Should you play Ukulele Left-Handed? Let me spell it out for you.

Technically, a lot of what I’m about to say below will apply to any stringed instrument, but, the misconceptions in the ukulele world are epic, and the hoops a lefty has to jump through to work around it definitely worthy of a little uke-specific discussion. (If you think there aren’t many lefty guitars or basses on the market, look for left-handed ukuleles, and you will find yourself feeling downright spoiled by comparison.)

So, here goes…

As those of you who’ve been reading this blog know, I’m a lefty, and I am learning all of my instruments left-handed. I am learning guitar left-handed. I am learning bass left-handed. And, yes, I am learning ukulele left-handed, too. I’m not going to lie to you, this process is not all sunshine and roses, and there are a few very real obstacles a left-handed player has to work around that a right-handed player doesn’t need to worry about, but it is a subject I am very passionate about, because you righties of the world seem to think you’re entitled to an opinion on the matter. Let me spell it out for you: you’re not. Oh, I’m sorry, did I just isolate you? Did I just casually dump you into the ‘other’ category as if your life experience is irrelevant?

Welcome to my world.

Yes, the statements above are confrontational – intentionally so. If you are not now and have never been left-handed, then purporting that a lefty should just “learn right-handed”, is exactly the same thing as a white man claiming to know exactly the life of black women because he’s read about it, or because he knows black women, and by so claiming, he makes a black woman’s opinions on her own life irrelevant, even though she’s the one who has actual hands-on experience with the subject which he never has and never can have (I am neither a white man or a black woman, for the record, but the example works.). He claims, unwittingly perhaps, that he knows more about what she needs than she does.

You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not. And, to make my point, I’m going to issue you Righties a challenge. Take a day, or a week, and try to do your day to day tasks left-handed: brush your teeth left handed, pick up your coffee left-handed, open doors left handed, etc. Do everything you feasibly can do without causing an accident with the opposite orientation to which you are naturally predisposed. Unless you are closer to the ambidextrous end of the scale, these small tasks will take a concerted effort; you will have to stop and think about it. As time goes on, they will get easier. If you continue the experiment for a week, or a month, they will get easier still. But, when you switch back to doing those things right-handed, it is still going to feel less cumbersome. It is still going to feel more natural.

Are there lefties who can, and should, play right-handed? Yes. Absolutely, and I will get back to that in a minute. But, understand that as a right-handed person, encouraging a lefty to ‘just learn right-handed’ is encouraging that lefty to work at a handicap. Understand that when you say ‘it will be easier’, what you really mean is that it will be easier to BUY THINGS, not that it will be easier to play them. Understand that what you really mean is, ‘it will be easier for the right-handed world that doesn’t particularly want to be bothered by what you, as someone other than right-handed, may need to get the most out of your lessons and your instruments.’ Understand that if you say ‘that’s not true’ as you read these statements, you are bullshitting yourself.

Lefties, please, do yourselves a favor and take advice on whether or not you should learn left or right-handed from other lefties. There aren’t many of us, but we are out there, and we have honest and objective opinions based on actual experience as left-handed people playing instruments.

Let me tell you a story:

My mother is also a lefty, but she was not born that way. She is actually more dominantly left-handed than I am as right-side paralysis in her childhood has left her with limited strength and flexibility in her right hand. She had to become a lefty, and I think because of that she is much more tuned in to the difficulties of left-handedness in day to day life than, someone who was just plain born this way. When I was a baby she used to take my spoon out of my left hand and put it in my right. I, apparently, would put it back in my left and continue on as if nothing had happened. Mom always told me that she wished I was a righty, because life is more difficult for lefties. The fact is, I can do most things with either hand (I like to blame her, because of the spoon thing. 🙂 ) I can use a mouse either lefty or righty, but several years ago I bought a drawing tablet for my computer, and at that time switched to using the mouse on the left, because while I can mouse click with the right hand, I can’t draw that way. I found it more comfortable, so now I use my mouse on the left. I don’t struggle to use a mouse that happens to be on my right, but comparitively, I prefer it on the other side. (I do take a twisted sort of joy in watching my right-handed co-workers fumble over my left-handed mouse, though. There is often grumbling involved, which entertains me to no end before I mention that the cable is more than long enough for them to move it into a position that is more comfortable for them.) I keep my water bottle on my right side, and often my phone. I can list any number of basic tasks that I show no distinct handedness performing. But, I can’t write well with my right hand; it’s cumbersome to use eating utensils right-handed; I can’t draw righty, and I cannot play music righty, either. Yes, I have tried. Music is like handwriting. It requires a level of fine motor skills that are less cumbersome to perform in the way your brain is naturally wired, and keeping rhythm is far easier when you’re doing it with your dominant hand.

Flashback: 1993. We pass by a guitar at a yard sale. It’s a little ¾ size classical, and my mom buys it for me for $5. As someone who is obsessively left-handed, she takes it to a guitar shop to restring it lefty for me and enrolls me in group lessons for a month over the summer. It’s a tuning atrocity due to the right handed nut, but, at the time, I really didn’t know it was the guitar and not me. After that one month, my lessons disappeared at the same time as my friends were getting into karate. So, karate swallowed my life, and my guitar fell aside.

Fast forward about 10 years. I gave that guitar to a friend years ago because I never used it. At this point in my life, I’ve got some joint problems in my right hand (later discovered to be a side effect of an untreated medical condition I didn’t know about), but I still longed to learn. I knew there was no way I would be able to fret with my right hand. The knuckles and wrist were too prone to stiffness and pain. So, I picked up a right handed squier to learn on, figuring, ‘it’s going to be hard no matter what, so it doesn’t matter which side I play with, right? And, guitars will be easier to buy righty than lefty.’ Lessons could not have gone any more abysmally, and after about 2 months, I found myself practicing less and less due to being disenchanted by literally zero progress. Eventually, the guitar retreated into a closet to collect dust.

There were two other times I tried to learn righty after this with nearly identical results. I kept trying. I kept failing. And, I have several friends with similar stories. One person I know is thinking about trying again left-handed after we spoke. She was also told to ‘just learn righty. It will be easier’, at fourteen. She tells me “my rhythm was never right,” and relates a story about how, as a teenager, that was devastating because she really wanted to play, but just plain wasn’t good at it. It was very disenchanting, and years and years later she still wants to learn, and wants to get back into it. She thought the fault was with her. No one ever told her that, as a lefty, she might find rhythm much easier if she strums with her left hand.

These are very real stories. This is a very real and very prevalent left-handed experience that could be completely avoided if only righties would stop spreading this bad advice like the plague. I’m seeing less of this advice in the guitar world, but it’s still a disease in the ukulele world. Because ukulele is physically less demanding than guitar, people will even say to play uke right-handed if you already play guitar or bass left-handed. But, even if the uke is physically easier to play and might, possibly, be easier to play as a righty than other instruments, that does not mean it won’t still be easier for a lefty to play as a lefty. For me, trying to strum right-handed feels a bit like being possessed by an alien who has control of my limbs and isn’t quite sure how to use them. Could I eventually get the hang of it? Probably. But, why should I have to? Why should I take the mountainous task of learning a musical instrument, and turn it into a mountain range, if I don’t have to?

If you want to give good advice to a lefty uncertain whether to play right or left-handed, this is advice a very good friend gave me, and the best advice I’ve ever seen on the subject: Don’t think. Right now, play air guitar. If he/she lifts their left hand to fret, by all means, hand them a right-handed instrument and send them on their way. BUT, if that person lifts their right hand to fret, do NOT encourage them person to learn right handed. Odds are high that a person who plays air guitar lefty is going to have a significantly easier time learning that way.

So, Lefties, that is the advice I am giving you right now. DON’T THINK. Play air guitar. Should you play ukulele left-handed? If your right hand is in the fretting position, then absolutely, and do not let anyone try to convince you otherwise, because learning an instrument is hard enough without going against your nature to do it. Maybe you’re one of the lucky lefties who can overcome the handicap and learn righty. But, maybe you’re not. And, do you really want to set yourself back months or years in the learning process to find out when there’s an easier way? Do you want to learn to fret a bunch of chords with your left hand, only to find later that you’re going to have to relearn them on the right since it’s just not working?

I set myself back 20 years in learning to play an instrument by believing the bad advice that you can learn either way, that there’s really no difference and it’s all in how you start. Don’t be me. Start the way that feels right to you. If right-handed feels more natural to you, then by all means play righty, but if you play righty, play righty because you think it feels better, not because someone else tells you that you should, or because there are virtually no left-handed ukuleles on the market.

And please, don’t believe nonsense that someone playing left-handed can’t learn from someone playing right-handed, or vice versa, because that is the biggest load of bull you are ever going to hear in your life. Actually, being left-handed is advantageous when learning from right-handed players. When I watch youtube videos, or other people play, I don’t have to mentally flip things over. I am the mirror image of anyone playing in front of me except another lefty. All I have to do is mimic exactly what I’m seeing. In fact, many music teachers find teaching lefties easier for exactly this reason; it’s exactly like playing in front of a mirror.

So, you’ve decided to learn left-handed. Now what?

As a left-handed guitarist, you’ll find your options in instruments limited. As a left handed bassist, even more so. As a left-handed ukulele player you will find your options almost non-existent (there are a few). You will be told that you can just flip your ukulele over and restring it. This is partially true, but only partially. I have 5 ukuleles. 4 of them are righties that I’ve restrung for a lefty. I don’t run into too many problems on acoustic instruments, but there are a few things to bear in mind, or places where problems may need to be addressed.

1. Tuning. The typical tuning of an ukulele (soprano, concert, tenor) is GCEA. What that means is that your two thickest strings are in the middle, with thinner strings on the outside. That makes this a much easier conversion than a guitar or bass, because the nut is not going to be that far off. However, it’s not going to be perfect, and you may run into tuning or buzzing problems. These will almost always be on the C string. On some ukes, things will work really surprisingly well. My Kala KA-15 keeps amazing tune almost in spite of itself. (I would not expect a $50 ukulele to stay in tune so well, let alone one that’s been strung ‘upside down’, but my kala keeps the best tune of the bunch.) On the other hand, my Lanikai SMP-T I can get some buzzing on the C string, which slips out of tune at a faster rate than the other 3 strings.

I actually emailed Lanikai to see if they might be willing to make a left-handed nut for me. I wasn’t expecting a yes, but I did think there was value in showing that there would be an interest. The reply I got was essentially “no such thing exists”. (Really? Because there ARE left-handed ukuleles. Not many, but a few. What you really mean is you don’t make any, Lanikai, not that there is no such thing anywhere on the planet Earth.) They did offer to send me another nut, but another identical nut would be useless, and I took the time to explain why: the C string is wider than the slot for the E string. You can try to wedge it in there. You can let it mostly just rest on top, but chances are, it’s never going to be just so. Not as bad as restringing a guitar or a bass, since the size discrepancy isn’t as large, but the size discrepancy does exist and with that discrepancy comes the potential for finicky tuning.

So, if you DO run into a problem of this sort, what can you do about it since you can’t buy a left-handed nut for your uke? Well, it depends. If you have a sandable nut (not plastic) you can easily just file that space a teeny bit wider to comensate. If you’ve bought a uke with a plastic nut, you have to replace it. There’s really no other choice.

You can look for a local luthier and see if they would be willing to make you a left-handed nut for your uke. If you can’t find a local luthier to do it for you, you can absolutely buy a nut blank and some files to make one yourself. Some will say you can possibly screw up your action this way, but you can use the nut that came with your uke as a size template to match to, so really it’s not as crazy for a novice as it sounds. The fact is, because of the need to convert, the average lefty is just going to be far more adept at how instruments are put together than a righty of the same level: we need to be, and we learn by necessity. It’s absolutely a viable option if all else fails, and not that difficult to do if you have a size/shape nut to compare to, even if you are a beginner.

So far, I have not run into any problems with the bridge or saddle, so while it’s certainly not impossible that you can have issues here, my odds so far are 4 out of 4 that it’s not necessary to make adjustments to this part of the instrument.

If you don’t want to deal with this at all, my advice is to make sure not to by ukuleles with plastic nuts. If you buy an uke that has a nut that can be sanded or filed, it is relatively easy to just carefully widen the slot for the C string with a file or a bit of sandpaper. I expect I will have to do this to my new Snail Uke. I definitely need to do it for the Lanikai Tenor, but I’m waiting for the strings to settle on the Snail and see if the C string keeps some semblance of tune or not (comparable to the other strings. Let’s be realistic: it’s an ukulele, and nylon stringed instruments slip out of tune easily. The goal here is to not have one string that slips out of tune significantly faster than all of the others.). It’s better to wait to make adjustments. I do not recommend adapting your ukulele when the strings on it are brand new. As they stretch, you will be able to tell if the C string is slipping out of tune faster than the other strings, but while they’re stretching, none of the strings are keeping tune. It’s not a time to accurately gauge whether or not you’re going to have issues.

On the point of strings, if you exercise caution, you can use the strings your uke comes with to restring. You won’t have much excess length to work with, but it can be done if you happen to have been good at Operation as a kid. Just make sure to keep track of which string is which. Sometimes I tag mine with post it note scraps before removing them. Other times I’ll swap the two outer strings first, then the two inner. Whatever system keeps you from getting confused about which string goes where, really.

2. Cutaways: These are not problematic, but they are basically completely useless. Understand that if you buy a right handed ukulele with a cutaway and flip it over, that cutaway will be on the top of your uke. It won’t cause any technical problems, but it will also not be even remotely useful to you and will look a bit funny. If you’re female, it’s basically going to look like a boob pocket. I try to avoid cutaway righties just because it looks ridiculous, but it certainly wouldn’t stop me from buying one if I loved the sound enough.

3. Electronics. This is where we really need more left-handed ukuleles. My one lefty is an acoustic-electric Rubin soprano. It’s not the most amazing uke ever, but the left-handed placement of the electronics saves some headaches. There are a few lefty acoustic-electrics, but if you want a tenor, you’re SOL so far as I’ve been able to find (unless you find someone to make you a custom). Still, you can absolutely flip over a right-handed acoustic-electric ukulele and play it, (since really, what choice do we have?) but the electronics do give you a few extra things to consider.

Know that you will be making your tone and volume adjustments blind. You will have to memorize which knob does what by feel because you cannot see them.

Be aware of where those controls are placed. If they are placed near the bottom of the body, when you play sitting they will be resting on your thigh. If you’re the fidgety sort, it will be very easy to change your settings by accident. (I am totally the fidgety sort). It will be less cumbersome to choose an uke with electronics placed closer to the middle or top of the body, to avoid accidentally bumping them.

A built in tuner is purely decorative. You cannot see it, so you will not be able to make use of it unless you somehow jimmyrig a small mirror on there and learn to read backwards. But, it would be less cumbersome to just use a clip on tuner, really.

Learn to visualize if you are ordering online. Imagine where all the equipment will be placed when you are holding it left-handed, both standing and sitting. Think about the placement of all knobs, think about the placement of the plug. On solid body ukes (no lefties exist to my knowledge as I write this post) you will have to take extra care to not select one with knobs that sit where you are holding the body. If you need a solid body in your life (I totally want one eventually) be VERY careful to select one with knobs you are not going to constantly be bumping into. Even being careful, there will still be a learning curve involved in avoiding them. Be aware of that and be prepared to work around it. There are guitarists who play right-handed guitars upside down. The mechanics are somewhat different with an uke since you hold and uke differently than a guitar, but if they can work around their knobs, so can we (until someone makes a lefty so we don’t have to).

4. Shopping Offline. It is in your best interest (though I admit I have not done this yet), to learn to play one or two simple tunes upside down. C is an easy chord to play upside down. So is F, C7, A and Am, D. If you have a simple song in your arsenal that you can fret and strum upside down, you have a song you can use to test drive right-handed instruments at offline retailers. If you don’t, about all you can do is maybe run through a scale, test the harmonics, etc, and hope that when you try to play a song, you like how it sounds. There are a huge number of two chord songs out there. Do yourself a favor and keep one or two in your back pocket to take shopping with you, or, you know, to impress drunk friends with at parties.

Can you just learn to play right handed ukuleles upside down and say to hell with the conversion? Sure, why not? But, that shit will make you dyslexic.

I can assure you that converting right-handed ukuleles to play left-handed is absolutely viable. Yes, it’s a bit more work than just taking a righty off the rack and going, but making music isn’t about what you can buy, it’s about what you can play, and it’s my very biased and very firm opinion that this should not be enough to stop you from learning in the way that feels right to you. If playing left-handed feels right, then play left-handed. The more of us there are, the more retailers will be inclined to acknowledge that we exist. It happened with guitars. It happened with basses (well, somewhat…). You can even buy a left-handed mandolin. It’s ridiculous to assume that these instruments don’t exist because no one needs or wants them. Rather, we make alternatives work because what we need isn’t available. Any lefty who’s rearranged classroom furniture so they could sit in the only left desk in the room, or used a spiral notebook from back to front, knows exactly what I’m talking about. And, any righty who thinks they know better than someone who lives in a world that, for them, was designed backward, what that person should do to adapt to a situation in which the odds are stacked against them can honestly just STFU and stop setting us up to fail.

Consider this: if lefties who play left-handed make up a remarkably small percentage of the market, how much of that is based on it being ‘easier’ to play right-handed, and how much of that is based on people getting bad advice and failing to learn at all? Consider how many people could have learned to play, but didn’t because they couldn’t play right-handed, and no one told them ‘it’s not you; it’s your instrument’. Consider how that percentage might change, if only lefties were given the advice that is most beneficial to them at the start of their musical journey, rather than 20 years later, when they’re still longing to learn something that they’ve been set up to believe they just plain aren’t any good at. After you consider all that, then decide whether or not you really want to tell a left-handed person, to ‘just play righty’ because it’s ‘easier’.

Until Next Time, I’m playing left-handed, and for the first time in my life, I’m actually playing. So, go ahead, tell me my actual hands-on experience is wrong. I dare you.

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18 thoughts on “Should you play Ukulele Left-Handed? Let me spell it out for you.

  1. That’s the best piece on playing righty vs lefty that I’ve read. Tackling multiple instruments at the same time definitely does have its advantages when it comes to direct comparisons. Its funny, I never thought about how other lefties managed certain things. I have a habit of taking notes upside down when I’m drafting tools for our clinicians – or even just regular notes for myself at work. I start at the bottom of the paper and write going upwards. It keeps my hand from getting ink or lead on it, and it also lets me read more easily than if my hand were resting on what I had written – which righties never have to deal with when writing. I do lots of outlines like this, so bullets and all, and righties who read my stuff usually stop and confuse themselves before they get it.

    Most of my co-workers are Chinese though, so they seem to get it quickly enough. I think having to go from right-left to left-right already puts them in the mindset to think differently.

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    1. Thanks, Vish.
      I have one of those ‘how stuff works’ brains, which does help. I’ve never had an issue really looking at a piece of equipment and figuring out how the pieces fit together, where the problems are likely to turn up, etc, which I am only recently learning is just not how everyone’s mind works.

      Not only have I lived this story, but I keep hearing versions of it repeated by lefties who, like me, are learning late in life. Over and over, I hear, ‘they said just to learn right handed’, followed by a story very similar to my own. I really wanted to write about it, because it’s tragic that we’re constantly being set up to fail by our right handed counterparts.
      You hear ‘OF COURSE you can play Righty, from the mouths of people who never tried to play lefty. And, there are lefties who can, because by nature of living in a right handed world, we tend to be (on average), more ambidextrous than most righties. But, those are exceptions, not rules, and we are constantly being given advice based on the success of exceptions, which is just plain wrong.
      When I think of how many people I know who could have been making music since their teens, but for this exact reason, didn’t get anywhere until their 30s, their 40s…It’s infuriating.

      And, there is a very prevalent article on the subject written by a right handed uke player that is such infuriatingly bad advice, I really wanted an article written by a lefty to exist totally independent of that particular website. So, I wrote one. 🙂

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  2. I was SO pleased to read this, as I’m glad to see some first-hand evidence I can cite to prove left-handers are often better off playing left-handedly than being ‘persuaded’ to ‘conform’ & play right-handedly for ‘convenience’!

    I’m left-handed, was taught violin at school & told it wasn’t possible to play left-handedly, as it would mean the bows clashed into each other in an orchestra. So, years later when I decided to pick up an instrument again & chose the uke, I stuck to playing right-handedly instead of experimenting & choosing which was more natural. Several times I feel I missed an opportunity, as it might have been interesting to at least try it out.

    A couple of months’ ago, a left-handed beginner arrived at our uke group, playing a cut-away uke upside-down & asking which way round she should play, as she wasn’t sure. I encouraged her to try out left-handed playing, restring the uke (& reassured her it wouldn’t damage the instrument, as the – reentrant – strings are so similar in size) & sent her a left-handed chord sheet.

    The two most experienced players in the group (one a lefty who plays right-handedly (as learnt cello in school) & the other right-handed but with a left-handed daughter) persuaded her that life would be far ‘easier’ if she played right-handedly; that she’d give herself problems & difficulties playing left-handedly; she wouldn’t be able to read tab (wrong); it’d be simpler buying instruments, especially if she wanted to play others; that it was just a basic motor skill, like driving etc which could easily be mastered either way round etc.

    They both berated me & said I didn’t know what I was talking about, without bothering to listen to my comments & suggestions (& first-hand experience of being made to be bad at things like sports or crafts through being forced to do them right-handedly)! I was disappointed to see her playing right-handedly the next time & hope she really did give it a good try & decide for herself, as I felt convinced I had been correct to tell her to stick with the lefty playing if it seemed more natural.

    Subsequently, I’ve discussed this with a few (right-handed) friends & they’ve agreed with me. I agree with your point precisely about these obstacles might put someone off from playing, having given up on things I couldn’t do physically because I was being made to do them the wrong way round for me. I struggle to play fast strumming & am trying to get into finger-picking more – would these skills have been easier using my dominant hand? I’ve looked at other left-handed people in our group & wonder how those playing right-handedly would be doing if they’d swapped – would things they currently find difficult have been easier?

    I likened learning & playing music to be very similar to communicating & speaking a language, as it can be so expressive & full of emotion. We know if people are forced to write with the wrong hand it causes them difficulties as the brain has to cope with not doing its natural motor skills. Surely similar parts of the brain are being utilised in both instances? There are certainly studies that say learning music helps your speech functions…

    I’m sure many left-handers never develop their music skills as well as they might have had they played left-handedly but in most cases it would be impossible to ever know (ie you could never do a properly controlled experiment to get a person to try playing both ways round equally, even between twins, as they’d either not practice for the same time or, once noticed which way round fitted their writing hand, would ‘favour’ that unconsciously etc). But your tale & direct experience just confirms my instincts!

    I subsequently attended a festival & watched the drummers of successive groups swap the drum kit between left- & right- handed layout (that’s pretty symmetrical – so why would you bother if there wasn’t a difference?). Only last week I watched an interview with Ringo Starr talking about him being naturally left-handed (but was made to write right-handedly), who explained that he plays left-handedly (ie leads with the left) but on a right-handed kit, so when he works his way round the kit he can only go one way & has a gap as he gets himself back to his start position (which explains his style of playing). These two things confirm your comments about rhythm, as that needs control & accuracy (which might not be present or so easy to train up in a weaker right hand).

    Anyway, I hope some of my random thoughts spurred on by your article prove interesting & supportive to you!

    Jeanette

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    1. Thank you so much for the comments. Having been delayed from learning because of exactly this, and knowing so many others who have, stories like this are just so sad.
      The only part of the process I do lefty is play. There really hasn’t been a need for a lefty chord book. My logic in not using one is that when I Google chords they will be right handed. It’s a bit cumbersome to do the mental flip at first, but you get used to it pretty quickly.

      It’s science that changing hands changes your brain, playing music also changes your brain. It’s far too great of a hurdle for many of us to go through both at once, and while I’m still a beginner, I am making steady progress for the first time. It’s proven far more practical to restring instruments than attempt (and fail) to learn backwards.

      Articles about playing lefty should be written by lefties. Righties have no experience with the subject, no matter how many lefties they know. They don’t know how it feels to live in a backward world and have to make it work. Some lefties play perfectly well right handed, but it’s important to remember these people are exceptional; we can’t all be exceptions.

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      1. Thanks for that. I agree that ‘flipping’ things can be done relatively easily. I was thinking of starting to learn bass guitar & commented that it was just like playing a reversed violin (which has strings G – D – A – E) & was told I shouldn’t think of it that way, as it would confuse me…

        Take care & good luck with all your playing – I’ll continue to dip in & read your articles!

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      2. I imagine while the notes may be reversed, the approach is very different. Bass is very much a support instrument. What I mean by that is that it lays a foundation for other instruments to build on. But, if you already know the note placements on the violin, and if it’s the same four strings (I did not know that. TIL. 🙂 ) that will absolutely save you some time in learning bass, so I don’t think the comparison is entirely confusing as long as you keep in mind that note placement is likely where the similarities end. You do need to learn note placement for bass. If you already know it on violin you’re ahead of the game; I haven’t memorized much of that yet.
        Bass is really pretty fun to play, but if you’re having issues fingerpicking on the ukulele, that is probably going to carry over, as the majority of the time on bass you are only playing one note at a time.

        Don’t let people talk you out of/into things; when it comes to music, experimentation is much more valuable than opinion. That is my new way of thinking about music learning now that I’m finally moving forward. :). Thanks for all the insights.

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  3. Cheers – I did just mean for learning the note placements on the bass, as I realise it’s normally a single note at a time. I must get onto it! I also received a mandolin as a birthday present, so am currently just starting to learn that (& it does have the same strings as a violin – well, two of each). It’s much harder going than the uke for me, as I don’t play guitar so haven’t yet got the strength & reach in my fingers. It’s all good fun!

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    1. I want to tackle mandolin eventually, too! But, that’s a long way off. Since I started with guitar and bass (though my uke progress is admittedly far better b/c it’s so portable I tend to practice way more due to that portability), I’ve been lucky enough that so far strength has not been an issue. Flexibility is a different story, but it’s coming along just fine, all said.

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  4. Thank you so much! Ive been playing uke for 2 days (god I’m such a wimp but y’know it happens). When I asked my librarian if I should have issues playing she actually said I’d have ‘an advantage’ because her husband is leftie and plays rightie. I’ve tried everything under the sun and still can’t carry a tune in a bucket. I’m so happy to find out it’s not me but my instrument.

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    1. A lot of lefties run into this. It’s important to remember that we all have varying levels of ambidexterity, so sure, some lefties might be able to work with the handicap and barely notice, but it’s certainly not an advantage. I tried to play instruments righty so many times. I don’t want to see other lefties falling prey to this same horrible advice.

      If righty feels unnatural, string it backwards and go lefty. Problem solved. You can read righty charts just fine. It’s the ability to keep a rhythm that struggles when you force yourself to think backward.

      Of course, it is still a learning curve. It’s going to take time before you’re playing full songs, but you should (on uke, at least) be able to carry a basic beat consistently early on, and if you can’t, then playing righty is probably not right for you, and that’s totally fine.

      The uke community is stuck in their ways on this because it’s a pretty basic instrument, but if you expand your repertoire to something a bit harder, like a guitar (or a guitarlele), you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot later if you don’t go with what feels right for you now.

      In the end, go with your gut. Learn the way that feels more comfortable to you, and stop taking advice from righties. 😉

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  5. Wonderful to read this as a lefty. It’s the most affirming article on learning to uke left handed that I’ve read. Been playing the ukulele about a year now, and still have people telling me it would be easier to learn right handed! It’s definitely a righty world as I was reminded this morning trying to work my fairly simple new latte maker which is totally set up for righties! No wonder they don’t get it. Let them try pouring the water in with their left hand and getting it everywhere but in the reservoir because of where it’s situated. Or try cutting something accurately with scissors, or using any other number of tools, appliances with their left hand. Fortunately, my life partner is a lefty, too!

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    1. Yeah, unfortunately, the uke world is still far behind on this mentality. It is slowly moving forward. Since I wrote this, I’ve noticed a few more entry level ukes in a left handed orientation, but still very spare in nicer pieces. I still haven’t found a single left handed tenor, for example. As lefties we learn to work around it, and that I think gives us a more flexible way of thinking about problems, but the fact we have to do that is definitely frustrating. The only way to improve it is to continue seeking out and buying left handed ukes-those of us who do play lefty sort of need to prove there’s a market for them.

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    1. Check Amazon, for starters, if you want a pure lefty. For a beginner, I know Mahalo makes a cheap lefty now that runs in the $30-40 price bracket. Something a little nicer, I know Luna makes at least one, and I think there’s a lefty fluke now. My lefty is an Ibanez, but that one’s hard to find now. Sufficed to say, there aren’t a ton of options, but there are a few. If you stalk eBay, you might stumble across something interesting, too.

      Most of my ukes are flipped over righties, though. As long as the instrument doesn’t have electronics, this generally works fine. The way ukuleles are tuned, with the two thickest strings in the middle, you can just flip over a righty and restring it backward for a lefty. It takes a bit longer for the C string to settle and keep tune, but it will eventually. Since you don’t have to change uke strings frequently, this is a very passable workaround.

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  6. What can I say? This is BY FAR, the best piece I’ve read about ukulele for lefties. KUDOS!!!

    I’ve spent about 3 entire weeks reading and searching for good quality info. There’s just not enough. So I went ahead and bought my 1st uke (Kala Ebony Tenor, high G, for righties… sighs) and I have not decided yet about re stringing it, which means that I am currently trying to learn just upside down, but my guts tell me I’ll end up restringing it.

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    1. There definitely isn’t enough good info out there, at least relative to all the bad advice written by righties. It’s actually the reason I spent the time to write this way back when, so I’m glad you found it helpful.

      I don’t think you can really go wrong with Kala as a starter, and to my knowledge there are STILL no lefty tenors, anyway. My little Kala soprano still keeps excellent tune, even strung for a lefty, so if you decide to restring your uke, you won’t likely run into any major issues. The majority of my ukes are still restrung righties, and usually they work out fine. Plus, now some brands are making thinner strings, which avoids the C string issue mentioned above (Aquila Reds come to mind as an example), if you’re concerned about that.

      If playing upside down seems like the path of least resistance for you, then go for it, though. The mental flipping of chord charts and tab might prove challenging-you’ll always be reading upside down – but I guess if you do it enough, you’ll get used to it.

      Good luck with your new uke!

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  7. Though this article brings up a lot of great points about playing the ukulele left-handed, I was especially moved (as a lefty) by the part about a white man believing he can totally understand a black woman’s life experience. Great analogy and very empowering. All my life I’ve struggled to try and explain to righties about being a lefty in a right-handed world. Now I definitely have a great rebuttal to all their “reasoning” with me. Fortunately, I was very stubborn about having to play left handed and it’s gone well, better than I actually expected.

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  8. I encourage any lefty learning a new instrument to try various ways and see which one clicks. For me, it was playing a right-handed guitar left-handed, upside down (meaning no restringing); chord charts and tableture suddenly made sense, no more struggling to convert it in my mind before playing. Strumming was no big deal, as many have suggested. I wish I would have tried playing a right-handed guitar upside down before “doing it the correct way” and purchasing a left-handed guitar ages ago. It probably wouldn’t have collected so much dust over the years. It’s not a one-size fits all, albeit playing right-handed, or playing an instrument strung traditionally. Left-handed ukulele player playing right-handed ukelele upside down.

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