Left-Handers in a Right-Handed Music World

by | Nov 26, 2016 | Beginners | 8 comments

Left-Handers In a Right-Handed Music World

The music world is very ‘right-handed’. Almost all stringed instruments are set up for right-handed people. And it is extremely difficult for left-handers to find teachers or material that would help them. So what do you do if you want to learn left-handed ukulele?

Fortunately, lefties have several choices when learning to play a stringed instrument:

Play It Like Everyone Else

Left-handed people can choose to be part of the right-handed world and finger the chords with the left hand, while strumming with their right. This choice makes it easier later, because the left-handed person can read standard chord charts, buy standard ukulele music and learn from standard sources such as YouTube videos.

Left-Handers In a Right-Handed Music World-school

In a classroom situation, I insist on this way of playing because the students learn so much from each other. If one or two children are playing “backwards” it is confusing for the entire class. Also, if a left-handed person wants to become a multi-instrumentalist later, learning the right-handed way of doing things makes it easier to switch from instrument to instrument.

Reversing the Normal Way

Left-handed people can turn the standard ukulele backwards and finger with the right hand and strum with their left hand. Initially, this way of playing will be much more comfortable. However, these players will need to adapt all standard chord stamps and ukulele learning materials by doing a mental flip in their minds of the written and visual materials. It can be difficult to flip the chord stamps in one’s head.

Restringing the Instrument

jimi-1089298_1920Left-handed people can restring their ukuleles and finger with their right hand while strumming with their left hand. Obviously, many great artists have chosen this path. Sir Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton come to mind immediately! The chords charts and strumming patterns will probably be less confusing this way, but since I have not tried it, I am not sure how that would work.

Learning From a Left-Hander

When I initially studied guitar from a left-handed player who had a left-handed guitar, it was kind of cool. When I was facing him, our fingers on each hand were an exact mirror to each other, so it was easy for me to learn. He played mandolin, guitar, banjo, ukulele and many other stringed instruments.

He wanted to learn fiddle, but here was where he got stumped. While it is relatively common to restring “folk” and “fretted” instruments for left-handed people, it is virtually unheard of to restring bowed string instruments. My guitar teacher was frustrated because he could not easily pick up the fiddle from his knowledge of the mandolin. Mandolin and violin have the same strings, so left-hand chord and fingering shapes are identical.

How to Restring the Ukulele

I had a left-handed student who wanted to strum with his left hand and hold the ukulele in his right. We re-tuned his ukulele so that the string closest to the ceiling was an “A” string and the string closest to the floor was a “G” string. Since these two strings are close enough in pitch, we did not have to switch the strings. We switched the two middle strings and re-tuned them as well. He played the same songs as everyone else and had the same book. He simply had his lefty ukulele chord shapes on his music stand. It was a little confusing for me to look at him (in the class), but he was fine.

It’s Okay to Switch

I would say if someone is really struggling with right-handed playing, go ahead and switch them. After all, Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton have been eminently successful left-handed guitarists. Why not allow left-handed people who are really struggling to learn the way that is best for them?

Below is a good video that explains how to read the chord charts with the re-tuned ukulele. You simply look at the chord charts as a mirror.


Here is a screen shot of the most common left handed ukulele chords if the “mirror” method does not work.

The Long Range View

My advice to anyone who sees themselves as ever becoming a “multi-instrumentalist” is to learn fingering patterns in your left hand and bowing/strumming/picking patterns in your right. As a leftie, you will learn the traditional chord shapes and fingering patterns much more quickly than your right-handed counterparts. You will be able to transport this knowledge to any string instrument and learn any of them rather quickly. (I play violin, viola, cello, bass, ukulele and guitar.)

Final Thoughts

The real artistry of any stringed instrument is with the right hand-bowing/strumming/finger-picking etc. All of us have to work to master the different right-hand techniques on any stringed instrument, but it is nice to have the left-hand coordination mastered and be able to take it with you wherever you go musically.

I have lots of left-handed string students who initially struggle with strumming and/or bowing on their instruments, but after a few months of instruction the coordination is there! Then they sail ahead more quickly than their right-handed counterparts. I always tell the left-handed kids that learning to be ambidextrous makes anyone smarter because it uses more parts of your brain, and that all stringed instrument players are equally adept at the use of either hand.

Have fun and happy strumming!

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  1. Jenny Peters

    Here is a good left-handed ukulele chord chart from Pinterest. It will help beginners who choose to retune their instruments learn their chord shapes. Eventually, you will master the mental flip that is required to read standard chord charts.


  2. Neil O. Jensen

    I am a 60 year old left hander. I picked up the guitar as a teenager (of course) it was right handed and I have struggled with it all my life and never got very good. I picked up the Ukulele (again right handed) about 5 years ago and found it easier but still never had the finesse or coordination in my right hand to get very good. Finally about a year ago at a friends urging, I made the leap and switched, restringing my Uke to left handed. Wow! What a difference, why did I wait so long! Sure, it took a couple of weeks to get the mind switched and and cord patterns reversed. Finally I had the coordination and rhythm that I needed to strum, but I could also start learning to fingerpick. It was a whole new world. But the biggest surprise for me was my brain. The music now flowed from my brain to my hands like it never did before. It was as if all along there was a block from my brain to my hands that held me back, this was now gone. I can not believe the progress I have made in the past year since switching. After a lifetime of frustration, I now feel like there is no limit. Take it from someone who has gone down that road and don’t fight Mother Nature.

    • Jenny Peters

      I’m so glad you’re playing left-handed! As a multi-instrumentalist, I’ve always found the strumming hand to be much more difficult to learn than the fingering hand. It makes sense that your dominant hand should be doing the hard stuff, not your non-dominant hand.

      I still have children try ukulele right-handed first. If they’re going to play other instruments having right-handed experience will serve them well. But for adults, I’m more open-minded about which hand to use when you play ukulele. A left-handed guitar can be quite expensive, but switching two strings on a ukulele is easy. I’m so glad you’re improving and enjoying yourself so much!

    • Niko Blessing

      A mirror of my experience! Why I ever listened to a right handed person telling my left brain what was best is beyond me.
      I just made the switch and only just starting to play left and for once it feels so natural. I finally have hope.

      • Jenny Peters

        I’m so glad to hear that!

    • Pam I Am

      Good for you. I am just starting to learn ukulele as a hopeless lefty, and have had many people try to convince me to play right-handed because it’s easier for THEM. It honestly makes me kind of angry. I have restrung my uke and am learning to read right-handed chord charts by flipping them in my brain. There is nothing “simple” about it, but I’ll figure it out.

  3. Traci Breen

    I always wanted to learn ukelele and my husband bought me one 2 Christmas’ ago and i paid al ot for 10 lessons and most of the lesson was the person trying to woke his uklele to be lefthanded. I learned no chords just a few simple songs like Mary had a little lamb…hundreds of $$$ for nothing.

    I need help. I so want to surprise my husband for this christmas with maybe learning a few chords and 1 song

    • Jenny Peters

      I would suggest working through our first book, “21 Songs in 6 Days: Learn Ukulele the Easy Way” and the free online course that goes with it. You can get the book at our shop. https://ukulele.io/shop Once you get good at two and three-chord songs, you can learn Christmas songs in our book, “21 Easy Ukulele Songs for Christmas.” Have fun!


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