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Left Handed Ukulele

I wrote this years ago - and it rubbed some people the wrong way! (an overview of a debate that erupted can be found here)

left-handed ukulele

If you are left-handed, and are considering learning to play the ukulele, the notion has perhaps occured to you - should you learn to play ukulele left-handed?

There is no other decision that you would have to make, when setting out to learn to play the ukulele, that you will be stuck with for the rest of the time you play.

right-handed ukulele

I do not believe that you need a ukulele that is set up backwards to almost every other ukulele in the world, in order to learn to play the ukulele, and play it well. If you are firmly convinced that you will gain some "advantage" from the sacrifices you will have to make, I don't consider it my place to change your mind.

You don't type on a left-handed keyboard. You don't drive a left-handed car. You don't have a left-handed key-pad on your phone. You couldn't buy a left-handed piano if your life depended on it. And even if you went to a big music store in a big city looking for left-handed ukuleles, you'd most likely be looking at a custom order, or having custom set-up work done by expensive luthiers.

You've perhaps considered that you could remove the strings from your ukulele, put them all on backwards, tune them up appropriately, and then you'd have a left-handed uke. In theory, this is true. Asides from the fact that you'd be trying to "re-create" an instrument you don't know how to play yet, and would have a very difficult time knowing if you'd gotten it right, there are two serious technical hurdles you would fairly likely run into:

The little piece that the strings go over/through on their way from the tuning pegs to the neck is called the "nut". The nut has a slot for each of those strings. The higher the quality of the ukulele, the more precisely these strings will fit these slots. Therefore, if you switch them around, the skinny strings will wobble around in chubby slots, and the chubbly strings won't even settle flat into the skinny slots. If you're lucky, you can take it out, flip it over, and then you'd have a decent chance of overcoming difficulties at this end of the neck.

Down at the other end of the neck, where the strings attach to the body of the ukulele, is the "bridge". If you're lucky, and/or the ukulele is rather "low end", it will not be "slanted" in any way, and you'll be able to flip the strings around without much difficulty. If it's angled - it is to give the instrument better "intonation", which means that all chords will be precisely in tune all up and down the neck - and if you switch the strings around - the intonation of the uke will now be worse than a uke with a cheap bridge, not better.

Sadly, actually getting your hands on a left-handed ukulele is the least of your problems. If you really insist on learning to play that way, and do succeed in securing an instrument that is set up that way and plays nicely - you'll be all alone. You will not be able to find song books. You will not be able to find educational materials. You will not be able to try out ukuleles in music shops. When you meet some cute member of the opposite gender on a train in some exotic location, and they just happen to have a ukulele with them, you will not be able to treat them to a song.

I had a roommate in university who played a left-handed guitar. He encouraged me to try to figure it out, and to try to learn some of his (rare) left-handed songbooks on my right-handed guitar. Why? He wanted me to understand how frustrating the world was for someone who learned to play guitar left-handed. Despite being a fairly accomplished guitarist at the time, I could not eek the simplest tune out of his axe. And despite having sight-read scores with fancy swing bands, I could not for the life of me work out even the easiest songs from left-handed song books. To a left-handed player, almost every instrument, and every book, in the world was confusing and useless. I understood what he wanted me to understand. I would never feel his pain, because the world was filled with guitars and books that I could use - but he did help me understand. The world is a lonely, resourceless place for people who make a simple decision a certain way at the very very very beginning of learning to play an instrument.

The fact of the matter is, there are plenty of left-handed people who do all sorts of things on "standard" equipment, including playing piano, guitar, and ukulele - and do it very very well.

Consider all these costs. Consider the possible benefits (if there are any). It is much, much, much easier to make the "right" choice now, than it ever will be in the future. If you decide to play the "standard" way, you don't have to think about any of the things I've prattled on about so far - you can just get started, work your way through our "standard" lessons, and you'll be able to play real soon.


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