Lesson 1.0 GUITAR HANDEDNESS: A Radical New Approach for the Aspiring Guitarist


In my ever-growing love affair with music and the guitar, I realized, some time ago, that I had unknowingly avoided one of the huge pit-traps that many aspiring musicians fall prey. And this metamorphosed into a giant leap forward that has helped me immeasurably on my musical journey. I had fortuitously selected the best handed instrument for me—a right-handed guitar. However, I am left-handed, but that's what was available. After three months of practicing my oversized dreadnaught, I was writing songs and feeling quite comfortable with Taka.

Many people, much younger than I, had told me how difficult it was for them to learn the guitar—how they had struggled and failed. And how they had such deep feelings of remorse for quitting. They often attributed their failures to the fallacious fact that they didn't have the talent or natural ability like others had to gain proficiency at the guitar. People told me: You're lucky. You must have a natural talent. This didn't sound right.

I had played guitar when I was really young and was introduced to music at an early age. Being exposed to music as a child benefited me when deciding to take up a more serious study of music and learn an instrument as an adult. This is a well-documented fact. But something still didn't sit well. Innate talent? Maybe, but I put in the work and got results: X * Y = XY. It was difficult at first, like any new endeavor; however, it was not near as difficult as many people had described. This peeked my curiosity.

Why was it so much easier for me?

I did some research and began at the beginning. The first step in playing a musical instrument, in this case a guitar, is knowing which instrument to buy—acoustic, electric, body style and size, etc. Handedness seems like an easy decision amidst the plethera of other choices. However, it's not. I didn't think that I would have to delve into the history of the classical guitar to figure out this seemingly simple decision. But I did.

Ninety percent of people are right-handed, and most guitars on the market, if not all at many dealers, are mislabeled as "right-handed" guitars. These instruments require the player to fret complex melodies and solos with their left hand when playing most musical styles (pop, metal, rock, jazz, blues, country, folk, etc.). And it demands more left-hand dexterity than most right-handers have. The right hand is used to strum or pick which requires less dexterity.

Why is this a right-handed instrument?


Handedness is based on the classical guitar.

For playing the classical "right-handed" guitar, the player exercises most of their fine motor coordination with their right hand. This involves finger picking and plucking with the right hand which is the typical strumming hand for most other styles of music. The left hand, or the fretting hand, holds positions and requires less coordination than the right. Certainly one will develop more dexterous movements with the left hand simply from playing the instrument; however, the bulk of the coordination is reliant on the dexterity of the right hand. Thus, this style of music calls this instrument a "right-handed" guitar.

For non-classical forms of music, this is not true. The right hand is used for strumming and picking rather than for playing complex solos and melodies. If you are right-handed—i.e. you write and do most complex motor movements with your right hand; imagine teaching your left hand to catch up with years of fine motor coordination already present in your right hand. This will take time and it is the hardest, longest route to your best musical you. Playing a "right-handed" guitar will demote your right hand to performing a simple task that, more than likely, will challenge your left.

Here's a fun metaphoric test. Try writing with your opposite hand. Imagine how difficult it would be to make your opposite hand your new writing hand. Surely it is possible, but so is studying for a physics final while your roommate crash tests symbols all evening. And you may have some decent coordination in your opposite hand. However, it will take much longer to become proficient. It will be more frustrating, and you are more likely to abandon teaching your opposite hand to write. Music is difficult as it is and requires a lot of discipline and practice; however, starting your journey with your best hand forward will do wonders for your musical progress. 

If you are really young, elementary school age, this may not have a huge impact on your playing. But it will definitely have an impact especially if you have already starting writing. You will adapt, new pathways will open and you will become more ambidextrous. However, choosing an instrument from the get go that suits your handedness is best.

I am left-handed. And I play a "right-handed" guitar. My left does the fretting and my right the strumming. If you are left-handed, most guitars on the market are made for you. You are in luck. Unfortunately, if you are right-handed, like ninety percent of people out there, the overwhelming majority of instruments on the market are designed for left-handed players or right-handed classical guitar players. Most players learn on a "right-handed" guitar for playing pop, metal, rock, jazz, blues, country, folk, etc. It's much harder, but they do it. It's more difficult to find a left-handed guitar, and most aspiring musicians simply conform to what is available.

This is not to say that many fabulous guitarists out there are wrong. They simply put in more work, more time and struggled. Maybe they started when they were really young and didn't have to re-train their opposite hand to cetch up with thirty-seven years of motor development. But you don't have to struggle. And if you've been playing for some time using an opposite-handed instrument, don't sweat it. Knowing that it may be more difficult for you will give you an external explanation rather than hoisting the blame on yourself. Keep playing.

If you're playing classical music or other musical forms that require a lot of fine motor coordination with the strumming hand, choose a "right-handed" guitar if you're right-handed. If your playing musical styles such as pop, metal, rock, jazz, blues, country, folk, etc., it's time to special order a lefty for the righty you.

Good luck to you and I hope that this was helpful.

In music we trust,


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