Playing the Violin Left-Handed: is it right for you?
Are you a beginner violinist or thinking about starting to play the violin?
As a left-handed person it might seem more natural to play the violin left-handed
In this article I won’t tell you what to do, but aim to provide you with my insights as a violin teacher to help you make the best decision.
What is left-handed violin playing?
Normally the violin is held in the left hand and the bow in the right hand. If you would play the violin left-handed, you will hold the bow in the left hand and the violin in the right hand.
Is it possible to start playing the violin left-handed?
Yes, and if you do, you should do so from the start. On the violin both hands have to do very different and complicated tasks.
On the conservatory my violin methodology teacher said: if you want to know how a beginner feels, take the violin in the right hand and the violin in the left. Professionals will sound like a beginner when they do.
So… if you decide something, stick to it: it’s not easy to switch and it will feel like you’re starting all over again.
Why most left-handed violinists play the ‘normal’ way
It doesn’t have much of an advantage to play violin ‘the other way around’, as the violin is difficult for both hands.
One of the most challenging things of violin playing is intonation: hitting the right notes of the fingerboard, which is without frets or markings. As a lefty you definitely have an advantage to be able to do this with your dominant hand!
Disadvantages of playing the violin left-handed:
- You need a special violin, which limits your choice in instrument (see below for more info on that)
- Your teacher might not accept it or won’t be able to teach you properly. Sure you can jump up and down and complain how narrow minded that is (frankly I think it isn’t), but in the end you just want an inspiring teacher and a good education as this can make or break your violin journey.
- It’s hard to sit in an orchestra: playing the normal way, it can already be a challenge to get sufficient space of movement and not poke someone’s eye out. I know left handed players who sit somewhere alone at a music stand in the back of an amateur orchestra bowing the other way around and getting confused about the bow directions. Surely it’s not impossible to join an amateur (!) orchestra (not every orchestra will accept it), but the question is if it’s worth all this trouble.
- It’s not easy to switch back to normal if you change your mind.
- A professional career in classical music is practically out of the question, but that might not be your goal, certainly not as an adult beginner violinist.
Advantages of playing the violin left-handed:
- For some it’s the only option if they miss fingers on the left hand. If you miss a finger or have some disability on the left hand, you can better use it as the bow hand. As a beginner violinist the other fingers on the violin bow can compensate for it. Also you could live with being limited in your bowing technique to a very simple detaché technique. For the left hand you’ll miss a missing or disabled finger right from the start playing your first scale. Pianists can use ten fingers and violinists just have four to stop the notes: you really need all four.
- It might simply feel more natural to you and I can’t judge how you feel. However, keep in mind that as a beginner violinist almost everything feels unnatural and it can become natural to you with PRACTICE 😉
- As the bowing would be the breath and mouth of your playing and determines your articulation, it can be good to do this with your dominant hand
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My opinion as a violin teacher
As an adult beginner violinist playing purely for your own enjoyment, maybe try the normal way of playing first and switch to left-handed if that instantly feels MUCH better or if you have NO other option due to disability.
The disadvantages described might lead to struggle and loss of motivation in the future.
However, do as you like and what feels best to you personally.
Do NOT give your child a left-handed violin
Children are way more flexible than adults and violin playing is an excellent way to develop motor skills in BOTH hands.
You don’t want to limit your child’s possibilities in education, choice of instrument, ensemble playing and potentially a professional career (which is practically out of the question as a left-handed player).
The advantages, if there are any, really don’t outweigh the disadvantages.
However, if due to disability your child can’t possibly play the violin the normal way and left-handed is the ONLY way he/she could ever play the violin, support your child in any way you can!
Choosing a left-handed violin
So can you just wind the strings the other way around?
Nope, you can’t! On the outside of the violin the peg box, fingerboard and bridge are NOT symmetrical and made for the G to be on the left and the E on the right (seen from the button). On the inside of the violin we have the soundpost and bass bar that greatly influence the sound and construction of the instrument.
It’s an enormous and expensive operation to build a normal violin into a left-handed violin and chances are it won’t sound the same anymore.
Certainly as a beginner violinist I recommend buying a violin that is built completely left-handed.
In terms of accessories, you can use the same bow. Only thing you need to keep in mind is to get a left-handed shoulder rest and chinrest.
Recently I reviewed the awesome Fiddlerman Concert violin, which is a great affordable violin for beginner and intermediate violinists. They offer it in a complete left-handed version together with all accessories you need.
If you insist to learn to play the violin left-handed, this is the best recommendation I can give you:
Hi, we were just speaking early about me, the lefty violinist, and I want to share a book with you that helped me make up my mind. Ryan Thompson, also known as Captain Fiddle, did have an issue with his right hand, which caused him to learn how to play lefty. However, in the process, Ryan became a bit of a southpaw activist. And the book he wrote, provides a lot of real testimonials as well as debunking of myths. Some, such as, how lefties will actually have an advantage playing right-handed, is a complete myth. Also, Ryan has a testimonial from one or two teachers. One teacher had two or three students in her class that were left handed but she insisted they learn to play right handed. The young students were miserable. Someone had mentioned Captain Fiddle to her and he sent her an advanced copy of his book. She took a chance and purchased left handed instruments for her three left handed students. And, after playing for a week or two, she noticed a remarked improvement in their playing, as well as how much happier the students were. Her testimonial is in the book.
With this said, let me tell you, what I told the guys at fiddlerman. It is untrue that the only reason a person may want to play left handed would be as a result of an injury. All left-handed people are different. Some may be perfectly happy and comfortable playing violin right-handed. I cannot play the violin right handed and i cannot play the guitar right handed. I tried both ways. And, like the story above, I was miserable.
Anyway, here’s a link to Captain Fiddle’s book. I encourage you to read it, if you can. It may lead to a better understanding of us lefties.
Wow, thank you for sharing this, Mark!
I must be the craziest or bravest lady in the world. My seven year old granddaughter is going to begin violin lessons. I have taken on this responsibility and will be attending lessons with her and she will be practicing daily at my home , etc. I am considering taking lessons as well. The issue is I’m 72 and left handed. I believe that I will begin playing right handed as this is what my granddaughter will be doing. Any advice?
Hi Susan, how wonderful that you’re doing this together with your granddaughter! I’d say follow along the lesson with her from the first one. This is the ideal starting point. You won’t have to catch up later. Playing the same as her will be most helpful to her, but if it really feels better to you to play left hand that’s also possible.
Hi! I’m currently looking into learning violin as a hobby. I’m a pure lefty (writing and well as kicking on my left side in my soccer career.) I guess I’m trying to make the choice of left or right before I spend a bunch of money. Any suggestions on figuring out which side I should roll with?
I’d say start the normal way. There are plenty of lefties (even famous ones like Nicola Benedetti) playing the violin and you’ll notice a big advantage in your left hand technique.
Thank you for this valuable information. I am a 65-year old left-handed male with a lifelong love of the violin who decided it was time to take lessons. I purchased the left-handed violin that you recommended from Fiddlershop and am very pleased with it. I had my first lesson this week, and my instructor here in Cincinnati is a CCM grad and is very enthusiastic about teaching her first left handed person. We have both been surfing the internet, trying to find a beginning lesson book for a left handed violinist, but not having much luck. There are numerous lesson books for left handed guitarists, so we are a bit surprised at not finding any so far for a violinist. Would you by chance know of a music/book store that sells a lesson book for a left handed student? Thanks for any help that you can give.
Great that you started the violin! Unfortunately I don’t know of left handed lesson books, but I’m sure you can use the right handed ones.
I am learning the violin right – handed even though I am left handed. We don’t have a left – handed violin and it is pretty hard for me to learn it right – handed. Can you please give me some advice.?
Would it be an option for you to have the right handed violin adjusted by a violin maker?
Ms. Brouwer, do you by chance know where I might find a lesson book for a 65-year old, beginning left handed violin player? Thank you!
Sorry, I don’t know of a specific book for left handed playing. Violinist Vivien Hoffman does have a lot of resources on playing left handed on her YouTube channel though. Hope that helps!