Anyone else teach a lot of left-handers?
In the past couple of years, I've started to notice that I pull in left-handed students like a magnet. Looking at my current students, about 30% are left-handed, and that's not including the ones that are sort of just ambidextrous. I get so many that I actually bought left-handed violins for new students to try initially, to see if they have a much stronger aptitude in that direction if that's their desire (and yes yes, I know, playing a left-handed violin is the devil's work... most end up playing right handed anyways so don't worry).
As far as I know, about 10% of the population is left handed, so 30% seems unnaturally high. I'm thinking maybe it's a violin thing? More artistic endeavors attract left-handers?
Has anyone else experienced this in their student base? I should mention I get mostly beginners, and that my online presence is the main source of new students (rather than references or local students).
Hmm.. I've noticed a lot of the people I work with are left handed.
Each hand presents its unique challenges in instrumental technique, and left-handed instruments are scarce. Unless you have a diagnosed physical disability that forces you to play left-handed (e.g cerebral palsy), please play the normal way.
I think this effect plays a role:
I have a number of lefty students. They of course, hold the violin the usual way around, violin left hand and bow with right.
To be honest guys, very few of my students are serious enough to ever consider getting into a paying orchestra.
There are more top soloists who are left handed than the proportion of lefties in the population. This suggests that being left handed gives a violinist an advantage.
I know two lefties who play violin (one of them has a right handed twin), both play right-handed. Both are wonderful players, they didn't have any problem learning "the right way".
I started my musical life, as a small child, on the piano, with about 12 years of lessons. I started as a cellist when I was 11 and continued as an orchestral cellist (amateur) until fairly recently, not long after I took up the violin in retirement. The violin has now replaced my cello in orchestral playing. These days I rarely play the piano, but when I do I am aware that my left-hand technique is better than it used to be, and possibly better than my right-hand technique. I can only put this down to the intensive work my left hand has had to do on the cello and violin throughout my life.
Violin is challenging for lefties, righties, and the ambidextrous. Give a well-setup "lefty" violin to any of the well-known modern players of our day, and they will instantly be reduced to "beginner" status, regardless dominant hand. I am the furtherst you can imagine from being status-quo-esque, but I see no value in "helping" a lefty with an alternate, "better suited" instrument which won't necessarily be any easier to play (plus think how easy this "standard" makes life for the player by helping them more easily acquire accessories, etc.)
I'm left-handed, and I play using the traditional set-up. Never had any problems with it. Being left-handed in a right-handed world has generally forced me to become somewhat ambidextrous, and I would go so far as to speculate that it's probably easier for me to use my right hand in most cases than it is for a right-handed person to use their left hand. I've still had to put practice time into my bowing technique, mind you, but I'm not sure that it was harder for me than for anyone else; none of my teachers have ever given me that impression. Fast passages usually come to me pretty quickly.
We poor right-handers have to teach our left hands to lead the dance, while our right hands can play the bow like a caligrapher's brush.
I never ask and it doesn't matter.
I read about a German violist (Jürgen Kussmaul) who was already a professional player when due to an accident he lost two fingers of his left hand. He learnt to play left-handed and reached a professional level again (becoming eventually professor for viola).
I believe that all things being equal, we either struggle with the left or right hand depending on which hand is your dominant hand. Both hands need to perform complex things in order to play violin well.
Sorry for the typos. Corrected but might not reflect on early browser loads.
I occasionally try to play the other way: it's very instructive, as I know exactly what to do, but am incapable of doing it. Just like a beginner.
These are all very valid points, but one thing I feel that most people don't consider is this: those stellar players who are left-handed; how much better would they have done if given a left-handed instrument in the beginning?
From my perspective as a professional, left-handers playing the standard way are actually at a slight advantage. Both hands, obviously, need to be at a high level, but it's much easier to disguise sloppiness of bow technique than it is to disguise a sloppy left hand; intonation is often the first thing people pick up on.
Irene: I'm not currently telling my left-handed students anything, really. In fact, all I do currently is offer them the chance to try a left-handed violin if they'd like, since otherwise they'd have to go out and buy one to try it. Usually they don't care to.
Do you thinks perhaps, you could be doing your students a dis-service by teaching them to hold their violins reversed? Could you be accused of applying your own dogmatic approach to left handedness and violin playing? You seem to be flying in the face of accepted wisdom and seem to have a particular axe to grind.
Teaching a student on a left-handed violin is a very good way to ensure that the student either cannot participate in orchestra or will be relegated to the last stand, alone.
I feel like people just aren't reading my posts. Carlo, I have taught ONE person left-handed, and that wasn't my decision; it was the decision of the parents. I'm talking about a theoretical situation where left-handers would be encouraged - or at least allowed - to play left-handed.
"if more people were at least open-minded to the idea of left handers playing lefty, then maybe orchestras would stop treating them so differently, and would find a way to adapt and make it work."
Ultimately, it is up to the student and parents to make the final call. You present to them your information, the pros and cons, the options, and let them choose what works for them. It is a personal and very individualistic decision to make.
I've never heard of a backwards-playing violinist being hired in a professional orchestra in recent times (I had to reword that because loads of left-handed violinists get hired, but they play the standard way).
"Backwards" eh? Gee, sounds downright Orwellian. So you're saying there's rampant institutional bigotry against lefties in the classical music world. A protest is clearly called for.
In an orchestra a left-handed string player could confuse some conductors! And then there's the important matter of the ergonomics of good platform arrangement.
I'm left-handed and I'm always stumped as to why a left-hander would want to reverse violin and bow -- the normal way of playing puts a left-hander at a natural advantage!
IMHO, one must be careful as a teacher not to project one's idiosyncratic ideas onto one's students. In this case Erik, I feel you may doing them a dis-service by following your own somewhat unorthadox methods. I agree with Laurie, the left-hander is at an advantage holding the violin in the conventional fashion.
Carlo, I'm talking about IDEAS here. I actually teach in a very traditional way.
There are different degrees of handedness. Some lefties use right handed scissors and hand tools. And there are right handers that throw a ball lefty. It's interesting that Erik has seen an unusually large number of lefties. Why do you think that would be?
"I have actually bought left-handed violins for my new students to try " just an idea as you claim? or something more?
Let me clarify: I have actually bought left-handed violins for my new students to try if they want to."
I have found an example of that rare species, a left-handed professional cellist, in the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra. See this video of the Brahms Requiem conducted by Herbert Blomstedt, at 19'32",
I hear Laurie even claiming that left-handed people are actually in an advantageous position learning the violin? That seems unlikely. The way violin is normally played most probably has arisen because it is easier that way if you are right-handed. And the bowing hand is at least as important as the fingering hand.
Erik I think it's great that you want to consider those who might be more apt to learn in a different way.
The piano argument you used above, Mr. Smith, is a good point for "normal" instruments, as advanced repertoire requires to essentially be ambidextrous, as far as piano technique is concerned. Similarly, advanced (or even not so difficult) violin repertoire requires such mastery for both hands/arms, there's little point, IMO, in trying to make violin "easier" with a lefty option that will be a nightmare to fit into the "standard" music world.
It occurs to me that the orchestra with the L-H cellist is primarily a radio orchestra. The left-handedness of a string player may therefore generally not be visually significant.
If the look of it were the only reason someone rejects the idea offhand *ahem* , that's pretty lame in my book.
So, I think all of these points are great and valid. I really appreciate all of the responses and ideas being put out here.
I don't understand why it would be any different if the dominant hand is the bow hand. Even if you were teaching a left-hander to play a normal violin, are any of the principles any different? Are the pieces different? If they have trouble bowing, you probably have things you give right-handed students to work on their bowing.
It isn't favoring *conformity* over efficiency. It is favoring ensemble most of all, practicality and logistics...and while it may be your opinion that teaching left-handed students on a left-handed instrument is more efficient, that has hardly been demonstrated by the facts.
Here are some facts: I am left-handed. I play cello the usual way, but when I got a violin I learned to play left-handed and I now have three left-handed violins...BECAUSE my left hand bows much better than my right hand! I don't have the strength to finger the cello strings with my right hand, but it is no problem with the violin...I enjoy it! The more I play the violin, the more inept I become on cello...playing left-handed works out so much better for me. I started piano at 5, which I think helped to develop dexterity in my right hand.
Thank you for your real-world experience, Erin. And I wasn't aware of the European orchestras! That's excellent.
The facts are that a disproportionate number of professional violinists--people who have achieved the highest level of proficiency on the violin--are left-handed. Therefore playing the conventional way is no disadvantage, or else there would be a *lower* than expected number of lefties in orchestras, not higher.
As I have implied (and I do not mean to be argumentative, so please take no offense) when I was younger, the hardest arm/hand was the right (bow arm)-and that's my "dominant" hand.
Mary Ellen: is there a class in college where they discussed this specific subject? Or are you just pulling the "I have a degree and you don't, therefore my opinion on this totally unrelated subject is more valid" argument?
I agree that blending into an orchestra is an important reason to play the conventional way. I wonder though if there are other musical or technical reasons that favor playing the standard way. The keyboard set up was mentioned earlier. I think you draw an analogy between the keyboard and violin where more complex rhythms (melodic) are usually performed or directed by the right hand while the left hand plays a more simple or steady beat (i.e fingers are left down while the bow subdivides) I think it's easier to play the complex subdivision with the right hand as opposed to the left hand. Maybe that has something to do with brain hemispheres and how they interact.
Interesting points, Raymond. It's probable, based on what I've seen, that the part of the brain that deals in complex rhythms and percussion in general is the dominant-hand hemisphere (right brain for left handers).
Erik, I admire your passion and dedication to your students, but this is not the first discussion in which it has been obvious that you don't know what you don't know. You need a much more comprehensive exposure to pedagogical styles (gained by lessons with master teachers as well as observations of other master teachers), greater orchestral and chamber music experience, extensive work with students at *all* levels--you cannot possibly be teaching students who play better than you do, and knowledge of the major pedagogical literature from Leopold Mozart to Auer to Suzuki to Galamian.
Mary Ellen, no one knows what they don't know. You're no exception to that. Everyone is on a spectrum of knowledge, and I'm sure there are plenty of teachers whose grandeur of knowledge far surpasses your own, just as my knowledge surpasses that of some others, and the general level of your knowledge surpasses my own.
Erik wrote, "Regarding a high-level teacher, I've noticed that those are often the worst at teaching less-talented individuals..."
As a teacher of biology (freshman/sophomore college), I have to agree with Paul. Many of my students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and often appear at the beginning of the semester with very little confidence in their ability to learn a STEM subject. Curiosity, enthusiasm, determination, etc. really do go a long way in determining student success. Meanwhile, I've seen some pretty smart kids from more privileged backgrounds fail spectacularly due to lack of effort.
Mary-Ellen suggested that Erik doesn't know what he doesn't know. Erik mentioned less-talented students. Now Paul links less-talented students back to not knowing what you don't know, indirectly linking Erik to lack of talent, which is really unfortunate. Just wanted to point that out. Erik does not deserve this.
I have the opposite experience to Erik's statement. The best teachers for beginners and intermediate students that I've seen are the highly trained teachers who have a lot of experience teaching at that level and who want to be teaching those students. But if you have a high level teacher who doesn't want to be teaching beginners or doesn't want to be teaching at all, that's a different story.
I agree that it isn't fair to link Erik to the idea of less talent, and I also don't think it's fair to accuse Erik of a lack of curiosity--he wouldn't be here otherwise. I just really, really wish he would take weekly (not occasional) lessons with a high-level teacher himself.
To answer Frieda's question, what a student wants right now is absolutely not a predictor of what they might want five years from now. This is similar to saying that a twelve-year-old has no interest in any kind of scientific field, only wants to be a dancer, so should not be required to take algebra. What someone wants at 12 is no guarantee of what that person will want at 16, and avoiding algebra is completely limiting.
I don't think Paul was trying to disparage Erik (at least I didn't read it that way), I think he was just objecting to the notion that high-level teachers aren't good at teaching "less-talented" students and pointing out that talent is less important in the long run than inner drive.
By the way, I have had a lot of success teaching advanced beginners and intermediate students of varying talent. It's the students who don't practice that I fail with.
Does anyone succeed with students who don't practice? =)
I think in those cases it's a question of who can motivate the student successfully.
I probably got ahead of myself when stating that high-level teachers are bad at teaching less-talented individuals. What I was really intending to get across is that a teacher's level of advancement in their personal repertoire or education doesn't necessarily mean they can just teach anyone. However, I do think a high-level teacher probably has a better statistical chance of knowing what to do with any given player that comes into their studio, provided they have the teaching experience to back up their playing experience.
To answer the original question, I have only two out of ten students who are left-handed. I often have none at all.
Erik, I was not trying to disparage you. Sorry if it sounded that way. Good luck with your left-handers.
Some comments mention that left-handedness is much more common among top violinists than among the general population. I wonder whether it isn't really that they are born with mixed-handedness/cross-dominance or even ambidexterity and just happened to learn writing with the left hand (you usually recognize a leftie when you see them write).
At U of Wisconsin, I watched Rudolf Kolisch play in the Pro Arte Quartet so I never thought playing left-handed was such a freak thing. It is of course more widespread in pop music, but there are classical professionals in the same category; for more facts, see Wikipedia's entry on left-handed players. It would be nice to see more teachers take a more catholic view of the possibilities...I hope these facts help!
Unless you're a certifiable genius from day one, playing left handed means you're going to get excluded from a lot of orchestra playing.
Incidentally, wearing a watch on the right wrist is not necessarily an indication of left-handedness. I'm right-handed, but for many years have been wearing the watch on my right wrist because on one unfortunate occasion the clasp on the watch on my left wrist wrecked the expensive A-string of my cello when I was playing in a high position!
I am a righty and wear my watch on my right hand. I don't want to scratch the fiddle when shifting to stratospheric positions.
Certifiable geniuses are also likely to be excluded from orchestral playing or else relegated to the back, on the grounds that the rest of us would prefer not to lose an eye.
I have never paid attention to the proportion of left-handed students I have or don't have.
Conducting is mostly about shaking your hair around anyway. Just watch Seiji Ozawa or Gustavo Dudamel if you don't believe me.
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