“I’m left-handed – now what?” You don’t need to buy a special left-handed ukulele.
The ukulele world has plenty of scope for left-handed players.
I’ll tell you more about this in a minute.
About 10% of the population is left-handed. If, you’re right-handed, like me, it’s handy to know about the different experience of left-handed musicians. It could be helpful to someone in your family, or a friend.
Left-handed people get used to coping and adapting in a world that takes right-handedness for granted. Everything from dining table settings and can openers, to music.
Up till the mid 20th century many left-handed kids were expected to write right-handed.
Like many other spheres of life, the music world is set up for right-handed people.
Orchestras are particularly rigid on this. In an orchestra, all the violinists must be playing right-handed.
However, I know left-handed people who’ve become skilled violinists. I think the sheer co-ordination difficulty of an instrument like the violin may transcend left hand or right hand affinity. (This is just my theory.)
When I worked for a violin business, I remember one client asked for a left-handed violin. Cath Newhook, my boss at the Stringed Instrument Company, explained that violins are acoustically designed to be played right-handed.
The strings and bridge and chin rest can theoretically be adjusted for a left-handed player. But this will result in the instrument not being optimized for tone and sound. And this is a big deal for a violin.
Guitar family instruments come in both right and left-handed models. There’s a famous subset of left-handed players, headed by Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney.
Paul McCartney’s left-handed bass guitar gave the Beatles their distinctive visual symmetry on stage. Ringo Starr was also left-handed, but played a right-handed drum kit.
McCartney and Hendrix inspired generations of left-handed guitarists, including my husband, Matthew Bannister. As a teenager he didn’t think twice about starting off left-handed. If it was good enough for Jimi and Paul…
However, Matthew says he’s found there are some serious practical inconveniences to being a left-handed musician. You can’t just pick up any guitar and play it – you always have to lug along your own instrument.
Also, the choice of good quality left-handed guitars is very limited, especially in a small country like Aotearoa-New Zealand.
David Bowie was a left-hander who learned to play guitar right-handed for practical reasons. Miley Cyrus is another.
Left-hand ukulele choices
As with pretty much everything about the ukulele, there are various choices for left-handed players.
Option 1: Change the strings around
Re-string a right-handed ukulele so you can play left-handed.
The strings will be upside down from the point of view of a right-handed player. Because the ukulele is a fairly simple instrument, it doesn’t make much difference, visually or acoustically. (Whereas upside down guitars look a bit strange.)
If you’re not confident changing strings, ask a music shop person to help. They may charge you for this because it’s a fiddly task.
Also, you may need to buy a new set of strings. Even with a cheap ukulele, I recommend investing in good quality strings. A set will cost approximately $15-20 in New Zealand or Australia. Aquila and Martin are both good brands, but there are others.
Left-handed ukulele chord shapes
The chord shapes will be different on a ukulele that’s strung left-handed. They will be mirror image to right-handed chord shapes.
Matthew says this fact will be obvious to many left-handed people. I’m explaining it here for the benefit of people like me. I didn’t realise this until I got left-handed people in my ukulele classes!
You can get special left-handed chord charts. Here’s a link to download one.
But hardly anybody uses one of these! In my experience, most left-handed players adapt to reading right-handed chord charts, even when I offer them a left-handed chart.
You can download my right-handed ukulele chord chart here, if you don’t already have one.
Option 2: Play a right-handed ukulele
If you’re in the early stages of your ukulele adventure, I suggest you try playing right-handed for a few weeks. Keep an open mind and see how you go.
Playing right-handed is much less complicated, in many ways. Both now and further down the track. My husband Matthew, who is a left-handed guitarist, agrees with me on this.
If you can adapt to playing right-handed, your left-hand strength will be an advantage with left-hand finger dexterity, playing chord shapes.
However, if you’ve tried this for four to six weeks and it still feels weird, then go to Option 1. Get the strings switched over and play left-handed.
I know several left-handers who don’t seem to have problems playing a ukulele right-handed. But others just don’t adapt to right-handed playing. It makes a big difference for them when they get hold of a ukulele that’s strung left-handed.
It depends how strongly left-handed you are.
Option 3: A left-handed ukulele
There are a few specifically left-handed ukuleles on the market. This is worth looking at further down the track, if you want want to upgrade from your beginner instrument.
But I hope I’ve shown you that you have easier options to start off with.
Option 4: Upside down ukulele!
Play a right-handed ukulele upside down. Yes indeed, it’s a real thing.
Matthew plays ukulele like this. I thought he was just being creatively weird, until I did some research and discovered quite a few left-handed musicians who play ukulele upside down!
This isn’t the best choice for absolute beginners without any other musical experience, however.
Hi, I’m Alice
I’ve been in love with the ukulele since my mother, Sue, taught me three chords when I was six.
I teach ukulele to adult learners all over the world via Zoom. If you happen to live in Hamilton, New Zealand, I also teach in-person classes.
Click this link to book online ukulele lessons with me. $US160 for six half-hour lessons.
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