Updated September 16, 2021
Left Handed Fiddling Resources
By Ryan Thomson
After years of receiving letters from left handed people inquiring about the possibilities of playing violin left handed, I've put together a set of resources:
An essay on left handed music making - by Ryan Thomson:
a resource and reference book:
This book contains sources for left handed violins, the best reasons why a leftie may wish to play either right or left handed, biographies and stories of over 100 people who play left handed rather than the standard righty way, including both professional fiddlers and classical violinists alike!
The book is a complete reference designed for anyone with an interesting in learning more about left handed playing, including: parents wondering about their left handed children; persons contemplating classical violin lessons; folk fiddlers intending to teach themselves; experienced players of any genre of music, music educators and string teachers, and those interested in general left handed issues.
I have a great advantage in understanding differences and similarities between right and left handed playing since I'm an experienced violin teacher who has also had many years of experience playing both right and left handed. This book isn't an instruction book on how to play the violin left handed. For instruction see the book, CD, and DVD video listed below:
an instructional Book and DVD:
This book and DVD combination is a teach yourself method for learning folk style fiddling suitable for playing contra dance, bluegrass, or square dance music. It is recommended for learners with no experience playing violin or fiddle. Topics include: holding the fiddle and bow, fingering, bowing, tuning, scales, and learning several tunes.
an instructional DVD:
This course is designed for learners with basic playing skills such as being able to play some scales or simple tunes on a left handed violin with reversed strings. No music reading is required. The video teaches one tune each of 5 different Irish tune styles: jig, slide, hornpipe, reel, and polka. Fingerings and bowings are illustrated in detail. Tunes are demonstrated both slowed down and up to dance speed. Alternate bowings, ornaments, and variations are demonstrated for each tune. DVD one hour, ISBN 978-0-931877-43-8
Sample letters to Ryan from left handed people:
January 15, 2005
I can't tell you how excited I was to see that someone out there thinks it's okay to play the violin/fiddle left-handed. Long time ago I learned to play the guitar right handed and have always regretted it. So I took the plunge.
September 10, 2000
Dear Mr. Thomson,
I purchased an inexpensive used violin and had it restrung for left hand. When I went to a music store to purchase a chin rest and told them I had my violin restrung for left hand they said I was 'out to lunch'. In the meantime I began to teach myself how to play it 'fiddle' style and really enjoy myself, even though I am very inept.
Here's the question; If I were to take lessons would playing left handed be a stumbling block? Also, if I were ever to get good enough to merit a better instrument how practical is it to restring finer instrument? Should I string my instrument back to right hand and reteach myself (which would be difficult, at best). I feel I cannot move forward in my skill until I know whether fiddling left handed is going to hinder me in any future growth in my skills. I feel I am at a musical crossroads. Can you help?
I took a right handed chin rest and tools, and filed it down a bit until it was comfortable and fit my chin playing left handed. They are also available from some violin shops.
Jennifer: If I were to take lessons would playing left handed be a stumbling block?
Ryan: This depends upon the teacher. I have no problem teaching either left or right handed players, but some teachers will object to it. Keep checking around to find an open minded teacher. There's no problem teaching someone to play left handed.
November 10, 2001
Bravo to you for learning to play left handed. I am naturally left handed, and 1 1/2 years ago I decided to take up fiddle playing at age 57. I tried to play right handed for 10 months, then found a left handed violin for sale, and made the switch.......It took me about a month to retrain my right hand to the fingering, and bowing left handed was very easy because that was my natural side.......I just want to say a big yee haw to you for making the switch and sticking with it.
December 18, 2001
Can you believe that at 23 I have wanted to play the violin for most of my life. I finally have enough cash and discipline to seriously consider playing and then realise that me being left-handed is a serious obstacle to me ever playing. Every website I've visited (besides yours) tells me their is no point in trying to play left-handed, it's a waste of time. I feel like I'm being discriminated against for being a leftie, does that sound paranoid?
I live in South Africa, I know now already that there's no chance I'll find a violinmaker who does left-handed violins. I have phoned every music shop in the district and each one simply suggests I start right handed. In my minds eye I just can't wrap my head around it though, my hands don't want to fit the roles they have be pre-assigned?
I have no idea what to do, I don't want to simply give up, should I simply try playing right handed? It just feels like I'm being handicapped before the race has even started.
December 30, 2001
Just a quick note to say how glad I am to see a south paw being able to accomplish what seems to be the impossible.I also had an arm injury and must use my left hand. I always wanted to play the fiddle, I have one, but the only person who teaches in my neck of the woods can't stand to see my fiddle in the opposite hand, she says its to confusing.You were fortunate to be able to teach yourself......Thanks for the inspiration.
New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
January 8, 2002
Hi Mr. Thomson,
Wow I've been searching for a little advice on the internet for the past few days. When I saw the address I was suprized as I am close by in W, My little girl is 5 and asked for a violin for Christmas. I was thrilled as I also play and would love to see her pick it up. She is a lefty and feels much more natural bowing with her left hand. Before taking her to a lesson, I asked the teacher if she would consider teaching her left handed. She hesitantly agreed she would try it.
Well within 45 seconds of the lesson(seriously!) T struggled with the beginner hold on the frog while doing the "windshield wiper action" and the teacher switched it to her right hand immediately! She struggled equally with holding it with her right but the teacher continued. So rather than argue with the teacher in front of T I waited and went back to her later to let her know I didn't think that was very cool!
T is now a little confused and when we got home she picked up the instrument left handed again. I tried to explain that most everybody plays right handed and it might be easier for her to play that way in the long run. Personally I feel that if left is her God given way then she should play left! If she never makes it to an orchestra pit that's ok by me. I'd rather listen to her playing a little Natalie or Alison Krauss anyway, both who blow away most in any orchestra! I am willing to go the extra mile to find her instruments or whatever it takes.
She may decide to give it up in 3 months but if she does take to it, I want her to be able to someday reach her playing potential. One advantage T has is even though left bowing is her natural way, she seems to be pretty ambidextrous so if she was forced to switch she probably could. But I think she should play her natural way. If you have any advise you could lend, I'm all ears.
January 27, 2002
I read your article on changing to left handed fiddling. Thank you. I have a question. Did you have your fiddle restrung, with a base bar and sound post change or have you just moved the chin rest and left the strings as is playing all strings in an opposite fashion?
July 8, 2002
Hi, my name is Alan and I've decided to learn the violin. I've never played an instument before and I'm left handed. I've talked to several shops and they all conclude that learning to play right handed may be the best solution.
Ryan: Hi Alan,
The advantages to right handed playing are that you can play any regular violin, and that right handed violins are easy to find. Also, someone else could play your violin. Teachers are used to this also. Most left handed people play right handed with no particular difficulties.
Alan: It was even suggested I simply turn the violin up side down and teach myself as there probably are'nt many teachers who could teach that way.
Ryan: I know someone who plays a right handed violin lefty and does quite well at it. However, its easy for good and/or willing violin/fiddle teachers to teach someone who plays a left handed violin, left handed, but it may be more difficult to teach a left handed player playing a right handed violin.
Alan: I thought of having a right handed fiddle converted, but because of the internal construction it wouldn't sound right.
Ryan: If it is properly converted, it will most often sound as good as before, although there is some variability, as sometimes they sound even better than original, and sometimes not quite the same, but with a different sound quality. I've had several converted with good results. I've never had one sound worse than before the conversion if I had it done by an expert.
Alan: Now I'm back to learning right handed. My only fear is that it may limit my potential.
Ryan: Yes, that is a likely disadvantage. In violin playing, 85% of the sound quality is from how you handle the bow, and you're at a disadvantage using your right arm if you are left handed. I can tell you this with authority since I've played 20 years right handed, and 9 years left handed (I'm right handed) With tremendous amounts of work I've gotten quite good at playing left handed, but I got to the same level right handed with much less work and effort.
Alan: Do you have any suggestions?
Ryan: You might consider continuing right handed lessons, but simultaneously getting a decent right handed violin converted by a good shop, and then also trying out your new skills left handed to see how it feels. A number of lefties who have tried both ways have told me that playing left handed feels much more natural, although some are happy the other way around. If you try both ways, it will help you decide.
Alan: Also I checked out your 1985 Fiddler's Almanac from my local library, I enjoyed it very much. And judging from the condition of the book so have many others. Thank's for your time,
Ryan: Thanks for writing. I'm glad that you enjoyed my book, and suspect that you may find some of my other books and recordings useful. I hope you'll keep me informed on your progress!
This article updated by Ryan J Thomson 2008
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