A few months ago I began teaching my first left handed guitar student. I’m not sure why it took so long, but probability finally caught up to me. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew nothing about adapting standard guitar lessons to lefties, I had very little experience with playing left handed guitar chords, and I feared I would need to flip my guitar over every time I had to teach a chord. I even — for a bit — considered recommending a left handed guitar teacher.
After some thought, I decided to press on; boy am I glad I did! My student (Amy) is a pleasure to work with and a fantastic student at that — something I imagine stems from the fact that lefties have better command of their right hand than righties do of their left (I could be wrong). Either way, making it through the initial adjustment period left me with 3 tips I think all left handed guitarists should know before taking their first guitar lesson.
Tip 1: Stick to Left Handed Guitars
Left handed guitars are better than reversed right handed guitars! The first few days after my intro lesson with Amy, her parents approached me about what kind of guitar they should buy. Most of my standard recommendations didn’t apply here — the budget guitars on my list weren’t being made for lefties — and spending a bit more on a guitar wasn’t an option for them. I had to think fast to come up with something.
As I started gathering information, I found myself torn between recommending a left handed acoustic guitar and a right handed guitar strung backwards (think Jimmy Hendrix). Since it was still a toss-up by the time the family was ready to move forward with their purchase, I gave them a few options and left it up to them. As far as I was concerned, the difference would be miniscule.
Boy was I wrong! They ended up going with a left handed Oscar Schmidt guitar — a fantastic decision I might add — and it wasn’t until afterward that the many benefits occurred to me.
1. The contour of the neck (in most cases) is a very meticulously planned and delicately crafted ordeal. It’s true that if you get a budget guitar this won’t be as noticeable, but even then, it may surprise you. Playing a right handed guitar upside down will not provide you with the correct contour for your hand, and may make all of your left handed guitar chords just that much more awkward to fret. If comfort is a priority, flipping right handed guitars over should be avoided. We’ve come a long way since the days of Jimmy Hendrix, and although he made that guitar sing like (dare I say it?) nobody ever has since, who knows what we fans would’ve been gifted had Mr. Hendrix received an appropriately contoured left handed guitar.
2. It may seem obvious, but if you’re planning on purchasing an electric guitar (or an acoustic-electric guitar for that matter), your battery compartment, pickup settings, and switches become infinitely less accessible when flipped over. This, not mentioning the fact that everything on a guitar — from the volume knob to the pickup selector — was placed to allow a guitarist to switch, attenuate, and otherwise modify his or her sound quickly! I don’t think I need to remind you that moving everything to the opposite location will play directly against this quick access.
3. The third and final point I want to make is that choosing to flip a right handed guitar over effectively prevents you from purchasing a cutaway guitar (something no guitarist should be without in my opinion). If you do end up going with a cutaway, the fact that it is now on top will effectively render it useless. I didn’t realize the importance of a cutaway until well into my playing career, but once I did, I never again purchased a guitar without one. Don’t miss out on these benefits. Now on to tip number two!
Tip 2: Standard Tab is Best
Don’t go seeking out left handed tab just because you think it’ll be easier to read. It’s not true. It’s important to note that lefties teaching righties and vice versa offers a unique visual advantage to either party. Namely: that of looking in a mirror. I remember being very surprised the first time I took an online lesson from a left handed guitarist. I was expecting it to be a challenge, but the demonstrations themselves actually proved a bit simpler. This led me to advise Amy against seeking out diagrams of left handed guitar chords, and instead stick to the more traditional, right handed material. This would not only allow her to pick up on new tab and chord material much easier later on in life — given that she’d be comfortable reading the standard notation — but would also save her a lot of headache trying to constantly seek out material which is quite limited in its selection.
Tip 3: Hone In on Your Picking
Focus on your picking hand (chances are you’ll need more work on this than your other hand). Maybe I’m incorrect in my observation, but it seems to me that most lefties — out of necessity no doubt — have used their right hand a whole lot more than righties have used their left, so my guess is your main hurdle will be picking technique. Let’s go back to my student. Since she had a decent command of her right hand, her chording was near perfect within a couple of practice sessions — I’ve never encountered this with any other student. Her strumming hand, however, was just as untrained as any righty’s, as proper strumming is a foreign motion which takes time to master regardless of which hand is being used to perform the motion.
For this reason, I suggest you spend the bulk of your time honing your left hand; today’s available resources (YouTube, blogs, affordable guitar courses) should make it pretty easy to do. Be meticulous in your study and imitation of your favorite guitarists and guitar teachers and — given that imitation is one of the best learning techniques you’ll find — your strumming technique should develop quite comfortably over time. Remember, the devil’s in the details; practice slowly and don’t cut corners.
Left Handed Guitar Chords: Your Subtly Unique Advantage
This got a little long-winded, but you should have plenty there to get you started. Being left-handed can be looked upon as a hindrance when taking on a task so tailored for righties, but it certainly does offer a unique advantage! The ease with which lefties perform their fretting, paired with their ability to quickly pick up left handed guitar chords based on their mirrored counterparts are nothing to scoff at, and may even enable you to learn guitar quicker than your right handed peers! Please don’t let this right hand dominated industry intimidate and scare you away from pursuing your dream. Instead, have at it with all the confidence in the world, knowing that you actually have a significant advantage over many right handed guitar players. Embrace it. Jimmy did!
What about you? Found any helpful tips of your own for making left handed guitar chords a bit easier? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Either way, we’ll talk to you next time!
To your success!