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Left Handed Ukulele — A Pro-Left-Handed Argument

In response to this piece, I received this most enlightening rebuttal! (an overview of the debate that erupted can be found here)

John Solon wrote:

“Dear Sir,

As a music educator, music librarian, ethnomusicologist and folklorist, I am appalled, and as a left-handed player (ukulele, hammered and mountain dulcimers, keyboards, various "world" instruments), I am outraged, at the astounding ignorance, not to say outright bigotry, of your web page on "Left-handed Ukulele" (http://www.ukeschool.com/ukulele/left_handed_ukulele.html).

left-handed ukulele

This page not only stupefyingly misinforms beginning players, but also sets up the largest portion of them for frustration and failure on the scale that you purport to be trying to spare them. It appears to me, however, that like too many teachers, your position on left-handed playing is one that simply seems to make instruction easier for the teacher, rather than more successful for the student.

Regarding your belief that a left-handed player does not "need a ukulele that is set up backwards to almost every other ukulele in the world": on what is that belief based? Experience? Are you left-handed yourself? Some people do not believe in traffic laws, vaccinations, or climate change. Their belief, however, does not assure that they reflect external reality as encountered by those who have actual experience with any of those things.

It is very true that one does not "type on a left-handed keyboard… drive a left-handed car…have a left-handed key-pad on your phone", etc. That is not, however, because one would find these things unusable or unwelcome if one encountered them; it is merely because left-handed people have historically been largely dismissed by many manufacturers as a market segment not worth their trouble to accommodate, an attitude that is slowly changing, however, particularly with regard to musical instruments.

right-handed ukulele

A good example of the dismissive attitude is scissors, designed through beveling of the thumb and finger holes to be held comfortably in the right hand, but consequently uncomfortable and more difficult to use in the left. Another example, not likely to occur to a right-handed person, is the direction of the twist of a corkscrew. That one hadn't occurred even to me until I was given a left-handed Swiss Army knife with a left-handed corkscrew. Now I know why I hacked up so many corks in trying to extract them, and why I always felt so clumsy.

Left-handed people, from the first time they pick up objects as babies, are forced to adapt to a world of tools that are awkward for them because designed (often-unnecessarily: e.g. right-handed computer mice) for the convenience of others. That a tool is maladapted for oneself is not immediately obvious, especially to a child: a tool is what it is, and one feels that any "problem" lies in one's own lack of skill. The French word for "left", "gauche" acquired the meanings "awkward, clumsy" through the observation of left-handed people struggling in a world of tools which handicap them in the very design. The surprising pleasure of using a left-handed scissors or corkscrew or tablet-armed classroom chair carries with it the even more valuable experience that one is actually not *personally* "gauche", one is simply doing the best one can with tools made for someone else. If one can obtain similar tools designed for oneself, one would be a fool to not avail oneself of them. One wonders why anyone interested in one's success would argue against doing so, as you have done in asserting that because one can get by with maladapted tools, one does not NEED well-adapted ones.

Aside from the assertion that left-handed players do not need left-handed instruments, your preposterous representations of the difficulty of finding left-handed instruments and/or instructional materials are unconscionable AND incomprehensible. While it MAY be (*somewhat*) the case that in a "big music store in a big city looking for left-handed ukuleles, you'd most likely be looking at a custom order", on the World-Wide Web, it is quite another matter. I had a left-handed, cutaway, active-electronics, electric-acoustic concert Ibanez in my hands within 48 hours of ordering it. Google? Amazon?

"Serious technical hurdles"? "Custom set-up work done by expensive luthiers"? "If you're lucky, and/or the ukulele is rather "low end", it will not be "slanted" in any way…"? In fact, very few non-custom ukuleles have compensated bridges (rather than saddles). Although they are not very "low-end", none of my six vintage Martin ukuleles have slanted bridges. In fact, of my 14 ukuleles, the only ones on which I needed to make ANY alteration to the BRIDGE were my Yamaha "Guitalele" (6-string, quarter-size guitar), for which I needed a replacement reversed saddle, which was made for me by a local luthier for a buck, and my 1956 Martin tiple, on which the existing saddle needed to be reversed. As for the nut, anyone with sufficient motor skills to PLAY an ukulele should be able to adequately alter the string slots, if that were required rather than simply reversing the nut.

"…have a very difficult time knowing if you'd gotten it right"??? Puh...leeze…!

Presenting all this as "trying to 're-create' " the ukulele seems a preposterous distortion, as are your assertions that "you'll be all alone. You will not be able to find song books. You will not be able to find educational materials." These materials ABOUND on the web… even FREE left-handed instructional material abound. I am at a complete loss as to why you so exaggerate these supposed "obstacles" to left-handed playing. You even threaten lefties that they won't be able to get girls (or boys) if they don't conform to *your* "standard" way of playing! You're wrong about that, too....

I can't help but wonder if you actually did understand what your roommate wanted you to understand. I wonder if what he wanted you to understand was simply how difficult it is to play against your own "hard-wiring", regardless of your ability and talent. I don't know how long ago you were in college, but to characterize the "world [as] a lonely, resourceless place" for left-handed players is blatantly mistaken, misguided, and worst of all, it is extremely undermining for beginning players. Some few relentless ones will succeed, but the majority of those who accept your (mis)guidance and try to learn against their own body's wisdom, will become discouraged and quit. In my instrumental instruction career, I encountered many such people who pined away well into adulthood to be able to play music… simply because some teacher in their beginning couldn't be bothered to help them learn in the way they needed to learn. My experience was that when instruction is about the STUDENT'S needs, rather than the teacher's, students learn just fine, many exceptionally well.

Lastly:
To characterize "almost every instrument, and every book, in the world [as] confusing and useless" to a left-handed player is gratuitously and deeply insulting. To be left-handed is not to be mentally helpless or deficient. It may appear "confusing and useless" to a right-handed player trying to cope with "reversing" instructional diagrams in his head, but this kind of "reversing" is something that ALL left-handed people have done, and do DAILY in virtually every activity of their lives… so we're used to it.. and, speaking generally, we're GOOD AT IT. A right-handed player attempting the same just doesn't have a lifetime of practice at that kind of adaptation. That may be something else your roommate wanted you to understand. If so, clearly you missed it.

The link below points to a list of prominent left-handed players… not a comprehensive list, just those whose names are likely to be familiar to most contemporary listeners and players:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_musicians_who_play_left-handed#Left-handed_with_normal_stringing

A similar Google search for "left-handed ukulele" will provide a long list of print, video, and audio instructional materials for left-handed players. It is sad that your highly negative "Left-handed Ukulele" page is near the very top of those search results, as I can recall NO other ukulele site that is so determinedly discouraging of left-handed playing. I sincerely hope that aspiring left-handed players don't turn away right there.

Sincerely,

John Solon
Access & Digital Services Librarian
Mills Music Library
University of Wisconsin-Madison ”

   

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