Left-handed violin for my two-year left-handed grandson ?

April 20, 2010 at 03:13 PM ·

I have never seen a violinist playing a left-handed violin held by the right arm and the bow held by the left arm. Since there are plenty of left-handers in this world, I am inclined to conclude that both right-handed and left-handed violinists play the violin using always the same "right-handed" violin, and that probably there is not such a thing as a "left-handed" violin for left-handed people as it is the case with guitars :  Left-handers can buy "lefties" guitars for them and likewise with mandolins.

I have a two-year old grandson who already loves music and has a toy violin that he is in love with. The problem is that he is left-handed and tends to hold his toy violin with his right arm and the bow with his left arm. His parents and I are planning to start his formal violin education when he is three or four years old, but we don't know if we should encourage him to hold the violin as everyone else does, or ... should we try to find a left-handed violin for him ?

Replies (38)

April 20, 2010 at 03:31 PM ·

Your conclusion is correct; there are lots of left-handed people playing violin in the same manner as right-handed people. I'm left-handed. When I was studying, our small group in the class were all left-handed. I would say just go ahead and have him learn in the usual way. I've only ever seen one player play as a completely inverted instrument, and that was at a high level. It made for an interesting visual effect in the string quartet that he was in, sitting on the outside opposite the first violinist. 

April 20, 2010 at 05:00 PM ·

Gliga makes lefty violins -- go to www.violinslover.com.  I've got a lefty viola from them, a nice one too.

April 20, 2010 at 05:15 PM ·

There is no reason, aside from phyiscal impairment, that one cannot or should not learn to play a 'normal' violin. When you play the violin, you are crossing your brain's midline constantly and the two sides of your body work independently. One side's job isn't easier, each are equally difficult and very different.

Left hand violins are made, personally I have no idea why. I have only seen fiddlers in Appalachia playing on them in any sort of proficient level. My teacher for Suzuki training made me learn to play book one 'backwards' with a lefty violin, it was completely alien. A useful learning experience as a teacher, to become a beginner again, but no other purpose.

April 20, 2010 at 05:43 PM ·

As far as I have learned (which is actually... not that far ^_^), it should be simpler for a beginner to start holding the bow with the right hand and the violin with the left hand since day 1, instead of having to invert the instrument and fingering perspective. I'm not sure if it will be that easy at such an early age, but probably some of the experienced teachers here in the board can tell you better.
I am left-handed and a beginner myself, and it took me less than I expected to get used to holding the bow with my right hand. In fact, last night I was practicing some simple bow hold exercises while I was watching a movie at home, and out of curiosity I tried to hold and "swing" it with my left hand... it was extremely awkward. My teacher is left-handed too and she says she never got too far with the bow in her left hand as well.

But yes, I would assume it is technically possible to get a lefty violin and start from scratch, although it doesn't feel that appealing to me.

April 20, 2010 at 05:54 PM ·

I'm a lefty.  It's good to learn playing the normal way.  It will help develop an ambidexterity that is very helpful in life.  Now is the time where children will be open to anything.  90% of the world is right handed.  If you can help adjust a child to fit into that world wherever possible, it is a benefit to them in the long run.  I wonder too about finding a teacher.  My mom used to try and teach me to needlepoint or knit and it wasn't easy because she was right handed and I was left.  I don't know how lucky you will be finding a left handed teacher and although everything is the same just mirror imaged, you'd be surprised how frustrating it can be to have to add this translation to the mix.

My 2 cents

April 20, 2010 at 07:42 PM ·

I'm not an expert on inverted violin playing but I'd think that learning to play inverted could cause some problems for him in the future if he wants to join an orchestra.  I've known many left-handed violinists who play at a very high level in the typical way and it doesn't seem to disrupt them at all.

April 20, 2010 at 07:45 PM ·

Alayna, then there's "absolutely no reason" why not to force a child to write right-handed, then.  It takes an already difficult task and adds useless, pointless frustration to it to absolutely no benefit.  That's the important part to me -- absolutely no benefit whatsoever.  The music will sound as good or as bad with the left hand bowing, just as the Sistine Chapel looks no worse once you find out that the person in question did it with his left hand.  There is no profit at all to saying, "Brilliant yes, but he did it with the wrong hand."

The day I see a right-hander deliberately forcing themselves to do things left-handed because of the supposed wonderful benefits, that's the day I buy into forcing people to do things with the wrong hand.  Funny how easy and wonderful it becomes when one someone else is made to do something one wouldn't dream of doing oneself.  :-)

Show me the converted-righty virtuosos, as I said in another thread.  One picture of Sarah Chang or Itzhak Perlman Signing autographs with their left hand.  Every single one of the world's most brilliant virtuosi are all native right-handers.  All of them.  That is all the evidence I need to see that doing it with the hand Nature wants you to use is the way to go if you're out to get as good as you possibly can.

BTW, there is one exceptional virtuoso who plays left handed -- a Scandinavian man named Terje Moe Hansen.  He was taught by a righty and teaches righties, and no one gets dizzy and falls over.  :-)  I'm lefty and have learned nd mastered many manual tasks from righty teachers.  We're used to flipping things around in our heads; it's not hard.  All it takes is for the righty teacher in question to not panic and run screaming.  :-)

April 20, 2010 at 08:26 PM ·

 Lots of 2 year olds I've worked with looked strongly left handed, but went on to be mostly right dominant by 5.  Don't stress about it, just show him how it is done the standard way - he'll learn regardless.  

April 20, 2010 at 08:29 PM ·

Playing the violin requires both hands to function with great dexterity.  While piano playing is also based on the assumption of right handedness I don't think they even make inverted pianos (Gould and Rachmaninoff were left handed as I understand it). 

Trying to correct left handedness can cause problems later in life (e.g. stutters), I've never heard of that sort of thing with violin.....

April 20, 2010 at 09:52 PM ·

Just from the standpoint of finding a good instrument, I would suggest learning the conventional way (e.g., right handed).  It took me 6 months to find my dream fiddle.  I can't imagine how difficult it would have been if I played left handed.  Instead of having dozens of fiddles to try, the local shops would have had maybe zero or one. 

April 20, 2010 at 10:30 PM ·

Alayna,

I'm a bit puzzled by your post.
I'm a righty, so I don't have a vested interest, but you mentioned that leftys should play righty, but indicated the difficulty you had trying to play lefty. If there is a significant difference, then a lefty would not be able to achieve the same proficiency when playing right handed.

April 20, 2010 at 11:49 PM ·

Janis Cortese said,

"Show me the converted-righty virtuosos, as I said in another thread.  One picture of Sarah Chang or Itzhak Perlman Signing autographs with their left hand.  Every single one of the world's most brilliant virtuosi are all native right-handers. "

Hi Janis,

I can't speak for the violin world but if you google "Neil Smith Classical Guitar" you should find my old teacher's Myspace page.

If you listen to the tracks available you'll probably agree that he fits into the virtuoso bracket.  If you read a bit about his musical career you'd probably agree that he's had quite a successful go of things (playing at the queen mothers 100th birthday is probably in the "quite successful" area).

He plays right handed and always has done (if I remember correctly, he once said that his mother refused to countenance a left handed guitar as she'd never seen a left handed piano). 

All the notes he wrote in my books were written with his left hand. 

He doesn't stutter. 

He often said that, when he was starting out, he regarded the fact that his left hand was doing the fingerboard work as an advantage.  As with most instruments, soon both hands have complex jobs to do so it was a learning curve either way.

To my certain knowledge he has taught two other left handed people (probably more but I only know two personally).  They both play right handed, have both reached quite high levels (diploma standard and above) and don't have any problems with it.

Perhaps there's a bit of truth in the idea that, in music, both hands have difficult jobs and, after a while, there's a certain amount of ambidexterity going on.

Cheers,

Matt.

Edit.  Incidentally, I often turn the guitar round to pluck with the left and use the right on the fingerboard because of the benefits.  It's recommended by a bloke called Stepan Rak - a friend of my teacher (look for him on Youtube and you'll find that he's a monster player).  I have always found it to be beneficial.

April 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM ·

Ms. Cortese-

I do not wish to argue with you, upon reading your profile I believe it would be futile since you play left handed and honestly life is too short.

I do maintain that it will be easier in the long run for a violinist who is pursuing a classical training to play in the traditional manner (RIGHT HANDED). and I see no reason aside from a physical impairment that would make it necessary or worth the troubles of obtaining a quality instrument (since atrue left handed instrument has the bass bar in a differnt place, the chinrest in a different spot, the strings obviously are reversed making the bridge reversal necessary etc), a teacher willing take on the inversion, seating issues if you are planning to play in an ensemble etc.

Mr. Garrison--

I whole heartedly believe that a child who is left dominant can be proficient on traditional violin set up. I myself am left side dominant, although also somewhat ambidextrious, and I would consider myself proficient.

and the purpose of my learning lefty for the semester was so that I would experience issues tht plague beginners, and learn how to teach the solution. A refresher course on the frustrations that beginners struggle with and that I havent experienced in many years, not an attempt to gain proficiency. The use of a lefty violin as a teaching aid as in this instance is one of the few uses I see for such an instrument.

--I also think that the most relevant part of my original comment is that because the two sides' jobs are so different, it really makes no difference if you're left or right dominant, you can learn to play a normal violin and I really dont think that it is any more difficult or traumatic for a left handed person to learn than a right.

To each their own :)

April 21, 2010 at 11:24 AM ·

 Juan Manuel, gusto en saludarte.

I have a four years old doughter, she started playing when she was three. At that point a child's brain isn't yet totally defined as lefty or righty. But she showed signs of "leftyness". Of course she started her lessons as righty and she plays righty.

She has developed as a full lefty though she uses her right leg to play soccer or kick my shins; guess it is called crossed laterallity or something like that. No problem at all.

 (how I love the way you can invent words in English)

April 21, 2010 at 12:36 PM ·

My folks say I looked lefty as a pre-schooler, but switched my colors & pencil myself when I started k'garten. I started piano at 5 & violin at 9. To this day, I throw & catch left. I can switch hands for most tools & tasks, except scissors. My right-handed cursive slanted back till I worked on it and got it to stand vertically (which is what lefty hand-writing sometimes looks like.) My lefty writing now looks like my 4th-grade righty cursive. I kind of think I ended up the way I am because of my instruments, though maybe I was born without a strong left-right preference/dominance. There are very good fiddlers out there who play lefty, but few classical players, those mostly folks whose left hand is damaged such that they can bow left but not finger. Your boy is so little, I wouldn't make a big deal of it till he gets going. If after a year of baby-lessons he's struggling, or shows by how he addresses playing position, etc., that conventional technique won't work, then look into reversing his violins. As an aside, which eye is dominant can be more problematic, especially for beginners, than which hand. Sue 

April 22, 2010 at 08:29 AM ·

My sister is a lefty and plays "right handed"....She's never had any problems playing as a righty....the brain is a wonderful instrument and you can train it to do anything you wish...

In the rehab unit where I work, we have geriatric stroke victims who cannot use their right hand anymore and have taught themselves to write left handed...

April 22, 2010 at 10:21 AM ·

My violin instructor is left handed and is a remakable violinist and plays the traditional way; Right hand Bow, Left hand fingering the strings.

April 22, 2010 at 12:53 PM ·

This issue has come up before. I whole-heartedly agree with the majority opinion that there is no reason for a lefty to switch things around, short of some kind of physical impairment that somehow allows bowing technique in the left hand and f.b. tech. in the right. Both hands have equally important but very different jobs to do, so wherever we start from, we have to end up with a great deal of ambidexterity.

I'm left-handed, and consider it neither an advantage nor a disadvatantage. Someone threw down a gauntlet to name one great left-handed violinist. Joseph Silverstein. I'm sure there are more. Does anybody know?

Another thing: let the 2-year-old have fun with his toy fiddle for at least another year, as you yourself say, and don't worry. Then see if he's still interested, and if so, get a teacher who specializes in pre-school children.

April 22, 2010 at 01:48 PM ·

 Thanks so much to everyone for your valuable advise !

April 22, 2010 at 03:12 PM ·

 Rudolf Kolisch played right-handed until he lost part of a finger then relearned to play lefty. I must say that the Pro Arte Quartet sounded exceptionally clear with both violins and viola playing towards the audience. My understanding is that the bridge, fingerboard, post and bass bar must all be reworked for a lefty set-up. Perhaps someone with more Luthier skills can enlighten us further.

April 23, 2010 at 04:31 AM ·

 I don't think it really matters the sidedness of a violin. Holding a bow isn't like holding a pencil. It's awkward for anyone trying it for the first time. I don't think he's at a disadvantage to righties in learning to play a typical "right-handed" violin. 

April 24, 2010 at 02:03 PM ·

Back in the 1980's I played bass for a young woman who played the guitar left handed..... in a rather unique way.  Basically she took a guitar set up for the right hand, and just flipped it over.  The strings were oriented in reverse order ie; the low "E" was not the top string but the bottom (Jimi Hendrix supposedly played this way).  She was a very good guitarist and could rock with the Big Boys!

so I am really interested in this thread, and the one that I posted, to see if there is any significant difference or are we just splitting hairs?

April 24, 2010 at 04:53 PM ·

A truly left handed violin requires a mirrored peg layout, nut, bridge, sound post, and bass bar, and many luthiers set up fingerboards with a left -to right slant, so that would want to be altered, too. Some makers even use asymmetrical graduations.

However, many people just switch bridge and nut, leaving everything else in place, and are satisfied with the sound. (I haven't heard any that were done that way, but I'm a little doubtful. Just going on reports from people who have done it.)

Elizabeth Cotton played a righty guitar, left handed.

April 24, 2010 at 07:12 PM ·

Not to pile on Janis, but I would argue that the correct analogy is not between playing a violin traditionally and forcing a lefty to write with their right hand but, rather, forcing a left-handed person to type on a "right-handed" keyboard.  Inverting a violin makes about as much sense to me as inverting the QWERTY keyboard.

April 25, 2010 at 06:53 AM ·

I don't think the keyboard analogy really works here. That may be for English, or US characters, but there is enough differences in letter order primacy from other languages, and enough other character sets, that the keyboard is a static representation, not 'handed'. Pilots often have devices with keyboards in alphabetic order, and when you get used to that, QWERTY seems foreign.

April 25, 2010 at 03:39 PM ·

Sorry, Roland, I guess I could have been more clear, but  that was my point.  As far as I know, there are no left-handed keyboards.

In other words, it makes no sense!  The violin, like touch typing, is an intricate skill that uses both hands in a coordinated fashion.

April 25, 2010 at 06:47 PM ·

Don't look for a left-handed violin.

You'll be cutting the player off from 99.999% of all violins, and certainly from every great one, limiting him to a group of instruments of dubious quality.

April 26, 2010 at 01:02 AM ·

Randy, there are no left-handed keyboards because the analogy you've made doesn't make any logical sense. Keyboards by nature are input devices that require multiple, small, similar gestures where orientation is dependent on the language for layout (and not one's handedness), which is completely different from a musical instrument like the violin.

While I would agree it's better for the little kid to do it the traditional way as it's easier for a child to develop those motor skills and he'll "fit in" better with ensembles, for adult beginners whose handedness is much more established, there isn't any reason nowadays that they can't bow with their primary hand.

April 26, 2010 at 05:26 PM ·

I suppose you're right to a certain extent, Gene.  But I imagine that we can expand the typing keyboard analogy to a piano keyboard one- where as one starts playing the piano, movements are very similar to touch typing with small, more or less similar movements in the two hands, but as one progresses through the repertoire, the right hand does a very different job than the left oftentimes and attention is paid to developing more control and subtlety in the left hand for right handed players and vice-versa for lefties.  In other words, it takes a little more work to develop the less dominant hand and the answer is never to simply flip the keyboard over and play the difficult part with the dominant hand.

And sure, there's no reason that anyone COULDN'T always bow with their dominant hand.  I would argue, however, that sufficient reasons have been argued above as to why they probably SHOULDN'T.

BTW-  I am definitely not a dogmatist when it comes to issues of technique, particularly when it comes to folks who just want to jam on a little fiddle music.  This seems like more of a pragmatic question and I don't think it's fair to adult beginners to blame the feelings of clumsiness and un-coordination on handedness-- it's totally normal to feel clumsy when you first start, no matter which hand is doing what.

April 27, 2010 at 02:15 AM ·

I used to play in the Kalamazoo Symphony in the late 1960s.  The first and second stands of celli had the outside players playing left handed.  The principal cellist was the great Herbert Butler who after mastering the cello the regular way, came down with polio.  He recovered, but his left hand was impaired (slowed-down) by the disease, not enough that you would know it to look at him, but enough that he was frustrated that he could no longer perform as he had before the illness.  He couldn't finger fast passages with the speed and accuracy as he had previously.  So, he switched to being a lefty; and WHAT a lefty!  He was a fabulous cellist and teacher.  Just behind im sat another gentleman (I forget his name) who had started as a regular cellist, but had an accident that lost him a finger on the left hand.  The missing finger didn't bother him as much with a bow in that hand, so he switched to being a left handed cellist.

Actually, I think a left-handed player would excel at the violin the regular way.  Fingering is a fine motor skill, and his left hand (dominant hand) would be doing the more difficult fine motor work.  The bow arm, while there ARE fine motor skills, starts with more broad strokes (i.e., LARGE motor skills).  (Admittedly, fine motor skills are involved, but they come later.)  A lefty actually has an advantage over a righty when playing the violin the regular way.

April 27, 2010 at 02:26 AM ·

The great public school pedagogue, Elizabeth A. H. Green (U. of Mich., 1960s) used to have an entire classroom set up with left-handed violins, violas, and cellos, so all the "experienced" players in her pedagogy classes (many of them public school string teachers taking refresher classes to keep their credentials up to date or to get extra graduate credits to move up in the salary schedule) would remember what it was like to be a clumsy beginner.  These "experienced" teachers all made the very same mistakes as their beginning students, and these were professionals with years of performing experience.  They KNEW how it was supposed to be done.  "Ma" Green wanted these to be more sympathetic to their elementary charges after having taken her summer course.

April 27, 2010 at 04:14 AM ·

Why on earth would you take away the natural advantage of being left-handed and not play the violin the normal way, if you are left-handed? As a left-handed person who has played the violin the normal way for some 33 years, I just never understand the logic of a "left-handed" violin, in which you use the left hand for the bow. Wuh? Do you have any idea how difficult the left hand work is on the violin? It's such an advantage to be left-handed!

The idea that playing normally would be somehow akin to forcing a left-handed person to write with his/her right hand is just nutty -- you are putting the violin in the left hand, for heaven's sake!

Anyway, whichever hand is dominant, you are going to work very hard with both hands. If you aren't at least a little bit ambidextrous, you might as well quit right now.

Wow that sounds mean doesn't it? But it's true!

April 27, 2010 at 05:56 AM ·

Laurie,

You almost have me deciding to try and play lefty! I'm right-handed, but my right hand is much more dexterous than my left; the left has a bit of history with impacts and hammers and such, and although nothing has been broken, it is definitely not as smooth as the right.

So, I may try out a lefty violin just for fun!

April 27, 2010 at 12:37 PM ·

Here is a posting from a similar thread in the past:

From Huy Le
Posted on November 5, 2006 at 12:35 AM

There are plenty of famous left handed musicians/composers. here is just a short list

1. Mozart
2. Beethoven
3. Rachmaninoff
4. Ravel
5. CPE Bach
6. Prokofiev
7. Paganini
8. Schumann [Flag?]

Paganini eh? I heard he wasn't too bad a fiddler!

April 27, 2010 at 03:40 PM ·

FWIW, there is a brief discussion on left-handedness in the Violin/Viola FAQ, with a link to the only page I know of, of a fiddler who specializes in this area.  Please see below:

 

(4) Since I am left-handed, can I learn to play and have a violin fitted for playing in the opposite way? (In other words, with the G string to the right, and holding the bow with the left hand?)
Much like the question about adult learners, this question is very controversial, and I would hesitate to answer positively one way or another. The literature is really not designed for this, and the problems of adjustment in reaching higher positions seem overwhelming when you consider what the configuration would have to be. It would require a re-fitting of the G bar inside the instrument, and a reshaping of the bridge, at the very least. I think a lot depends on what sort of music you want to play; there are very many areas of music where a left handed player would be at no disadvantage. I'm thinking of popular players in rock, C&W, Jazz and other musics. I don't see it as a problem in those venues, though my knowledge in this area is limited. I do think that in so-called "art music," left-handed players are very rare, since the ensemble playing in orchestra or chamber music requires consistent bowings, and even consistency with respect to fingerings for uniformity of phrasing. I know of only one such player whom I encountered in a university orchestra, and do not know of any others.

While, oddly enough, the question of refitting the violin comes up rather often, this is, naturally, a separate issue from someone who is merely left-handed and wants to study the violin with a traditional hold. One player suggested that being left-handed is an advantage because of the requirements of the left-hand technique, and certainly there is nothing to prevent a left-handed person from taking up the instrument. My guess would be that the percentage of left-handed string players is the same as the percentage of left-handed people in the general population, though I have no hard data on this. If anyone has research on this and would like to contribute it, that would be great. See also: Playing the Violin and Fiddle Left-Handed.

April 28, 2010 at 10:40 PM ·

Laurie Niles wrote...

"

Why on earth would you take away the natural advantage of being left-handed and not play the violin the normal way, if you are left-handed? As a left-handed person who has played the violin the normal way for some 33 years, I just never understand the logic of a "left-handed" violin, in which you use the left hand for the bow. Wuh? Do you have any idea how difficult the left hand work is on the violin? It's such an advantage to be left-handed!

The idea that playing normally would be somehow akin to forcing a left-handed person to write with his/her right hand is just nutty -- you are putting the violin in the left hand, for heaven's sake!

Anyway, whichever hand is dominant, you are going to work very hard with both hands. If you aren't at least a little bit ambidextrous, you might as well quit right now.

Wow that sounds mean doesn't it? But it's true!"

Hi Laurie,

This is exactly the argument of my old teacher.  I remember him having quite a heated discussion with one of the violin teachers at my old college with him maintaining the same line.

It almost had me feeling sorry for us right handers.

Cheers,

Matt.

May 3, 2010 at 12:58 AM ·

 

 

All violinists and violists play the same way, except in the super-rare case of a physical deformity [like missing left hand finger].


The left hand is responsible for changing the pitches, and the right hand controls the bow.


Initially, most players feel the left hand is more challenging, as they grapple with the required accuracy and dexterity issues.


So why aren't these instruments set up so the right hand, the dominant hand for most people, is responsible for the pitch changes?


Because, as advanced players will tell you, the bow is really the voice of the string player.


Subtle changes in bow pressure, bow placement and bow speed are responsible for the variety of bowing techniques that ultimately give the music articulation, nuance and flow.


SO, the bow is awarded to the right hand.



All that being said, however, I have been performing and teaching professionally for 30 years -- and I am left handed.


The bottom line is really that BOTH hands have so much to learn.



Which is perhaps why these instruments are so fun and engaging to play!

May 4, 2010 at 08:24 PM ·

Interesting regarding ambidexterity.  I'm right handed but a lot of my brain works left-handed.  It would be interesting to do a separate poll of right-handers to see what percentage of them are at least partially ambidextrous.  Maybe that's where the music--math correlation comes in?

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