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.
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: