teaching left-handed students at all levels of ability shows me that they are all comfortable on the right-handed flute. However, that is not the deciding factor in my considerations. What I experience is that left-handed people have to make a much greater effort to get along on the right-handed flute. All their lives they are searching for a very specific feeling of rightness for themselves, especially in "stage moments" when they want to express and "show" themselves through their instrument to an audience or a jury. It has been proven many times that left-handed players can achieve the same technical perfection on the conventional flute as right-handed players. The only question is what extra energetic, emotional and time expenditure at the expense of what qualities – like well-being, security, stamina, strength, attention, empathy, flow – they must make to achieve it." – Website
Martial Gauthier Violin teacher at the CRD of Créteil (France)
"Bow technique is so difficult for all of us! Music intention, sound, personality, phrasing are 99% in the bow. That’s why I think the bow has to be taken in your guiding hand. We all look for a natural posture, so why should we start with a handicap?" – Read our full interview
Géza Losó Piano teacher
"There are still people who say, "You have two hands. The piano was made for two hands". But they don't know that handedness is even more important on the piano than on other instruments. It's like this: with two hands you have three functions on the piano: Basses, chords and melody. If you get that mixed up, you have deficits somewhere. It does matter which hand plays what, because with one hand the brain always switches faster by a fraction of a second. With a left-handed person, it's the left, so you have to play the melody, which is absolutely always the most important thing in piano playing, with your dominant (left) hand. Then the shaping is correct, then you have a good feeling and everything else can be shaped to it, but not vice versa." – Read our full interview
Ludwig Quandt Principal cellist of the Berlin Philharmonic
"A lot of left-handed people who could have been great musicians probably just fell under the radar, I think, when they had to play against their handedness. Playing a string instrument is mainly about the bow: that one has the feeling of space for the bow. That is what matters! It takes an enormous amount of flexibility. It's a completely different challenge than for the fingering hand." – Read our full interview
Reingard Voß Violin student
"For one of my lefty students playing right-handed, it turns out to be quite classic for a that constellation: She hears very well and has few problems with the fingering hand. With the bow, however, there are difficulties. When she first started with me, she often said, "It keeps squeaking. I can't get it to work." Her posture looked fine to my eyes, and at first I didn't understand what her difficulty was in not being able to slide the bow naturally across the strings. [...] When I handed her the violin the left-handed way, her words were, "Strangely familiar." She is in fifth grade and she was able to put it into those words!" – Read our full interview (German)
Lukas Briggen Trombone teacher at Basel Music School
"I realize that the sensitivity for handedness in music is far from being self-evident. It makes a difference and there is a reason why instruments in a right-handed world are designed and played that way! Especially with children it is important to be attentive to this in order not to put obstacles in their way.
I always encourage my left-handed students to consider their handedness when playing the trombone. But with them, the pressure to adapt seems to be too strong to choose to play left-handed. I have several left-handed students, who, nonetheless, want to play right-handed. I can't and don't want to force them to deviate from the norm, but of course find it a shame that they make their lives more difficult as a result. In general, however, I find that sensitivity to people's differences is growing, and I see that as a positive thing. Handedness is simply one aspect of many." – Read our full interview (German)
Laila Kirchner Cellist
"Among the cello beginners in the strings class were two left-handed children who suffered from having to bow with their right hand. The boy was intelligent, but did not get along at all on the cello. He couldn't play a tone without trouble, didn't learn fingering properly, and frequently hit the bow at the second teacher who corrected him. He kept taking the bow in his left hand and trying it the other way around, purely intuitively, and kept getting turned around and punished for being difficult. The girl was more accommodating, but always complained about her right arm hurting. When I pointed this out, I got real headwinds from the instructor.
This is a topic that, similar to the writing hand, should be enlightened to such an extent that every instrumental pedagogue should deal with it in training and afterwards and develop a neutral attitude towards it. That is, if children or parents wish to play on the left or try it once, then the teacher should also be open to it and teach it or, if necessary, refer it to a colleague, instead of saying, You don't do that." – Read our full interview (German)
Statements by left-handed instrument learners
"I started playing the cello left-handed at the age of six. At that time, I held the bow and cello directly like a left-handed instrument, because that's how it felt good. My parents and the luthier were excited to see me intuitively taking the instrument this way and experimenting on it. So they let me start left-handed, and as far as I know, there was no long discussion. [...] Playing like that feels right. I think it's great to become one of the first aspiring professional left-hand cellists! But at the same time, I never tried to make a big or special thing out of it, because it should be normal to play according to your handedness and not be treated differently because of it." [translated]
„I have been playing the violin since I was five. Thanks to my parents, who are professional musicians and had studied the essential role of the bow hand in violin playing, I had the great luck to learn to play the violin in the way that felt right to me and still does: bow in the left hand, neck in the right. I don't remember anyone ever telling me which hand to use for what. It seems to have always been very clear for me to take the bow in the left hand. Very often people describe that I look natural when playing left-handed. They don't question whether it might have worked the right-handed way as well. From the outside, I often hear: That just looks right to you.“ [translated]
"I started playing the piano when I was six years old. My piano teacher had to work hard to make my left hand quieter because I always roared so much with it. At that time, I didn't know that left-handed pianos existed. I just accepted at some point: "Piano is this way around" and didn't question it anymore. But for fun, I would often say, "Oh, that would be cool if I had the melody on the left."
When I was ten, I started playing the viola, which I learned to play left-handed from the beginning. It was clear to me at that point that I wasn't going to play it according to convention, because it had actually felt so wrong when I tried it right-handed once. It's a completely different world to play according to handedness. It would be totally exhausting to play otherwise. I think that many people underestimate the bow arm in the beginning. The task of the gripping hand remains more of a mathematical-rational one, while the bow hand makes the emotions sound and transmits them to the people." [translated]
„I am clearly left-handed and have been playing left-handed since I started learning the violin at the age of six. What I never had problems with was the sound production. It's just so important to bow with the dominant hand! The sound is then simply good and full. There was no question for me that I wanted to play the violin this way: As naturally as I write with my left hand, as clear it was for me to play the violin with my left hand, too. That's how it feels natural to me.“ [translation]
"I've been playing the violin since I was two years old. My first violin was a 'regular' one, but I played it left-handed anyway. I've tried many times to play with the bow in my right hand, but it doesn't work: It's very uncomfortable." – Mira (7) from Sweden [translated]
„I already played the guitar left-handed, and when I started to learn the violin at the age of 35, it simply felt better to do it left-handed, too. At that age I couldn’t be coaxed into something else anymore. :) But: not every teacher will teach you like that and not every orchestra will accept you. It’s also more difficult to get a violin for lefties. It took me three attempts to find a teacher who accepted to teach me as a lefty! The others said things like: ‚That’s too rare. We’re not familiar with it. That would be like back-to-front, right?!’ Apparently they can’t imagine what they haven’t seen… In fact, playing left-handed is way more convenient in teaching because we can face each other like a mirror image. That allows me to imitate exactly what my teacher does.“ [translation]
"When I started to play the violin 8 years ago, I wanted my teacher and violin maker to teach me on the left as I am a 100% lefty, they said 'no', so I started on the right hand and kept my rebellion inside. I felt a bit bad about it because it was the first time I was «forced» to be sort of a right-hander. When I was young I was asked to write with the right hand, I refused and stayed a proud lefty :) and years later with the violin, I became a right hander! Concerning the bow on the right hand I am used to it, even though I always wondered what it would have been like on the other hand."
"When I was little, my family had an old violin, I loved to play with it and I was instinctively holding it with my right hand, to play pizzicato with my left hand. I didn't know it wasn't supposed to be like this. :) When I took my first lessons, my parents asked my teacher if that would be okay for me to play with the bow in my left hand. I wasn't in a music school back then, my teacher was an older viola student tutoring me, and she wasn't against it. My mother did a lot of research too, to see if it was possible, if it would help me to hold my bow with my dominant hand, and she really stood up for me! When I first tried to enter a conservatoire, I was refused, because they thought it was an abomination to "reverse" a violin, also the teachers were scared not to be able to teach me, but after one trial lesson, they saw that it was actually really easy! It was like playing in front of a mirror. :) That happened every time I changed the teacher. They were scared at first, but they adapted really quickly! Also, when I started to play in groups, it was so cool, especially in violin duets, because we can face each other. I never regretted my decision to hold my bow with the left hand: As a left-handed, it's easier for me to use this hand to put all the energy, sensibility, life in my music, when my right hand "only" needs to work on her technique to be precise." – @vaialyn
"There’s only few left-handed people in China, just like me, many people are forced to change by their family when they are young. But I think that there will be more inclusivity when our generation is grown up. So being virtue of these reasons, there’s almost NO left-handed musicians in China. I’ve never played the right-handed way seriously, but I have tried it once: it was impossible for me to play a song like that! About all, maybe the only reason for me to play left-handed is: this is the most comfortable way for me to make good music." – Read our full interview
"I was born in Turkey in 1979, in a setting where my left-handedness was never a problem. The first person I saw playing left-handed was the famous saz player Arif Sağ. Thereby I was already aware as a child: There must be instruments for me! Unfortunately, this turned out to be more difficult in practice: With my possibilities at that time, I simply could not find a left-handed instrument. It wasn't until I moved to Vienna in my mid-twenties that I got my hands on lefty electric guitars. But even then, the selection was much poorer and the prices higher than for righty models. So my left-handedness itself has never been a problem, but the attitude, ignorance and discrimination on the part of society." – read more
"I started playing the violin when I was four years old and initially learned right-handed for three years. But the coordination between hand and brain didn't really work. I sometimes had blockages like it just didn't work, even though I knew exactly what I wanted to express and how to do it. So it sounded like a sensible option to try a left-handed violin. It actually went relatively quickly that what I had already learned right-handed I could eventually do on the left-handed violin... The biggest advantage is that it's now consistent with my handedness, allowing me to use my full potential. The blockages haven't come back since playing left-handed. It's now definitely the way it should be." – read more
"I am clearly right-handed, but I had an accident with my hand when I was nine. So I learned to play the violin left-handed from the beginning. Never has a teacher rejected me because I play the other way around. I think that one automatically imitates what the teacher demonstrates. I definitely felt the difficulty of bowing with my left hand, when I am right-handed! I have always had difficulties with bowing technique: small movements, for example quick string crossings, are a huge problem for me. Bow technique definitely becomes a handicap if you don't play according to your natural handedness." – read more
"It's so much more fun! Within about 8 weeks of relearning, I was technically on par with one and a half years of playing right-handed. Everything was easier for me – and the feeling! It's hard to describe, but I could finally start playing with my heart instead of just my head. Of course, learning a string instrument is still challenging and a lot of work. But I found it less stressful to give a sound to pieces, so it is much more fun and I can enjoy the music more. I have become a passionate left-hand player and will never play anything the wrong way around again." – read more (German)
"Back in 1991, my father tried to get me learning to play the cello on the left. Unfortunately, the teacher was still young and knew left-hand playing only from injured musicians. She didn't have the confidence to teach me that way. Therefore I had to learn to play with my right hand. I really struggled with my bowing for four years. Throughout, my right hand remained weaker and more uneducable.
During my studies, too, I had a very poor connection to my right hand, both in terms of strength and tempo, as well as emotionally. I simply wasn't aware of it. It was like an appendage on my body and I couldn't get into it with my consciousness. As a result, I could never understand and implement what the teachers were really telling me or what they meant." – read more (German)
Statements by left-handed professionals playing in the conventional manner
Left-handers playing right-handed
Maria Polonidou, violinist
"Tatsächlich haben mich immer nur andere darauf angesprochen ob ich nicht die Geige anders halten sollte. Ich selber habe mich nie damit beschäftigt, weil es auch nie ein Thema war im Unterricht. Im Nachhinein fand ich es toll, so fein mit der linken Hand denken und spielen zu können, die rechte Hand ist natürlich meine schwächere Hand, das heißt ich hatte oft Schwierigkeiten mit den Sehnen und Muskeln rechts. Mein Herz beim Geigen sitzt also in der Linken. Ich hab mir immer etwas mehr Power rechts gewünscht und das sehe ich auch in Verbindung mit der Linkshändigkeit. Aber im Vergleich zu Nicht-Musiker*innen ist meine rechte Hand immer noch sehr ausgeprägt und fein, von daher betrachte ich es generell nicht als Defizit. Im Allgemeinen würde ich sagen, ich hatte und habe nicht mehr oder weniger Probleme als Rechtshänder. Bei Bewegungen meines rechten Arms musste ich einfach mehr nachdenken, wie ich etwas erreiche (links war der Lernprozess kürzer).
Ich hätte mir vielleicht besonders am Anfang aber auch im Studium oft gewünscht, dass meine Lehrer technische Sachen an der Bogenhand besser beschreiben könnten oder einen extra Fokus darauf gelegt hätten (die meisten meiner Lehrer wussten nicht mal dass ich Linkshänder bin). Auf diese Weise war die Bogenhand und ist es teilweise noch immer recht geheimnisvoll. Große Probleme hatte ich nicht, aber eine leichte Benachteiligung, weil rechts doch mehr "Erklärung" für mich nötig war/ist."