Should You Play Left-Handed or Right-Handed? | Hub Guitar

Should You Play Left-Handed or Right-Handed?

L: Stocked House Studio/Shutterstock.com R: Alenavlad/Shutterstock.com

Left: a left-handed guitar player. Right: right-handed guitar player.

Guitars come in right-handed and left-handed varieties. If you’re left handed, you should think carefully about which guitar is right for you to learn. Unfortunately, most people who pick up a guitar don’t immediately show a strong tendency for either right-handed or left-handed playing. That’s because playing the guitar is complex, and it is not clear which hand plays the dominant role until you’ve spent some time practicing.

Most people who are interested in learning guitar simply go out and buy one—the right-handed variety—without necessarily even knowing that there is another kind.

But it’s a good idea to think about this decision carefully. After all, you can’t go back on this decision 10 years from now.

If you’re Right-Handed

If you are right-hand dominant, it’s probably safe to assume that the right-handed guitar is suitable for you. It’s learners who are left-handed or ambidextrous that need to think about it a bit.

If you’re Left-Handed

If you’re left-hand dominant, get a left-handed guitar.

If you’re Not Sure

Many people are ambidextrous, or a mixture or left-handed and right-handed.

Why is the Plucking Hand Dominant?

Beginners spend quite a lot of time struggling to put together chords, to learn scales and sequences of notes, and to perform other techniques like bends and hammer-ons. These are all performed with the fretting hand, which is the left hand on a right-hand guitar. So it can be hard for the beginner to see why the other hand—the plucking hand— is normally considered the dominant hand in guitar playing. And playing the guitar is fairly complex. It demands a lot of both hands and for many people “handedness” may not be as important when playing guitar as it is in other activities. But there’s a reason why the picking or strumming hand is considered the dominant hand. Let’s compare the duties of each hand for a right-handed guitar player:

Fret Hand

  • Fret chords
  • Repeat long sequences of notes
  • Make big stretches
  • Quickly switch between notes and chords

Picking hand

  • Quickly and accurately pluck notes
  • Repeatedly and accurately target a space the width of a guitar string, hitting it every time
  • Play complex patterns of up, down, and skipped strokes
  • Keep the time accurate
  • Play “blind”, without looking at the picking hand, as there is often a need to look at the fret hand as when making fret shift

As You Advance, the Picking Hand Gets More Important

Another way to think of it is that the fret hand is dominant in the beginning. In the beginning, you’ll tend to learn chords and simple melodies, which may require more attention on the fret hand. But as you advance, you’ll notice that your picking hand technique takes more and more focus.

This is worrisome, because a left-handed person might not be able to notice any immediate difference between the two guitars. But if you take two left-handed twins and give one a left-handed guitar and one a right-handed guitar, which one do you think will have more dexterity a year later?

How to Decide

If you’re not sure, the best way to decide is to compare left and right-handed guitars. You don’t even necessarily need a left-handed guitar, as you can flip a right-handed guitar over and use it as a left-handed guitar. Just be aware that some guitars are designed asymmetrically, so if you play it upside down it might feel a little strange.

A simple test

Holding the right-handed guitar, try a few things:

  • Play a simple scale to see if it’s comfortable
  • Play some simple chords to see how those feel
  • Now, block the strings with your fret hand, and try to scratch out some rhythms on the strings

Once you’ve performed this test, get a left-handed guitar, or flip the guitar over and do it again. Do this several times. Does left-handed guitar seem to be coming more quickly to you, or right-handed guitar?

Do not be intimidated by the suggestions of other people. This is a very personal decision. Most of them know better than to try to influence this decision, but some of them, well-meaning as they may be, may try to take control of the decision or influence your choice. This is best done privately. Take your time.

If You Can’t Decide

If you really can’t tell the difference, you should probably just get the guitar suited for your dominant hand. Or, if you don’t have strong hand-dominance, you should probably get a right-handed guitar, as it will be more convenient to find guitars and guitar-learning resources if you play right-handed.

What matters is not so much whether you play left-handed or right-handed, but whether you practice diligently, every day, forever.

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