More on this left-handed string playing business

Because I’m still settling my thoughts about the intractably brick-brained opposition on the basis of no well-founded evidence whatsoever to left-handed music-making. I should warn any nonexistent readers that this is an irritable post; you tolerate enough Stupid™ for enough time, and eventually you just have to grumble about it.


1) No, it’s not “easier” for us to play your way. If it were “easier” to waste the more coordinated hand on the fingerboard, you’d all be doing it already and playing on my side. So shut up. It’s not easier. No, converted lefties, it’s not easier for you, either. You were simply four years old and unable to resist, and you were made to do it unnaturally by idiots. That’s why you play the wrong way around for you. Just because the Ex-Gay Squad idiots got to you and forced you to do something unnaturally for reasons that originate in dark-ages religious persecution does not justify you playing “pass it along” with the trauma.

Yes, trauma. “Quite traumatizing!” That was the exact phrase used by the left-handed Nicola Benedetti to describe encountering the violin for the first time as a toddler, during a 2011 interview with Strings magazine. Does that sound okay to you? Is any form of abuse acceptable if it doesn’t cause the victim to spontaneously explode? Does anyone think that she wouldn’t still be an excellent player had she been able to bow with the hand Nature intended her to use?

I’m sure that some idiot someplace would say that forcing her to use the wrong hand made her better. Hell, maybe we should force all righties to bow with their worse hand, too! It’d make them better!

2) The bow hand is routinely considered the more important hand by all string players. Without exception. The soul of the instrument, the source of all musicality, the source of one’s individual voice, “the bow is master, and the fingers of the left hand are but his servants,” yadda yadda. Except when you want to get us to do the fingering with our dominant hand. Then suddenly you do a 180 and sell us a bill of goods that insists that we have an advantage for wasting the more coordinated hand on the less important end of the instrument. Either you’re too stupid to know that bowing really is the source of all individual musical expression, or you are perversely trying to get your left-handed students to do something that you know will make them struggle far harder to do things. Which is it — stupidity or malice?

Yes, Benedetti can play well. Do you think she’d have stuck the bow up her nose had she been able to hold it with her left hand as a child student? Seriously? Do you think Paganini would have?

3) No, I’ll never be able to play an Amati, a del Gesu, or a Strad. Gosh wollickers. I guess I cashed in Grandpapa’s railroad securities for nothing. Plenty of modern luthiers make left-handed instruments, and not all of the best instruments are made by dead guys who can’t refurb them. Modern luthiers can convert to lefty (mine has done so, although he’s never seen a native lefty before mine). Some virtuosi play modern instruments — Zygmuntovic and Iizuka are well-known and loved by those who own their instruments. I haven’t the slightest idea whether they have made lefties, but the fact remains: one is not restricted to playing only aged instruments that shouldn’t be reconfigured, even if one plays at a very high level.

4) No, there aren’t any left-handed players who are virtuosi. (Except, oops! There is one! And look where he’s sitting when he was in conservatory.) There aren’t any woman presidents and until very recently no happily married gay couples, either. If people aren’t allowed to do something and are often converted by force when they try, there tend to be fewer of them. Rocket science?

5) If the violin is a “two-handed instrument,” then why do all right-handers naturally want to place the bow in the right hand? Just blind chance? Every single stringed instrument — every one of them — is played with the non-dominant hand on the fingerboard or fretboard. This is not random chance, and it indicates a serious asymmetry to all stringed instruments that demands that the fingering be done with the less dominant hand. Period.

6) No, I didn’t play a left-handed piano. See “happily married gay couples,” above. Also — and this may be an advanced, overly complex thought for the right-handed majority who has never had to actually make this sort of adjustment; try to keep up — the piano is more symmetrical. Each hand is held in front of the body in similar position, and performs an identical role. Push down a key, get a noise. Stringed instruments are radically more asymmetrical and hence a whole lot more challenging for lefties. And the piano does disadvantage lefties — the mythic “advantage” of a more “balanced performance” does not accrue, no matter how many desperate lefties are looking for crumbs to make ourselves feel other than disadvantaged. The hands are not meant to be balanced on a piano, it’s that simple. With very limited exceptions, the melody is meant to sing out over the accompaniment; that is why generations of right-handers built the instrument to put the melody under their stronger hand. (Dumbass.)

7) Most significant is this: absolutely no change in the music takes place when a mirrored device is operated in mirror-image. None. At all. No, I have never made the water in my bathtub spin the wrong way around, time run backwards, or the universe suddenly shrink instead of expand by playing a scale on the side I am meant to play it. The notes do not come out backwards. The music does not start at the end and wind up at the beginning. Even if a right-hander wanted for some insane reason to play lefty, there would be no change in the physics of the instrument. (Dumbass.)

No change in pedagogy is needed, either. My right-handed teacher sat across from me and showed me what to do with his scroll hand, and I did it with mine. Bowings were identical. Fingerings were identical. Period. No spontaneous combustion, no time flowing backwards, no generation of anti-matter explosions. (Dumbass.) I recall buying a cheap guitar once, restringing it for lefty use because at the time it didn’t occur to me that it was a capital offense, and asking a right-handed fellow graduate student to show me a few things. He was insecure. “I don’t know how to teach a left-hander!”

“Just show me how,” I asked him … as I asked the right-handers who had taught me how to do every other damned thing in my life. He sat across from me, put his (left) hand on the fretboard, and I put my (right) hand on my fretboard.

Suspicious and uncertain, he said, “Put your finger … here … ”

I put my finger on the same fret, on my side.

He looked gobsmacked. Maybe he thought I would start blowing into it.

“Okay, pluck this string, like this.”

Which I did.

He relaxed instantly. Once he realized that there would be no change whatsoever in technique, we simply went along. I stopped ultimately, but not because I was playing with the Devil’s Paw, only because it started to make my fingertips crack. (There was just far too much physical pain involved in a guitar.)

It goes the other way, too — the fellow I link to above? Master pedagogue. And none of the righties in his classes faint or become hysterical. What he does on one side, they do on the other, and life goes on.

To conclude, here’s a nice little story that should make your blood chill a bit:

One online idiot string player and teacher once made a flat-out frightening comment when the issue of lefty string playing came up, as it occasionally does when parents of left-handed children ask about left-handed instruments in an entirely commendable attempt to spare their children from being “quite traumatized.” Her entire statement boiled down to the following, and this is as close to an exact quote as my memory can manage:

“It’s horrible and terrible and borderline abusive when teachers try to force left-handed children to write with their right hand, but when I do it, it’s different, and besides it was done to me, and it didn’t do me any harm!”

She must have been consciously trying to pack as many red flags into one statement as possible. It’s abusive when someone else does it, but I can do it because I’m different. And it was done to me as a child, so there.

Indeed.

Click on those links for information about luthiers who make left-handed instruments, including left-handed children-sized instruments. And do not back down from defending your child’s choice to use whichever hand they prefer to hold the bow, parents of young string players. Unless you like the idea of your child being subjected to something that even a left-handed anti-lefty player lets slip is “borderline abusive” and that a left-handed forced-convert soloist calls “quite traumatizing,” that is. And that will not impact your child’s ability to actually play the instrument whatsoever.

You will have to work harder to find a teacher willing to teach them, but that just means you get to avoid the shining examples described above out of the gate. Playing left-handed is like an idiot filter; in that, perhaps we do have an innate advantage.

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