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After nearly 30 years of playing, my technique was all but destroyed by Focal Hand Dystonia, or Musicians’ Cramp. After going through the obligatory five stages of grief, which resulted in my packing in live playing and selling a large proportion of my gear, I finally decided to man-up and try to learn left-handed.
This was partly inspired by a visit to the grave of Gary Moore, who famously played right-handed, despite being a lefty (along with Mark Knopfler et al). Despite the challenge and frustration - expecting to be able to play 30 years of knowledge and technique within a week, and having to hold and visualise everything the ‘wrong’ way - it is actually proving to be a rewarding experience.
Despite the odd foray into country or jazz, and religiously trying new things from your mag, my playing had reached a bit of a rut. But now I’m getting to experience that wonderful feeling all over again, of showing progress on a daily basis; learning power chords again, open chords, playing notes... mastering Smoke On The Water!
The most awkward thing so far has proven to be simple things that feel alien; like holding the pick, the feel of the guitar being on the other shoulder etc. In terms of my right hand, it has proven far more capable of doing things like holding down chords and even lead techniques like hammer-ons and pull-offs, than my left hand did in the early stages. After a month I’m already at a stage I was first time round after six (of course, already having all the knowledge helps). So, are many of us missing a trick when we automatically plump for a righty? And should the guitar market produce more left-handed guitars?
Everything feels awkward in the first few months anyhow, but as the right hand is naturally the stronger, and will be doing most of the work, doesn’t it make more sense to make this your fretting hand? I know many lefties go righty simply because it’s easier to get hold of that desirable guitar, but I’d hazard that many righties should give lefty a go.
Another thing it has made me appreciate is how difficult everything is at the start. This has helped me as a guitar teacher as well as player, to understand the process students go through. It’s easy to forget when you get frustrated at why one of them can’t finger a simple power chord. Maybe all teachers should flip their guitars over during those early lessons with newbies, so they can empathise with what they are going through? I’d be interested in your comments on the issue. Damian Pieroni Sad to hear of your condition, Damian, but it’s also great that you are tackling it head on. On the lefty-righty debate it’s hard to know where to stand. The complaint of ‘not enough left-handed guitars’ has been going on for years; the makers state, quite reasonably, that since lefties make up only 10 percent of the population it’s not viable to offer them the same breadth of models.
I’d be wary of advising a lefty beginner to go righty though as, even though it would make life easier in the long run, the fear is he or she might have been a genius that way round. That said, the number of top lefties playing righty is high – including our own Phil and Jason too (above).
The other thing, of course, is to use a right-handed guitar upside down (Otis Rush, Albert King); and yet our John Wheatcroft stayed lefty and is phenomenal. And of course we have Michael Angelo Batio, whose ‘left and right’ double-neck playing is a thing to behold!
As for teachers flipping over for their beginner students, I’m not sure about that one. What do our illustrious readers have to say on the lefty-righty topic?
Jason and Phil, both lefties who play righty!
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