Left-handed violinist/virtuoso

August 31, 2010 at 12:41 AM ·

Greetings,

I'm going to introduce this topic with my story.

Ever since I started playing the violin, I felt discouraged because I was left-handed and every orchestra and/or violinist I've seen was right-handed. This made me feel very discouraged because I was left-handed.

Regardless of how I felt, I had my violin converted for a left-handed beginner and I started practicing on my own (using the Internet to aid me). After a few weeks, I made very little progress, which made me want to quit; I stopped practicing for a few months (I've been playing since March). However, I didn't want to quit, I was encouraged by the beautiful sound that's produced from a violin; and my love of classical music gave me encouragement.

I finally decided to seek a teacher, but then the one important question appeared again; "how will I ever find a teacher that is capable of teaching left-handed players?" I thought it would be almost impossible because most people were right-handed players. How can I find a good teacher for me? This question is open to suggestions and/or discussion.

I, still to this day, feel very discouraged. I thought of having my violin converted back to right-hand (right-hand on the bow) because that's how most violinist are. I've been told on "Yahoo! Answers" that several violin virtuosos were left-handed yet they played right-handed violins and that I shouldn't feel any different. That being said, should I convert back to right-hand and start from the beginning?Does anyone recommend this, or have any other suggestions?

I'm a beginner violinist, started last March (when I was 17). I've had some practice, however I couldn't find a teacher this summer because I was very busy. My most difficult challenge is learning the vibrato. I've had very little progress in practicing the vibrato and I seem to get muscle tension from attempting the vibrato. Does anyone have any tips and/or suggestions? Would a shoulder rest attachment help me learn the vibrato (I noticed when I attempted it, my violin would move around too much, and I thought maybe the shoulder rest would help stabilize my violin when practicing the vibrato). Lastly, it seems to me that learning the violin for a left-handed beginner is almost infinitely more difficult than a right-handed violin and a right-handed beginner. Again, everything I've stated is open for discussion. Any tips, any encouragement and assistance would be greatly appreciated; I feel that I need it the most.  = (

Thank you reading, and caring! Friendliest regards,

Moey.

Replies (26)

August 31, 2010 at 01:07 AM · Hi Moey, You will probably get a lot of good answers on this but I'll strt off by saying that, in my experience, you will be fine on a stabdard violin, and probably learn more easily just because it will be easier to model off of the people around you. I don't consider it a right handed or left handed instrument, because both hands are developing separate, intricate abilities which both have to work together. As far as vibrato-good vibrato is very dependable on your violin setup for freedom of motion and stability of motion, as you noticed. Get that taken care of first-I would recommend with a teacher-and vibrato will be much easier. Hope that helps and good success to you!

August 31, 2010 at 02:28 AM ·

It may not so obvious, but many of those "right-handed" violinists you saw in orchestras are left-handed.   There is no easy hand in violin, so dominance in one or the other doesn't matter as it does in other activities.  Since both hands require a lot of skill and both have to be taught, most left-handed people play with the bow in the right hand so everything's easier with teachers,  learning, seating in orchestras, etc.   I write leftie, play rightie, with no worries.  Your choice how you do it, and no reason to feel bad about what choice you make.

August 31, 2010 at 02:43 AM ·

I concur with the above.  Unless you have a physical disability, there is no reason to play the violin left handed.  In some ways, being left handed is an advantage when starting out because left hand finger dexterity is so important in playing the notes and getting proper intonation. Also, when it comes time to upgrade to a better instrument, you will be very limited if playing a left handed instrument.

 

 

August 31, 2010 at 10:54 AM ·

Another yes from me (violin LH, bow RH). I am left-handed, and always have been. I pass the left-handed test for the 8 or so actions which determine either LH-edness or "normality".

I started playing the violin and guitar left-handed (about 14 or 15 years old) because it felt natural, but almost immediately I switched to normal playing, after advice. I've never looked back!

It's one thing to allow / encourage a young child to learn to write with the left hand, if he/she feels that's natural, but writing is relatively simple (mechanically) and there's no such thing as an issue buying a left-handed pen :) Playing the violin is, of course, vastly more complex.

August 31, 2010 at 12:46 PM ·

 Actually, Jim, there is such a thing as a left hadned and right handed pen, and writing is definitely not a simple mechanical task.  You say that now because you can do it, but it aint simple.

I had thought that s=there shouldn't be much difference between left or right handedness in violin, my teacher says other wise, that the mechanical task of the left hand is relatively easy for a right handed person, but the touch in the bow is relatively hard for a left handed person - that is her experience at least.  I figure its all hard.

August 31, 2010 at 12:50 PM ·

Moey, I'm left handed.  When I was much younger, I asked my teacher about it.  She said:

"The Violin is played with both hands".

Please don't waste your time using a 'left handed' violin. 

 

August 31, 2010 at 01:52 PM ·

In classical string playing, 'handedness' has absolutely nothing to do with how the instrument is held or played. There are plenty of left-handed players in classical music, there's just no way to identify them until they pick up a pencil or pen.

August 31, 2010 at 02:44 PM ·

This is the way I look at it .If playing classical music is what you desire and you want to play in orchestras ,you have to hold the violin with the left hand so the sound goes out to the audience.With other forms of music it doesn't matter , so hold the bow with your strong hand.

August 31, 2010 at 02:45 PM ·

Actually, Jim, there is such a thing as a left hadned and right handed pen, and writing is definitely not a simple mechanical task.

@sharelle - I didn't realise you could get a left-handed pen. I meant that writing was a simple mechanical task compared to the mechanics of playing a violin, but I take your point, and no, learning to write is not a simple task for a child at the time. 

August 31, 2010 at 04:15 PM ·

First off, you'll find a lot of medieval nonsense spouted about why left-handed playing is of the devil and will cause the Earth to rotate backwards.  Ignore it.  (That bump you all felt last night?  That was me practicing shifting, sorry.)

You will also hear a lot of nonsense about how lefties have an advantage playing the wrong way around for us because we do fingering with our dominant hand.  First off, if fingering with the dominant hand were such a wonderful advantage, righties would be doing it, and they aren't.  Second, fingering is child's play compared to bowing.  Any string player naturally wants to bow with their dominant hand, and should.  One can force the issue, just like schools forced lefties to write right-handed for over a century, but why introduce such hardship when there is a perfectly willing, available, more skilled hand just waiting to hold the bow?  It's not like the notes come out backwards.

There is also pressure on lefties to bow right-handed in order to not interrupt the visual flow of the orchestra, but that's part of the same uniformity argument that was made for years against hiring black people, women, and Asians.  There is no reason to handicap your musical development for the sake of a backward attitude.  Given that most orchestras nowdays hire diverse types of people with the greatest cheerfulness, it's also very likely an attitude on the way out.

The best example of a lefty virtuoso is Terje Moe Hansen of the Norwegian State Conservatory, also a master pedagogue.  You can search for his name at YouTube and turn up a documentary in three parts about him.  Unfortunately, it's in Swedish, but you can see pictures of him playing and hear clips.  The most fascinating clips are the ones where he is teaching right-handed students.  No one gets dizzy and falls over, water doesn't run uphill, and the world spins on.

Lefty strings are not hard to find, despite the belief that one must cross the Atlantic in a pair of water-wings before locating one.  Gliga is a luthier that is very well respected; many righties on this board and others play his instruments and sing their praises.  He makes lefty instruments, including in child size.  There are a few violins that are so beautiful -- one-piece quilted and birdseye maple backs -- that they are almost enough to make me swap over from viola!

www.violinslover.com/lefthanded.php

Here's the lefty violin with the birdseye maple back -- I can't look at it without drooling:

www.violinslover.com/OutfitIn.php

It does make it harder to find a teacher, mostly because most teachers have never dealt with it and will flat-out panic when confronted with the prospect.  (Perhaps they've never looked in a mirror before.)  I had to go through four candidates before I found one -- a right-handed one! -- who told me that it made no difference to the physics of the instrument and would not be a problem, and it's not.  He teaches me no differently than he would a right-handed student.  It was a pain to go through that, but it also effectively helped me filter out the less open-minded and analytical teachers before the fact, which is a good thing.

Don't be discouraged -- if it's good enough for Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney, it's good enough for us.  :-)

August 31, 2010 at 05:55 PM ·

Though I've mentioned this in previous offerings:  Years back, Buffalo Philharmonic had a super violinist that after losing fingers on her left hand, converted to fingering with the right and bowing with the left, Her name was Rivka Mandelkern. She did lots of solo work in the area, and I recall a stunning performance of the Brahms Double, with the orchestra's principal cellist, the Beethoven concerto etc.  So while anything is possible, this was a remarkable feat of exuberant zeal to continue as a concert violinist.  She sat around 3rd stand in the 1st violin section. Her husband Bernie, was also an excellent player and remarkably successful private studio teacher.

August 31, 2010 at 06:34 PM ·

 Moey, I'm left handed and I play a standard violin.  I do not believe that it is necessary to play with a reversed setup.  It's completely up to you to decided if you want to play reversed or traditional.  Personally I can't say that it is an advantage or a disadvantage because even though I'm a lefty I've always played in the traditional way.  I don't think it was a disadvantage for me.  There are lots of great pro lefty violinists who learned to play standard violin.  I think Paganini was left handed.  The associate concertmaster of the Auckland Symphony is left handed, Gennady Filimonov is left handed and all play the standard way.  When I went to study at the Aspen music festival I was one of many lefties playing standard.  I'm not going to say that it would interfere with your chances of getting into an orchestra (because I am not sure) but I will say that there are many times that it would be inconvenient to play reversed (like cramped opera pits or larger orchestras).  

August 31, 2010 at 07:28 PM ·

I am right handed. I have never felt that I have any advantage in the bowing department just because I hold the bow in my dominant hand. To me, the tasks for both hands are extremely complex, and both hands have an important job to do. The greatest difficulty for me has been to learn how to get both hands to do something completely different, simultaneously. It's like patting my head and rubbing my tummy... while also riding a unicycle on a tight rope. So many things going on at once.

August 31, 2010 at 07:45 PM ·

The way I see it, there must be an advantage -- or else why would every single right-hander in the world do it?  It's not just blind chance.  And the way it's sold to lefties to make us play the wrong way around for us, we're always told "being lefthanded is an advantage because you get to do fingering that way!"

If it were an advantage to do the fingering with your dominant hand, righties would be doing it.  And every violin master and pedagogue says that the soul of the instrument is the bowing hand, that the fingers of the other hand are its servants, etc.

August 31, 2010 at 07:52 PM ·

Moey, I also encourage you to have a lot of patience with yourself. The violin is a challenging instrument to learn. Focus on the basics first, and spend a lot of time on your intonation. Vibrato is an advanced skill. I had been playing for 6 months before I ever attempted it, and it took over 2 years of practice before my vibrato started to sound good and feel natural.

August 31, 2010 at 07:53 PM ·

 In terms of hand dominance, it is not actually true that your dominant side hand is more coordinated than your non dominant.  It is likely more highly trained.

Dominance is best explained, I think, in the act of running.  The dominant side leads, and the non dominant side follows.  For example, an untrained runner approaching a log will step over that log with the dominant side first.  Both legs end up going over the log, but the dominant side is connected more closely with the leaders task of finding a good landing place with the eyes and determining a new action...  While that hand eye/leg eye coordination is a complex task, the non dominant sides tasks are equally difficult.  The non dominant leg follows the dominant leg over the log and regains the stable, ballanced rythm of running without you even noticing really what its doing.  When you're writting, your dominant side moves the pencil, but the non dominant side holds the paper for you so it won't move and you don't even have to think about it.   If you start to pay attention to all the little tasks your non dominant side preforms for you, without your knowledge, you will be quite astonished at how hard a worker it is.

September 3, 2010 at 06:37 PM ·

 @Moey

All violins are left handed, they are position on the left shoulder and left side of the body, the finger board with played with the left hand.  The bow is played with the right hand/arm.  Moey, you will do great. Just practice. If you can not find teacher, then you can download the all 10 Suzuki violin books for free from the internet.  YouTuble will be a great resource for you.  Hang in there. We all have been in same boat ,at least in some fashion.

September 3, 2010 at 07:31 PM ·

After all, Moey, left handed people are brighter and more artistic  than right handed people, so there's no reason why you can't do it. 

Besides, just think about how many of the past GREAT violinists were really left handed and didn't know it because their teacher or parents hit them with a ruler the first time they showed left handed dominance. 

Additionally, Moey, something that is very misunderstood, IS handedness.  Like, which hand do you use your knife or fork with, which hand do you open a door with etc...If you played the piano, which hand are you going to play with????? Cmon everyone, the violin is the violin and you use both hands to play it. Hell, I'm left handed, and my bowing can compete with any right hander, and from having played the accordion when I was a kid, my right hand is STILL better at articulation than my left.  The brain has two hemispheres, we use them both, they are connected by the interhemispheric commisure.  Shouldn't be a problem.  Don't fall for it.  Learn to play the violin as it's always been played.  Just my opinion of course, and please realize, my first sentence was meant for shock value and I was only joking. Furthermore, I wouldn't want to reverse the order of the strings and or the soundpost on a violin that has been traditionally carved.

 

 

September 3, 2010 at 09:05 PM ·

Once again, it's nonsense to assert that the typical violin is left-handed.  Are you seriously arguing that all right-handers in the world have spontaneously decided to make a device -- alone among all invented hand-operated machines -- that is harder for them to use?  Come on.

The standard right-handed violin is created as it is because it's easier for righties to play it like that, period.  A lefty can do it, but why make a hard thing harder for absolutely zero benefit?  The music doesn't come out backwards, and absolutely no pedagogical changes are required at all to teach a lefty.

This is a preposterous topic.  Of course bowing left-handed is easier for a lefty, although if someone who is sufficiently ambidextrous forces the issue, they can manage with their right.  I can manage to write legibly with my right hand as well -- but to what end?

Moey, just keep going the way you are -- you're fine.  You'll have to work a little harder to find a teacher, but just keep at it.  Bow the way Nature made you.  And again, I strongly encourage you to check out those videos of Terje Moe Hansen and others of lefty fiddlers like Ryan Thomson, Molly Kate Cherryholmes, Woody McKenzie, Ashley MacIsaac, Joe Holley, Katrina Pearce, and even Charlie Chaplin.

September 3, 2010 at 11:20 PM ·

 It would seem to me that a left handed person could learn the finger board better and faster then a right handed people. Anybody can learn to bow with their right or  left hand.  The most important thing is that the violin is played with two hands.  Don't think of the violin as a right or left handed instrument.  Just read all the comments and gather all the information you can, and talk to the experts then, you can make your own decision.

September 4, 2010 at 12:06 AM ·

Janis, you seem to be getting very upset about this but what information do you have to back up the claim that playing the violin in the traditional way is any harder for a lefty?  I'm one lefty violinist telling you that I doubt very seriously that I've ever experienced extra difficulty due to bowing with my right hand.  Throughout my undergraduate studies I have frequently been praised for my bow arm.  I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, I'm just saying that I don't feel that I ever had to work extra hard due to being left handed.  My bowing evolved (and continues to evolve) with the rest of my technique through the standard etude progression.

I guess the only reason I'm pursuing this subject is because it seems to me that playing with the violin reversed might cause some complications for a lefty who's trying to get into an orchestra.  I really don't think it's the same kind of discrimination as racism but that's debatable.  It seems to me that people in charge are going to take issue with having violins pointing opposite ways and in many cases it will be a matter of practicality and space (pit orchestra for instance).  I don't mean to offend you, but as a lefty myself this topic applies to me too.  If you have substantiated proof that players with reversely-configured violins and violas aren't facing any sort of orchestral career disadvantage and that the brain can't simply adapt to playing in the traditional position just as easily as a right handed person then I will respectfully cease any further comments on the matter.

 

September 4, 2010 at 08:36 AM ·

Not contradicting Janis, I gave my opinion (playing in standard fashion) based on the fact that I am a totally leftie, had no trouble adjusting to standard, plus the fact that Moey is relatively young at 17 (so easier to adapt than someone in their 40s).

September 4, 2010 at 03:16 PM ·

 @ Michael Pijoan and @ Jim Dorans

Very well said.

September 4, 2010 at 07:52 PM ·

I feel compelled to add (and forgive me if I'm redundant), because I am a lefty, that I do not believe bowing would be any more difficult for a left handed person than a right handed person.  I just find that hard to believe, and I don't know if you can prove or disprove this because you have nothing to really base it on unless you could do a double blind controlled study using a clone of the same left handed individual, do it a thousand times and repeat the experiment in different countries.  Also, the plates of the violin are not symmetric(the bass bar) so I just seems to me that to produce the best sound, the treble part of the bridge needs to be the treble part of the bridge, and not the bass part.

 

September 9, 2010 at 10:31 PM ·

To everyone who replied: no one could begin to fathom how thankful I am to have all of this encouragement and support! : )

 I think I will play on the standard setup.

I greatly appreciate all the heart-warming encouragement and advice. I feel you've all contributed to helping me 'pull through' and continue learning.

Thanks guys and gals!

 

September 10, 2010 at 04:59 AM ·

 I'm very glad that you've decided to pull through and continue your efforts.  Remember that it's difficult for everyone so have patience with yourself.  Just practice regularly and progress will often be made when you least expect it.

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