top of page

Why playing direction makes a difference. Left-handed flutes for left-handed musicians

by Karoline Renner

Playing music requires at the same time the highest spatial-temporal precision, quick and flexible reactions, and creativity in tonal expression.

It demands lifelong practice, because it is the most difficult thing that a human being can accomplish. This is because motor control (of the fingers, embouchure and voice) is subject to a merciless authority: the ear.

The ear is four times more precise than the eye. It can perceive temporal inaccuracies in the range of milliseconds and pitch differences of a few cents.

To limit innate handedness to just the hands is much too short-sighted. For whether someone uses their left or right hand as a priority, i.e. perceives it as more skilled for precise activities than the other hand, has effects on more than just the motoric:

"The fingers are the tentacles of our mind."

Gerrit Onne Van de Klashorst, developer of Dispokinesis

Playing an inappropriate instrument that does not match one's handedness can have an impact on:

- the whole learning of an instrument: learning speed, ease, motivation, joy

- the whole posture as turning to the left for the right-handed flute or to the right for the left-handed flute, from head to toe

- balancing the instrument, sense of security for fingers and sound, counterbalancing the tilting of the flute towards the mechanics to the player

- fundamental effects on breathing (connection between emotions and diaphragm)

- gestures and expressive movements

- condition and fatigue

- hearing (Without exception all my experiments confirm that it makes a decisive difference to hear one's own flute sound from the right or from the left.)

- Seeing in general and grasping the musical text (reading music)

- Self-confidence, self-assurance, stage behavior

- Creativity (VERY IMPORTANT - that's what music is all about!)

Advantages of using appropriate musical instruments corresponding to one's handedness:

- respect for one's own body, avoidance of overstraining symptoms

- prevention and avoidance of physical compensation and resulting problems (pain in the entire musculoskeletal system)

- increased tonal variety in the orchestra/ensemble, also due to the different placement and corresponding radiation direction of the sound sources

- improved emotional state in an already emotionally demanding environment with highest performance demands and accuracy under pressure while working in intimate distance with others

- improved self-acceptance ("I am right the way I am.")

- greater satisfaction, ability to accept criticism, teamwork skills

Summing up arguments against the usual objections:

"How does that look in the orchestra?!"

First, most listeners don't see it, and second, it's about the highest artistic quality, which must be HEARD and FELT. The optical impression must be subordinated to tonal and creative advantages. Instead of superficial uniformity, authenticity of person and artistic expression must come into play.

"We're already short on space! How are we going to seat people playing in the other direction now?"

In the case of centrally played instruments, space makes no difference (oboe, clarinet...). String players must be placed so that the bows do not collide. The space required for them, as well as for flutists, remains basically the same, only it is filled differently. The same applies to percussion instruments.

"Why do that at all? You need both hands to play anyway!"

Handedness emerges as an overall perception in the brain and is therefore not just reduced to motor skills. It is a different way of being and perceiving. For arguments see above.

"I'm left-handed, and as a professional musician I have no problem playing the regular flute."

Congratulations! But there are verifiably enough people who would rather play or do play to the other side. For everyone it would be an obvious sign of respect, openness and tolerance, if they had the choice, preferably from the beginning, on which side they would like to play.

"There are no high-quality instruments. There are no teachers open to this topic."

That's not true. Well, yes, there are still few, but they do exist and you can find them. And they're getting more all the time. If the demand is high enough, everyone will join in.

Visit the author's website (external link)

A clarinettist and a flutist playing left-handed music

Ulrike Scheuchl (Clarinet) and Silke Becker (Flute) performing on left-handed instruments according to their handedness.

Photo credits: Alexander Englert



bottom of page