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left-handed violins

Instruments: Is there really such a thing?

From Jodi Bernard
Posted August 13, 2006 at 12:31 AM

Last May I had the opportunity to attend a recital in which one of the students had a "left-handed" violin.. Is there really such a thing? It was strung the opposite way and bowed witht the left hand.

I am left-handed and even I think this is different...To me I'd rather have the traditional hold since the left hand does the fingerwork.

I guess there are quite a few on ebay.
Interesting...

From Christian Afonso
Posted on August 13, 2006 at 12:51 AM
I think Charlie Chaplin had one. But of course not only strung the other way around, but built completely mirrored... soundpost, bass bar... it'snot very common to use a left-handed violin, but they do exist.
From Eliza Krivo
Posted on August 13, 2006 at 02:42 AM
Yes! They do exist! Back when I rented violins, the violin shop owner and maker told me his first violin he made was a left-handed violin and he learned to play on it so, now he plays left-handed! It WAS sort-of a mistake though, he admits that he followed a book and since the pictures look backwards he ended up with a "backwards" violin!
From N.A. Mohr
Posted on August 13, 2006 at 06:35 PM
They do exist...but most people agree that it's better to learn to play a right-handed version...esp. if you wish to play with an orchestra...so that everyone is uniform when bowing...
From Rob Schnautz
Posted on August 14, 2006 at 09:33 PM
I've heard of them; my fifth grade teacher that started us out on songflute and then taught the best of us a new instrument and the cream of the crop strings said that any leftie professionals had them...but I've never seen one, and about half the violinists I know are lefties.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on August 15, 2006 at 07:26 AM
We had a long and acrimonious discussion on left-handed violins and people who choose to play them previously. I suggest that you read it. http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=8328
From Eugene Kaler
Posted on August 16, 2006 at 12:49 AM
wouldn't be easy playing in an orchestra with one...
From Michael Parry
Posted on August 16, 2006 at 04:19 AM
The most spastic thing I have ever heard of.
From Nancy Fradkin
Posted on March 19, 2007 at 04:35 PM
I am a beginner violinist living in the Greater Boston area. I have been totally left handed in all activities for the 57 years of my life. I took private lessons for three months bowing right handed because I'm basically a people pleaser and wanted to buy in to the standard arguments against bowing lefty. I never got over the awkwardness of holding the bow in my right hand. I discovered that there are inexpensive violins built left handed (from Romania and, possibly China) and I decided to quit wasting my going nowhere lessons. I bought a Gliga GEM2 (built in Romania, sold at http://www.violinslover.com
or Ebay or Elida in the UK). Since I bought it over the internet, I had Ryan Thomson) try it out. Ryan is a professional left handed fiddler who offers research and support for lefties after his experience with switching from right handed bowing because of a disability. He approved of the instrument, I liked the sound of it...but then there was the teacher problem.

Surprisingly, my original teacher who pushed hard for bowing right handed, agreed to try to continue teaching me once my resolve was apparent. It is working out great! I find that facing him while he plays is just like watching a mirror image and I have no trouble converting it to left handed playing. The only confusion arises in the use of the term "right hand" when referring to the bowing hand and "left hand" when referring to the fingering hand. But us lefties are used to that. When he says "right hand" I translate that to "bowing hand". Although I am his first left bowing student, my teacher has agreed to be listed on Ryan's website to recruit more like me. And, by the way, I was only "physically handicapped" while bowing right handed.

I have gone from enraged to mostly amused by the extreme hostility directed toward bowing left handed. I hope, like Ryan Thomson, to find a few right handers willing to play quartets with me once I'm good enough. And a professional right handed Irish fiddler http://Oisin McAuley(of Danu fame) puts it best when he said to a struggling class of beginners: "No one gets left behind." (He is very supportive of left handed bowing.) My dream is that more teachers would respond as this talented pro (Eden MacAdam-Somer) did: "I'm glad that you are experimenting with the most comfortable way to play the violin. It is really important to do that. Have you taken many lessons? I'm not sure how well I could teach you, as so much of teaching and learning in music involves imitation and demonstration and I am a right-handed fiddler. But I would be willing to give it a try."

That's all we lefties need, a chance.

From Stephen Perry
Posted on March 18, 2007 at 01:09 PM
I've done many left handed violins, usually from the white. They work fine, of course, although I need to tag them carefully so I get everything left!

I had a few made for me overseas, too, in Romania. They worked out very well.

In teaching, one can face the teacher and mirror image the demonstrations. Actually pretty easy. Like looking at yourself in a mirror. I worked with a left handed guitarist like this.

From Frank-Michael Fischer
Posted on March 18, 2007 at 01:40 PM
Aren't actually all normal violins left-handed ones? Since you do very fine work with your left hand on your left-side fingerboard? So a violin for someone trying to insist on a special violin for left-handedness should get a right-handed violin, where you will have the fingerboard for your right hand doing the fingering on your right side?

I have seen and heard many ways of raising attention exercises "Look I am special, I am left-handed!" but asking for a violin to be played with your right hand since you are left-handed is certainly the weirdest way of all. I'd ask such a student to get a life first.

I wonder whether left-handed pianists insist on switching the keys and even pedals, too.

FMF

From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on March 18, 2007 at 04:38 PM
Frank:

Guitars are played either way. Some great guitarists play "leftie."

The tasks of the right hand are very differnet from the left in stringed instruments. In piano and flutes, clarinets and others, the hands are symmetrical.

I see nothing strange at all about the idea of playing leftie violin. Rather I find it odd to think that one would see this as odd!

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on March 18, 2007 at 04:58 PM
Yeah. Nobody has to reveal or justify their motivations to anyone either. End results are all that matters. Really, you could probably find fault with the motivations of most musicians if that's what you were into doing.
From Frank-Michael Fischer
Posted on March 18, 2007 at 07:54 PM
There is no problem with finding out you get better along with the fingerboard on the right side. I am having just a hard time relating this to being left-handed or right-handed. For instance I prefer writing with my right hand but sketching and drawing with my left.

Or should we assume the left hand of a rightie is better suited for the fingerboard because the person is a rightie? Seems to me, that handling the fingerboard is too far away from normal usage of our hand to come to such general conclusion.

FMF

From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on March 18, 2007 at 08:31 PM
I gave my kids straight bladed hockey sticks and let them decide.
From Nancy Fradkin
Posted on March 18, 2007 at 08:49 PM
I bought my full sized left handed violin (built in Romania), a Gliga GEMS2, from http://www.violinslover.com
From Jim C
Posted on March 19, 2007 at 04:32 AM
I'm left handed and have been one for all of my 50+ years. Since violin is a completely learned experience and fingering is just as complicated as bowing (if not more so) I think left handed people have the advantage - without resorting to an assbackwards instrument.
From Sarah Wallin
Posted on April 2, 2007 at 05:06 AM
...not gonna fall into an argument, one side or the other... but, as with so many other things like shoulder rests, etc... perhaps it is a personal matter of comfort, unique to each individual??...

Hard to fight tradition, I imagine though, when it comes to playing with orchestras...all the uniformity and such...

:)

From Stephen Perry
Posted on April 2, 2007 at 10:45 AM
I would think that uniformity would suggest that left handed people have left handed violins, to put the master hand uniformly in control of the bow, the more difficult aspect of playing.

Funny, people inquire regularly about left handed instruments, but when the instruments are in stock they sit for long periods unpurchased!

From Walter Milden
Posted on April 22, 2008 at 04:58 PM
Working sales in a local music store I can confirm Stephens claim about left handed instruments. They usually remain in stock while they become vintage. I find the same holds true with 7 string guitars and 6-10 string basses. I visited this blog to get advice as a luthier about converting a right handed violin to left handed for a customer, in the event she still chooses to learn left handed after receiving advice from our violin instructors. I plan to restring the violin opposite. reverse the bridge and move the chin rest. After she learns on the inexpensive violin she may choose to upgrade to a designed left handed model. Can I get a luthier's perspective?
From Nigel Keay
Posted on April 22, 2008 at 06:11 PM
I did see a left-handed violinist once playing in a string quartet in a concert at Radio France. An excellent quartet with an assistant concertmaster of the French National Orchestra as first violinist of the quartet. It was the second violinist that was left-handed so he sat opposite the first (where the cellist normally is in the classic formation) and this gave the quartet an interesting symetrical presentation with both violins facing out to the audience on either side. It was interesting to see unison bowing passages. During the concert I did occasionally try to imagine playing like that, it was unavoidable for that not to cross the mind....
From David Burgess
Posted on April 22, 2008 at 11:11 PM
The most pragmatic request I've heard for a left-handed violin was from a teacher who wanted one to better understand the challenges of someone who was just starting out....he wanted to feel like a beginner again.

Beyond that, it seems hard to justify, unless one is missing some fingers on the left hand. Greater dexterity or motor skills on either side can be put to advantage with a traditional "right handed" violin, which is probably already a "left handed" violin.

From Bob Annis
Posted on April 23, 2008 at 12:56 AM
Even missing fingers aren't a good enough excuse for anyone who's heard Django Reinhardt.
From Eric Meyer
Posted on April 24, 2008 at 06:05 PM
I use my right hand for things associated with arm movement, like golf and throwing and batting, and my left for that which is associated with fingers and wrist. It's always been that way and although I wish it wasn't I haven't been able to change. I had a guitar shop for twenty five years and it was a real drawback to have to test out my repairs with an upside down instrument. I couldn't play the great guitars that came thruogh my shop. I have two lefties that I made for myself with everything reversed. It's much more common in the guitar world. Think Paul and Jimmie.
I have a fiddle that I traided for an old Weyman rosewood guitar many years back. It's a handmade by someone who went on to make gambas so I've never been able to sell it. I've tried to play it backwards, yes you heard me, it's backwards for me regardless of how it seems to you. Can't do it, the bow wants to be in my left hand. I'm thinking of just having the bridge cut to be reversed and the nut changed over. I want the treble strings facing the frog. I'll be a total beginner and it makes sense to learn as a righty, but the old dog can't hunt that way. I don't think I'll be hitting my orchesta mates any time soon. It might be intersting to hear what the wrong-sided bass bar will sound like, but for a while at least all scratching noises will sound the same. I've got a decent bow now, but even on that the hair is righty. I hardly even have time to play guitar anymore so it's not a burning issue.
From David Burgess
Posted on April 24, 2008 at 11:11 PM
Eric, "wrong sided" bass bars work quite well. A bigger issue might be relocating the pegs for hand clearance.

Too old to change? ;)
Me too! I think I've survived the antiqued fiddle craze, and have a head start on the antiquers and copyists who are looking for a new direction.

From Eric Meyer
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 02:44 AM
David,
Should I make some left handed pegs for it? I'm certainly not moving the holes.
How did the Makers meet Players thing go? Did Seattle show up?
From Benjamin K
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 04:43 AM
"I use my right hand for things associated with arm movement, like golf and throwing and batting, and my left for that which is associated with fingers and wrist."

I am confused as I fail to see how that is "backwards" in respect of playing the violin. Seems perfectly mainstream and thus "normal" to me, certainly not "backwards".

"the bow wants to be in my left hand"

Isn't that the exact opposite of what you just said in your first sentence. Now, I am really confused.

From Eric Meyer
Posted on April 25, 2008 at 04:12 PM
Fingers and wrist, I write, eat, and use tools with my left hand. I strum the guitar also with my left, fingering with my right. Sorry for the confusion. My point is that some folks have trained themselves to counter their natural proclivities, but I never could. The first time that I picked up a guitar I held it left handed and my teacher/friend told me that was wrong, I guess I should have tried harder. I always thought that it was a result of putting my hands opposite those of Roy Rogers on the TV, but I've read that we decide these things in the womb. Holding the bow in the right hand just seems wrong to my brain/hand coordination. I've just finished my second bow and I'm having to think hard about which is the audience, and which is the players side in order to stamp it. I'm not kidding.
From Cris Zulueta
Posted on May 1, 2008 at 01:33 AM
There is a left handed Gliga on ebay, did a search couple days ago after reading this post. It looks odd seeing the chin rest on the other side. Never seen one before.

http://cgi.ebay.com/RARE-4-4-GLIGA-LEFT-HAND-GUARNERI-VIOLIN-CODE-A6358_W0QQitemZ280055965106QQihZ018QQcategoryZ38108QQssPageNameZWDVWQQrdZ1QQcmdZViewItem

From Bart Meijer
Posted on May 1, 2008 at 05:30 PM
Someone could want to play a mirrored violin or viola because of injury or some other physical problem.
I know of two people who play, or played, a mirrored instrument. One is the professional violist Jürgen Kussmaul, and another is a neurologist. When his left hand became injured, he switched sides. When his left hand had recovered, he could play both ways. The experience was interesting from the neurological point of view as well.
Being left-handed myself, I have to pay much more conscious attention to the bowing hand and arm.
From Lena V
Posted on May 3, 2008 at 10:31 PM
This reminds me of a story from when I first started violin. I'm left handed, and my dad, not knowing anything about violin, asked if I had to play it the opposite way. My teacher laughed.
A lot of my friends ask me if I would prefer playing lefty, but I like righty, mostly because I have a very strong arm and wrist vibrato, and my fingers have great dexterity. Pros and cons to both, eh?
From Lillian Klotz
Posted on August 10, 2008 at 09:47 PM
For people who try holding the violin on the left side of their bodies, determine it is too awkward and switch to the right, I'd have to say....violin is hard! It involved thousands of intricate movements, patterns and muscles that take years to train. I have been playing for 17 years and still adjust the way it is set up on my shoulder and in my bow hand. I think part of the art of violin is refining one's coordination and developing fine motor skills so that one can turn a piece of wood into a vehicle for expression. If you give up after even a year of playing and switch sides, you haven't tried long or hard enough, or you're just not serious. A big part of violin pedagogy is set up.
So...in order to teach this better, I am actually buying a backwards violin so I can feel awkward again ;)
From Dimitri Adamou
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 05:38 AM
Its strange, I am a left hander but I cannot bow with my left very well I feel muchh muchh more comfortable with right handed bowing, I think being left handed has given me a good advantage with my fingering however
From Roland Garrison
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 06:22 AM
I've been right-handed all my life, but it seems that there are two parts to being left-handed. You can be left-handed in the hands, or some people seem to be 'left-handed' in the brain; the way they think is actually different. I worked with such a person once, and I was tasked to train him at some woodworking skills. Everyone else had given up.
I was trying to figure why a normally intelligent person that got the concepts could not master the skills; so, I thought about him being left-handed. I showed him how to do everything backward; I was clumsy, but he already had the concept, but now had a template to work with. In a couple weeks he made months of progress.

I firmly believe that for some people, a left-handed ANYTHING may be necessary, and it is not based on intelligence, but wiring.

From Andrew Dubar
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 04:19 PM
http://www.terjemoehansen.com/

There are several recent published studies from Australia and the UK about the left hand/right hand and left brain/right brain theories. The one that is the most interesting to me is the fact that not all "left dominant" people are left handed (the study refers to left dominant people as those wired closer to solely left handed person and NOT as in left brain dominant, which would make a person tend to be right handed). There was an apparent correlation between the way that a person's hair grows (clockwise or counter clockwise) that may give a hint to their predisposition. Around 90 - 90% of subjects that had counter clockwise hair growth patterns exhibited left dominance, whilst those with clockwise patterns- right. About 5% of the right handed subjects were left dominant--taking into account age and the possibility that the subjects were not forced to change from left hand to right hand.

Another study linked mirror writing with advanced cognitive abilities--at least in rapidness of deduction/thinking they tended to be faster than most right handers that could not mirror write in congintive tests.
About 90 - 95% of mirror writers are left dominant and most were left handed(not left brained).

Although it has been said in several different studies and survey results that 10% of lefties are ambidextrous, a recent study found that although it is an advantage to be ambidextrous--subjects that were completely ambidextrous (meaning they used both hands and sides of the body equally--often not using one preference over the other--without regard to which was which) tended to test into the bottom rankings of IQ tests!!!!????

So, the maxim might be, one should strive to be ambidextrous but not too ambidextrous!!!

Lillian, the act of writing is a rather complex activity--but, I think science has learned one should never force a lefty to be a righty. Why should playing violin be any different?

From Annette Brower
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 04:36 PM
A mix of left and right handed violins would be a new look for an orchestra...not exactly uniform and someone might get stabbed with a bow! Of course I'm right handed so I guess I lack the compassion of a lefty.
From Carol Cook
Posted on August 11, 2008 at 05:03 PM
As I recently learned at the gun range, one can be right handed and yet have a stronger left eye. The stronger eye may determine the best hold and stance, left or right toward the music, despite handedness.
From Jim Hoyle
Posted on August 13, 2008 at 07:57 PM
Search YouTube for Freischuetz with Carlos Kleiber - after 1.30 you see a viola player playing mirrored like that!
From Nicole Stacy
Posted on August 13, 2008 at 09:52 PM
The same teacher I mentioned in the other thread tells a story about a girl who was taught left-handed cello. She became good enough to audition for Ormandy but when he found out, he wouldn't even hear her. She eventually disowned her father.

Food for thought...

From Andrew Dubar
Posted on September 3, 2008 at 07:41 PM
????

Not too sure what your story is relating?

Either it is a travesty that she disowned her father (for what, I dare not anticipate your hidden premises) or Ormandy was a narrow minded bigot?

From Tom Duncan
Posted on October 5, 2008 at 04:12 AM
I am amazed that this subject is being discussed in this manner in the year 2008. How many of you who think everyone should play "Right Handed" are truly "Left Handed"? How would you have responded to being forced or ridiculed into doing all of your life activities with your opposite, or less coordinated hand?

All of us have a preferred handedness, and the fact that the left hand preference is in a distinct minority seems to have promulgated the archaic idea that "Right Handed" is correct.

How can anyone even begin to suggest that something might be easier for another to do with the other hand, or eye, or foot? If we thought it would be easier, we would have done it that way! We may actually have tried (possibly very hard, maybe even harder than you did) to do it with the other hand before we decided to do it the way it came naturally for us.

Go back to the 17th century where you belong, people! I’m going to play left handed to my heart’s (and ear’s) content.

From Jerald Archer
Posted on October 5, 2008 at 06:20 AM
The baroque violinist, Reinhard Goebel of Musica Antiqua Koln was rendered lame in the left hand in 1990 and plays wonderfully today with his right. Hearing a recording, one could never tell. It can be done.
From Roland Garrison
Posted on October 5, 2008 at 06:36 AM
I'm a rightie, but I do know there is a difference in the coordination of the dominant hand and the off hand (dexter and sinister).
This discussion should include some historical digression. Why are violins designed to play with the left being the most dexterous, when so many of the arguments in this discussion indicate the lefties shoule have the advantage, not disadvantage? I suspect there is something we are overlooking in the mechanics of how we play this instrument. Based on the existance of this unknown factor, I do think there may be some benefot for some players to use a left handed fiolin. The argument that some professional players are lefties, but still play rightie is only support for the fact that some are better at changing from one side to the other. The ones that can't adapt as well don't end up in the orchestra, so none of them are counted.
I have the opportunity to observe my 5 year old grandson with a violin I let him play with when I practice; he struggles with both bow and violin a bit, trying to copy my every move, then he shifts it to his right hand, and the bow in his left. Once there, he actually does quite a bit better. Based on that observation, for some, at least, there is a comfort difference.
From Daniel Jenkins
Posted on October 5, 2008 at 12:05 PM
My guess is that the set up of holding the violin with the left hand and bowing with the right is simply passed down from the violin's predecessor the viol. As far as why the viol is this way, I think perhaps it's design could be seen as being somewhat passed down from the guitar, an instrument in which the right hand is required to perform an intricate task, perhaps even more intricate than the left.
From Roland Garrison
Posted on October 5, 2008 at 04:01 PM
Daniel, that has enough logic to it it could actually be true. Are there any known exceptions to that pattern in western instruments? I can't think of any off the top of my head.
From Rick Stone
Posted on October 7, 2008 at 11:33 PM
I just found this wonderful site and a thoroughly engaging topic. I'm lefty all the way; I play several instruments, and two years ago started on violin. I have forsaken all other instruments since. I am consumed by this wonderful instrument. At times I'm sure my wife wishes she'd never suggested giving it a go. I wish I'd been aware of this site before I purchased my lefty 'student model'. Though the sound has become tolerable as I've progressed, the link I found here to violinslover.com has provided me with a place to find a reasonably priced quality left-hand violin. Thank you very much, Nancy!
From Roland Garrison
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 03:01 AM
Now should someone start a thread regarding left-handed bows?
From Rick Stone
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 01:02 PM
Left-hand bow? Or a piano? Seriously, my thought has always been the piano is perfect for lefties. The melody being played with the right hand on the upper keys felt natural from the very start. The only instrument I've ever been able to buy without having to shop around forever or having to alter...
From Barry Dudley
Posted on October 8, 2008 at 04:50 PM
There is no reason that a violin cannot be constructed as a "left handed" instrument. Any experienced maker should be able to do it with out to much problem.
From Giovanni Gammuto
Posted on October 10, 2008 at 01:27 AM
Yes, they are not a "Fig Newton" of your imagination. In 38 years, I have been asked to make exactly two. They came out just fine, but they were a pain in the butt to make. Everything that we do comes to us as a matter of repitition. Building an opposite hand instrument requires deliberate thought, checking and rechecking before any glue is applied!!!!! The one fellow that ordered one wanted to play next to his right handed partner on stage with bows converging in the center. They were members of a very flamboyant Celtic band. He sent me a video of a performance in Dublin. It was entertaining for sure! GG
From tom utsch
Posted on October 10, 2008 at 03:14 AM
Joe Holley, the famous (and incredible) fiddler in the Bob Wills orchestra played left handed on a right hand (conventional) violin...they call it "playing over the bridge."

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