Left handed violin?

January 13, 2006 at 05:41 AM · I have a prospective student who is an adult, left-handed beginner, and she wants to learn to play a left-handed violin. She says that everyone she has spoken to has advised her against it, but she really wants to do it this way. We have discussed the issue of lefties playing violin on this site before. There are lots of lefties here, and they said that they play violin the same way that right-handed people do. I have two questions: First, since this woman is an adult who has never played violin before, what is your advice? Second, are there left-handed violins which are made differently from the commonly used ones?

Replies (101)

January 13, 2006 at 07:49 AM · Is it possible this lady insists on violin as "her" instrument because she has figured out that other instruments, e.g. timpani, piano, organ, brass and woodwinds are not at all right-handed so it wouldn't make sense to ask for a left-handed version? So the "asymmetric" violin is giving her an excuse to ask for very special attention, maybe even from a violin teacher?

I am almost 100% sure this lady is following a hidden, not at all musical agenda. And a violin teacher is probably not the right person to help her out off her trouble. Even when the violin teacher is desperately looking for new customers.

FMF

January 13, 2006 at 07:51 AM · Some 15 years ago I heard the story of Philip Bride, (former?) leader-violonist of the "Ensemble instrumental de France". He lost the use of some fingers of his right hand in an accident. He began to re-learn to play the violin, as a beginner: bow left & violin right, which must be awfully difficult. I heard him in a concert (at the radio) playing and conducting Mendelssohns d-minor concerto. It was just perfect. I don't know if he played on a violin specially made for left handed musicians or if his instrument was adapted to his situation.

Luke

January 13, 2006 at 08:06 AM · You could just tell her you don't have the expertise to teach left-handed violin, but you would be glad to teach the way everyone else learns it. I personally wouldn't cater to that.

January 13, 2006 at 08:16 AM · Hmm... Not that I would cater to that either, but I have seen a couple old mountain fiddlers play the fiddle left-handed... Wouldn't you have to re-organize the soundpost, bridge, strings, etc...?

January 13, 2006 at 08:34 AM · The vote is 2 to 1 in favor of conform or die, with one guy calling her crazy, and two abstentions.

January 13, 2006 at 09:33 AM · Hey, I didn't say to kill her.

January 13, 2006 at 11:12 AM · Okay, before I lose sleep over this. Can you possibly convince this woman that there is no way on God's green earth that one hand is more important than the other, that dexterity is equally emphasized on both, that the point of switching is moot, since she will need to develop completely new skills of both her hands, none of which she currently has.

Left handed...

If anything, I would assume that the violin was designed specifically for left-handed people, with the way we contort our bodies in order to play it.

Yeah, she should conform, or you should kill her.

January 13, 2006 at 11:13 AM · And so I don't lose sleep thinking about all the people who just don't get it, that last comment was a joke.

January 13, 2006 at 01:44 PM · Well the way I always looked at it, what if she plays with and orchestra or ensemble? She'll be the only one pionted the wrong direction, unless she has no promblem standing in the back, lol.

January 13, 2006 at 03:22 PM · Gliga actually lists left-handed instruments on their website:

www.violinslover.com

I'm a leftie, but I *&@! at playing the violin. I play the normal way. But I am goofy-foot on the skateboard.

January 13, 2006 at 03:28 PM · I'm left-handed. For every hour it takes me to learn something with the left hand, it takes at least 4 or 5 hours to learn the equivalent something with the right hand. This means that I spend four or five hours on bowing practice for every hour on left-hand alone practice. I do think that bowing requires more fine motor coordination and spatial sense than fingering/shifting/vibrato. I would have learned to bow "left-handed" faster, but I have learned to do all kinds of things with my right-hand that I can learn faster with my left hand. If you think you can teach her "left-handed" violin, and she doesn't mind the logistical problems that it creates for an ensemble, then, why not? If she changes her mind later, then she can change her technique.

January 13, 2006 at 03:54 PM · I agree with Emily....she has none of the skills in either hand for violin right now so it shouldn't make any difference that she play like everyone else rather than the way she insists. In fact, I think lefties have an advantage in that the left hand fingers the notes. The right hand does the broader movements. Playing the normal way should actually be an advantage for lefties.

January 13, 2006 at 04:47 PM · As a left-handed adult beginner, I have to respectfully disagree with Sarah that "playing the normal way should be an advantage for left-handed people."

Bowing has definitely been the most difficult part of learning the instrument. There are an infinite number of fine motor skills required to get all the different nuances required out of the instrument. The left hand has a more limited number of different types of actions to perform.

The violin was designed for right-handed people. If playing the normal way was an advantage for lefties, then I am certain we would all be playing the violin in the opposite way already.

January 13, 2006 at 05:01 PM · Heather, the bow is the hardest part for EVERYONE...just trust me on this one. (ok, who's going to counter that claim? ;)

I don't have anything against new ideas just because they are new, but please...if she's serious enough, she will conform.

January 13, 2006 at 05:07 PM · I'm left handed but I play right handed.

January 13, 2006 at 05:11 PM · The advantage is hers: She'll be developing more brain cells by learning to bow with her right hand. :-)

January 13, 2006 at 05:48 PM · Thanks Carley--glad to know its not my left-handedness alone that's making this so difficult (not that it helps either!)

To answer Pauline's question though, I wonder why this beginner wants to play left-handed so badly particularly when everyone has advised against it? Could you suggest to her that she start out on a normal violin (perhaps while she looks for that elusive lefty instrument), and see how she does?

If she's resistant even to that, I would wonder how easy it will be to teach her anything.

January 13, 2006 at 07:51 PM · I taught an adult several years ago who came to me already playing 'left-handed' (though she was a near beginner). She said it felt 'wrong to her spirit' to play the other way, and who was I to argue with her spirit?

A luthier fitted her strings, bridge and chinrest opposite how it is usually done (though he told me it wasn't a true 'left-handed' violin because he didn't open the instrument and move the base bar).

It actually had one advantage. When we both were playing we were mirror image to each other so she could mimic my actions, posture, etc. very easily. I just had to make sure I didn't grab her instrument in a fit of inspiration to demonstrate something (I only made that mistake once...).

January 13, 2006 at 08:49 PM · I have done some reading and learned that there are left-handed violins. Some of them are conventional violins with a different setup, and some are designed and made as left-handed instruments.

The woman in question has already bought a left-handed violin and some books and a video on playing left-handed violin. She has also consulted with people who have told her to play a conventional violin. She hasn't said anything about wanting to play violin in an ensemble. Very few of my adult beginners have said this. She has been playing piano since childhood. I'm hearing a lot of people say, "She's nuts. There's no other explanation for her preference." or "Conform or die." (Emily is too kind to recommend the death penalty.) No one has met her yet. My take on this is that she is unconventional and determined but not necessarily crazy. I enjoy challenges. ;-)

The work done by the bow hand is more difficult and requires greater skill than the work done by the note-playing hand. We discussed the leftie issue on v.com a while ago. I brought the issue up when I got my first left-handed student, who was then 7 years old. She plays a conventional violin, and she is very, very good. I'm astounded with her progress. She has the most relaxed bow hold I've ever seen. However, the current prospective student is an adult, and I think that changes things. It would probably be harder for her to train her right hand to bow than it would have been if she had started as a child. One of the people who participated in the previous discussion was a leftie who started playing violin (conventional) as an adult. She pointed out that most lefties are somewhat ambidextrous. They may do some activities with the left hand and some with the right. This woman gave herself some small tasks to do right-handed to develop her fine motor skills with this hand. Does anyone else have experience with someone left-handed who started playing violin as an adult?

Woops. I almost forgot to thank everyone for their input whether I agree with it or not.

January 13, 2006 at 09:14 PM · People, and angels alike have, played violins and violin like instruments with fiddle in left and bow in right for eons. Ask her: "Who are you to fly in the face of tradition?" Ok so I am being a bit dramatic. Just lie to her. Tell her Bach was left handed and still, SOMEHOW!, managed to not only play, but direct with the violin, conventionally. Violin left hand, bow right. Ok so if lies and trickery are not up your ally, just tell her you are willing to teach her to play what you know. If she won't accept that, send her packing, you don't need that sort of codling stress. Ok I posted this too late, you have shed new light. Darn, well good luck. God speed.

January 13, 2006 at 09:34 PM · How come guitarists are free to be left-handed, and there is so much "tradition" to be "right" in violin?

Answer: Hendrix and McCarthy?

January 13, 2006 at 10:49 PM · Libby Cotten?

January 13, 2006 at 10:50 PM · Would someone please explain why you consider this coddling? Also, I'd like some good, rational answers to the question of using a left-handed violin, not just "Very few other people use a left-handed violin, so she must be mentally ill." The argument about the difficulty of playing in ensembles is a valid one. Are there any others?

January 13, 2006 at 11:02 PM · I think that what people are saying (and this is my opinion) is that when a student wants a non traditionaly looking violin without a specific reason, you have to question if it a personal prefrence or a cry for attention. In addition, I would discourage students from learning on a left handed violin. I really can't think of why that would be an advantage to the student.

January 13, 2006 at 11:31 PM · I often see pictures of Old Timey & Folk musicians playing fiddle lefthanded.

Perhaps it's more of a classical stigma, a couple of right-pointing violins in an orchestra throw off that oh-so-uniform look.

January 14, 2006 at 12:03 AM · Small chamber ensembles might not be a problem--I can imagine playing duets, trios, and quartets pretty easily while bowing on the left.

Even an amateur adult orchestra wouldn't be a problem as long as she sat on one end and had her own stand--something like the way left-handed people manage to eat at the same table as a bunch of right-handed people. Ok, so her bow stroke wouldn't match visually, but, big deal.

This debate reminds me of the debate a number of decades ago about whether or not left-handed children should learn to write with their right hands so they wouldn't smear their papers with ink as their forearms followed their hands across the papers. My understanding is that sometimes children had their left hands tied behind their backs to force them to use their right hands to write. And that the debate was loud, long, and acrimonious.

It also brings back childhood memories of facing inexplicable hostility from adult authority figures when they found out that I was left-handed. They were really pissed off by this bit of information. I was told "Shut up, you're not left-handed here" and and had to learn some kind of skill "right-handed." I still bat right-handed, and iron clothes right-handed as a result. And I still find the amount of emotion this topic generates puzzling.

January 14, 2006 at 12:46 AM · I, too, am puzzled by the amount of emotion.

January 14, 2006 at 02:29 AM · You're seeing the basic principle of conform or die at work. He who conformeth not shall be cast out of the city to wander in the desert and eat locusts. He who conformeth the best and most completely shall be rewarded with abundance and plenty and the admiration and respect of all the citizens of the city.

January 14, 2006 at 03:53 AM · I have one friend who plays the violin backwards...he started at age 4, then he broke his left arm and it healed funny so he couldn't turn it properly to hold the violin. He and his teacher worked with it and he still really wanted to play so he plays what you are calling "left-handed". It is EXTREMELY difficult for him to read music and share a stand or anything just due to the angle of everything. All of his strings are backwards and so is the chinrest, but I am not sure if the entire violin is set up differently.....

January 14, 2006 at 04:07 AM · In all my violin playing and travels, I have never met anyone who plays left handed. Imagine how strange it would look in an orchestra! I am left handed and certainly don't feel disadvantaged playing the "normal" way.

January 14, 2006 at 04:23 AM · Now if only left handed guitarists would think that way too..... logically, left handed people would have an advantage for playing stringed instruments, since they have more skill and dexterity in the left hand where it's most needed, right?

Anyway, when i see a guitarist playing left handed, it gives me the same kind of awkward, weird feeling as seeing that kid in Family Guy, whose entire face is upside down.

January 14, 2006 at 04:41 AM · You'd have to sit in the cello section to get your f-holes to point toward the audience. Not saying this is wrong. I mean, I'm all for desegregation. Sections are so politically incorrect, anyway.

January 14, 2006 at 05:20 AM · Have you ever seen the rear view mirrors cyclists wear?

January 14, 2006 at 05:41 AM · I will point out that most of the artistry of violin playing is in the bowing. It's about very fine motor control. Fingering the notes is much less complex. You need to have good pitch perception and practice a lot to get muscle memory to play in tune.

January 14, 2006 at 06:13 AM · Ahhh. Good idea, Jim.

Shifting accuracy, vibrato, coordination and speed, flexibility, these are all great demands of the left hand. However, I could agree as long as she only wants to learn for fun, and has no formal ensemble goals, she could learn to play with her toes for all I care. She'd probably make more money busking that way. She's just playing for fun, right?

I don't kill for fun. Business, only.

January 14, 2006 at 01:36 PM · Hi everyone,

My turn to chip in--and my first post, too! I'm actually in music retail and, since we're not a violin specialist store, we run into the "left handed violin" question all the time. As noted above, a true left-handed violin is built differently, with bass bar and soundpost moved to the opposite sides from a usual violin. They are availabe in most price ranges, but they're usually special-order pieces because they tend to be made as someone requests them. There's a bit of risk with just re-stringing a regular instrument--my understanding is that the bass bar is designed to reinforce the top against the action of the G string, so when you re-string, there's a possibility of damage with extended use that way.

The most common reason to use a left-handed violin is when the player already plays guitar left handed; many of those players find it difficult to learn to finger with the "opposite" hand. They also often want to switch rapidly between instruments in gigs and concerts, so having the instruments finger on the same hand is helpful for those quick changes. It's especially common for people playing fiddle and traditional music to seek out a left-handed instrument.

We also get lots of parents asking whether they should look for a left-handed violin, since their child is left-handed. Typically, our advice is that they should play a traditionally configured violin, in case they do ever want to play in an ensemble; it won't feel any more difficult that learning any new skill, and they avoid the wait time for a special order, as well as future problems when they want to join ensembles.

If the student understands the potential for future problems, though, my personal take would be to teach her as she prefers to play. After all, people who play tend to listen, so adult amateur players make up a major portion of the support for live and recorded music.

Hope this is interesting to everyone!

January 14, 2006 at 05:07 PM · I have a student who insisted on having a violin modified to be lefty. Now, she almost always picks her bow up in her right hand anyway, and has to switch. It seems totally superfluous to me.

However, if she really wants to play that way, what is to stop her? I would not recommend trying to teach that way, unless you are up for a challenge.

January 14, 2006 at 05:25 PM · Katherine, yes it's fresh viewpoint. If a leftie already played leftie anything, learning rightie violin would feel at least at first like a normal violin player would having to switch to leftie. Also I wonder what the non-dominant hand of people who don't play anything feels like. Dead weight maybe?

January 14, 2006 at 04:59 PM · Pauline mentioned some tasks for a lefty to do to develop fine motor skills in the right hand. Perhaps she could start using her right hand for every day tasks such as eating with a fork. Another big one (if she doesn't already do it right handed) is the computer mouse. A surprising number of fine motor skills are involved in using that, though many lefties (including myself) are fine doing it the "right way".

Speaking of emotion--try leaving the mouse on the left side of the keyboard a couple of times. You'll see a lot of emotion then from your right handed friends/coworkers/family!

January 14, 2006 at 06:18 PM · i'm left handed myself and i could never on Earth imagine to re-learn it the "left handed way" !!

i think you should tell her that its not sooo important wich hand play what,but to find a good left handed violin takes time and that makes everything more difficult !!! doesnt it?

January 14, 2006 at 08:23 PM · Katherine, thanks for your post. Your perspective is different from that of most people on v.com, and I find it very helpful. I like hearing from someone who approaches a problem in a different way than I do.

Heather, your comment on the mouse is very good. I once tried to learn to use the mouse with my left hand because my right hand was getting tired, and it was surprisingly difficult. After practicing for a while I could do it, but slowly.

Alexandra, my student already has a left-handed violin. It's not as hard to find one as you might think. I did a Google search and found a goodly number of them.

Everyone, thanks again for your input.

January 14, 2006 at 08:29 PM · Heather,

My husband is predominately left handed. Our computer mouse sits to the left and the whole set up is "left handed. It really wasn't that hard to get used to. A lot of it is mental attitude. If we think it's hard it is.

January 15, 2006 at 02:47 AM · Looking back through the earlier posts, apparently nobody here has questioned the assumption underlying the request of the person who asked for left-handed lessons: that the bow arm is the dominant and more important arm in violin playing. IMHO this is based on mistaken impressions about the techniques needed to play this rather unforgiving instrument. I prefer to think of the hands as equal partners, with specific (different) motor skills necessary for each to facilitate successful performance, and which must be carefully coordinated. I cannot think of any intrinsic reason why a left handed person (and I am one) should play the violin left handed, and the thought never even occurred to me back when I was learning the instrument as a youngster. Nor do I recall having any harder time with either arm because of left-handedness.

(But I do remember being miserable when my 4th grade teacher tried to get all us lefties to write right-handed (a parental rebellion stopped that on the 3rd day); and our school system only purchased right-handed desks so my penmanship stinks.)

January 15, 2006 at 03:39 AM · Eric, I am one of the people who believe that the artistry of violin playing and the need for fine motor control are in the bowing. Also, I think there may be different considerations depending on whether you start playing violin as a student or an adult. I am hearing some left-handed people say that they started playing violin as an adult using the right-handed method and it worked. I don't doubt them, but if a left-handed adult really wants to learn to play left-handed violin, I believe that would probably work, too.

January 15, 2006 at 06:18 AM · Terje Moe Hansen is a famous and late beginning left handed violinist. He strongly advocates left handed playing if that will help you get the necessary control. Check out the web for his postings and where to find his book/s.

There is a left hander in an orchestra I know of who has a rather stiff and uncontrolled bow arm (right arm), and one wonders how much better he could play if he had learnt left handed.

January 15, 2006 at 06:36 AM · Link. And he looks like somebody who gets paid, Emilyyyyyy.

January 15, 2006 at 09:16 AM · He himself admits to the impracticality of playing with an orchestra (although you could mention the bicycle mirror idea to him and see what he thinks).

The one thing he mentioned that I hadn't considered, which would actually be an advantage to playing "mit den falschen Händen", would be when performing with a string quartet, where each violin could face the audience. It would also be good for violin duets, since you could face your partner. Hmm.

Ich werde ihn leben lassen.

January 15, 2006 at 09:52 AM · It doesn't matter where the f holes are pointed.

January 15, 2006 at 10:17 AM · Jim, thanks for the link. I can't read German, but I understand the photo.

January 15, 2006 at 10:39 AM · I found some very interesting articles here. One of the articles was published in Strings. The website belongs to a folk musician, Ryan J. Thomson, who plays and teaches fiddle and other instruments. He is right-handed, and he played a right-handed violin until a medical condition made it impossible to bow with his right hand. He now plays left-handed violin almost as well as he used to play right-handed violin. His website is a very good resource about left-handed violins and people who play them.

Would someone explain the bicycle mirror to me?

January 15, 2006 at 10:56 AM · Here is a link to a photo of Ryan Thomson, aka Captain Fiddle, playing a left-handed violin. http://static.flickr.com/6/86799191_378f3b06d3_m.jpg

January 15, 2006 at 11:38 AM · People who call themselves Captain are always entertaining psychedelic relics. Usually personal friends of Wavy Gravy. I bought a rare book from Captain Happening.

January 15, 2006 at 12:08 PM · Gawd, that just looks all kinds of weird.

January 15, 2006 at 07:02 PM · What about the bicycle mirrors?

Has anyone ever told you that you look weird because you are right-handed? or a person of color? or a member of any other minority group? How would you feel if someone did?

January 15, 2006 at 08:28 PM · Well, you don't need one if f-holes don't matter. It matters to me, so I will make the mirrors manditory to any violinist who wants me to teach them to play left-handed.

January 16, 2006 at 12:02 AM · Would someone explain the bicycle mirror and the f-holes to me?

January 16, 2006 at 12:26 AM · Hi all!

I've been told I'm ambidextrous (I personally don't know if I can make that claim; I can only write with my right hand, but then again I can shave well, use chopsticks, and do everything else with either hand...)

Anyway, IMHO, the violin requires special skills for each hand. Neither hand "dominates" the instrument.

Also, lefty violinist friends said that they have an advantage over righties when learning the violin in the standard way because their left pinkies are comparably stronger and more agile.

I often try to abolish biases and discriminatory stereotypes --including the concept of "right-handed dominance." However, I think that this woman may be guilty of "reverse discrimination" by viewing the violin as a right-handed instrument even though it isn't one.

Just my two bits :-)

January 16, 2006 at 04:11 PM · I’ve always blamed my occasionally sucky bowing on being left handed. It’s the types of bowing that that involve more fine motor control in the hand & less arm that tend to give me problems. Last summer I tried the first few exercises in Simon Fischer’s ‘Basics’ which focus on the relationship between the each finger of the right hand & the bow. While I fully admit to not having worked hard enough on my bow arm in my formative years, I’ve been playing for almost 25 years now & I could still do those exercises better with my left hand.

January 16, 2006 at 06:12 PM · I'm left-handed, so I guess you could say I have a "dog in this fight". I play "right-handed", and always have, and have never felt that I had any disadvantage.

I have also, however, had the misfortune of trying to play in a section with a person playing a "left-handed" violin. Talk about the easiest way to screw up an entire section! A BIG part of section playing is the musicians playing off of visual cues from one another. When you throw in a mirror-imaged player, it throws the section into chaos.

You student wants to play "left-handed"? Hey, it's her dollar, and (last time I checked) it's still a free country. But if she wants to play in an orchestra, she's going to have to get used to the idea that she'll be sitting in the back of the section so the other violinists don't have to look at her.

January 16, 2006 at 07:44 PM · Jim,

Locusts are considered delicacies, but you have to crack 'em open while they're still alive. When they had those locust storms in the middle east (was it last year?) people were standing outside catching fresh dinner!

If I played left-handed, I'd use the bicycle mirrors for seeing the conductor, since in order to make the f-holes face the audience and my bow go with the rest of the section, I'd have to be sitting backwards. They'd probably work pretty well.

I'm guessing that if the woman is an adult and is absolutely set on playing left-handed for no other reason than that she's left-handed, she's probably not concerned about playing in an orchestra. And if she does play in an orchestra, she probably won't mind the bicycle mirror idea. :)

Pauline, you should definitely look inside her instrument and make sure it really is a lefty. The bass bar needs to be on the bass side of the instrument and the soundpost on the treble side. Otherwise, the tone will be off at the very least. The structure of the instrument might also suffer, though violins really are pretty sturdy. It just won't last for 200 years -- but then, neither will most e-bay instruments.

January 16, 2006 at 08:01 PM · Patty, I couldn't remember if they were usually cast as a delicacy to be dipped in honey or a crop-destroying pestilence. After careful consideration I just ran with it.

January 16, 2006 at 08:15 PM · Patty, you're right. She is not concerned about playing in an orchestra. Thanks for your suggestion that I check what's inside her violin to be sure that it's correct. It was built as a left-handed violin, not a right-handed violin with a differebt setup, so it will probably be OK. Nevertheless, it won't hurt to check.

January 16, 2006 at 08:26 PM · Is the orchestra issue really such a problem, at the amateur level? I have a few points:

1. Sitting on the right side of the desk should enable the left-handed player to turn away from the desk-mate a little, preventing any 'bow tangles'.

2. As the average amateur age rises, more people are demanding their own desk for eyesight reasons. Sitting at the back with your own desk should be feasible.

3. People are becoming generally more aware of the health issues involved in playing instruments. Helping to prevent OOS by providing good chairs and adequate breaks should be part of the responsibility of every conductor at every level. Having some regard for players' particular needs is another part of that responsiblity, including finding ways to accommodate left-handed players. I think the era of the autocratic amateur conductor is ending - to many people have been injured by that kind of dictatorship.

I might be wrong on all this, but looking at the age of the amateur players where I live, and considering the injuries I've seen, I think that these things need to be considered.

January 17, 2006 at 03:29 AM · Left-handed violinist!?

WITCH!! Burn her! Burn her!

Or I could be joking.

Neil

January 17, 2006 at 06:44 AM · Neil, that's good.

Susan D, I like all the points you made. I'm fortunate to play in a community symphony orchestra with a wonderful conductor. What is OOS?

January 18, 2006 at 05:12 AM · I’ve read the previous posts with great interest. I’m currently doing research on left handed violinists and left handed violin playing. I’m a string teacher myself, and presently have both left handed and right handed playing students. I’d welcome any emails from those with interest in my work, or stories of left vs right music making to share with me. I don’t have time to visit this forum often so I hope that those interested in further discussion will email me directly.

As a shameless plug I’d like to mention my published documentary book on lefty violinists, which is entitled: “Playing the Violin and Fiddle Left Handed,” ISBN 0-931877-42-3

January 18, 2006 at 08:17 PM · > Left-handed violinist!?

> WITCH!! Burn her! Burn her!

Not funny

hehe :)

..... but really, what do some leftie people NOT understand about "this is a musical instrument, and this is how you play it" ..... ?? Maybe it's all the rebellious and non-conformist ideas that built up in their brain, that makes them want to stick out like a sore thumb?

< / rambling_mode >

"OOS" -- Orchestra "Ouch" Syndrome? (: (:

January 18, 2006 at 08:24 PM · OOS is Occupation Overuse Syndrome, aka Repetitive Strain Injury. The name keeps changing every few years, the pains remain the same!

I'm very right handed but a book I read on brain improvement suggested doing things left handed frequently to improve both sides of the brain and co-ordination. I only stuck with it for a while - very hard to do. But an interesting thing was this: writing with my left hand was very hard, but writing in mirror image with the left hand, especially if simultaneously writing with the right hand, was almost perfect. Fascinating stuff really. I might get back into practising some things left handed, as my left hand co-ordination in playing is not good.

Anyway, it made me very aware that someone who is extremely left handed might well do better with a leftie violin, as very delicate, and ultimately 'unconcious' bow control is important.

January 18, 2006 at 08:29 PM · "Maybe it's all the rebellious and non-conformist ideas that built up in their brain, that makes them want to stick out like a sore thumb?"

You think lefties want to stick out? In general, they don't, and are in fact much better at learning how to do things with their non-dominant hand than are right-handed people. That's one reason why even though around 12% of the population is left-handed, virtually no one plays the violin that way. Lefties learn how to do many things right handed without making a big deal about it (scissors, the computer mouse, door handles, jewelry clasps, can openers--need I continue?). Generally, the only time I get upset or "rebellious" is when right-handed people act like we're just trying to be different and imply that we chose to be left-handed.

January 19, 2006 at 12:06 AM · That's exactly my point, and that's why i said "some" leftie people.

A while ago i said the same thing on a discussion about leftie guitarists, and some moron told me "try to jack off with your left hand". =)

January 26, 2006 at 03:35 PM · Hello.

This was a very entertaining thing to stumble across while I was searching on the internet for... well, I don't remember what I was searching for the other night, but it wasn't this. But since the link came up, I couldn't help reading it since I'm the person being discussed here.

I wanted to take violin lessons for fun. You know, fun? Hobby? Personal enrichment? Among the hundred thousand things blowing my mind about all this is the unquestioned assumption that anyone who's interested in violin intends to go professional with it, and must address all the issues that could possibly be involved in that before starting. But with that in mind, I'm studying hard for that initial test for tone-deafness which all beginning violin students are required to take, and which all right-handers evidently pass with ease.

I'm not complaining; at least I'm not the one doing the rigorous screening for duds before the lessons have even begun. It must be exhausting.

But even though I feel your pain, I think there should be more of that going on in the world. I think people who are too big to have any hope of becoming racing jockeys should be denied horseback-riding lessons for recreation. If they aren't naturally small, either they meet the weight requirements by hacking off a limb or they won't be allowed to saddle up even once. There are plenty of amputees around who will tell you they manage just fine, so anybody who wants to be a crybaby about it can go cry somewhere else. I get to impose the rule because I'm quite petite myself. Hey, it's not my problem.

But seriously.

I did not "insist" that the violin is "my" instrument, or even suggest it. In fact, I have said to Pauline repeatedly that I have no reason to think I have any aptitude for it, any more than anyone else who's never tried it before. I also have no reason to think I DON'T have any aptitude for it. I don't know yet. I love music, I play classical and ragtime piano, and thought to branch out and try something different for the experience. I'm not taking violin to become some sort of renegade left-handed Rachel Barton. I just thought I would enjoy it, that's all. Fat chance of that now, but I've already bought the violin. Well, that's life for ya.

There's no hidden agenda, no desire to prove anything, no bid for special attention from a teacher when I should be on a therapist's couch instead - not for left-handedness, anyway. But thanks so much for the 30-second amateur psychoanalysis, which I shall cherish always.

What I did say is that if I take lessons I intend to do it left-handed. I said so because by the time I got the left-hand violin (yes, a real honest-to-God one, made by grotesque trolls who have some evil purpose best left festering in the dark), I had already been forced to debate the issue several times with other people, most of whom should have known better. It was none of their business anyway. I didn't want to debate it. It's other people who make an issue out of my being left-handed, not me. I wanted Pauline to just say yes or no without debating me over it. If she'd said no, I'd have tried somebody else. And I'd probably have been stoned to death for it, by the look of things.

I'm glad I asked somebody nice the first time.

To date, I still haven't seen one valid argument in favor of switching. "It shouldn't matter" and "It's just as hard or easy that way" don't count. They are not reasons. They are opinions. And I have yet to hear either opinion expressed by anybody who ever made a good-faith effort to learn the wrong way and still thought it didn't matter and was just as easy. Anybody who's been through that and claims it didn't matter or was just as easy is either lying or has a short memory. To find out how easy it is and how much it doesn't matter, try spending a half hour writing with your non-dominant hand. Mmm, feels good - and twice as pretty! Stick with it, and months from now you'll be great at it and can tell everyone how simple it was and how swell it would be if everyone did that.

And if you can explain what the point was in the first place, you get a cookie. I'm very sorry for anybody who's already been made to switch hands, and so glad you got past it, but you're doing a terrible disservice to the rest of us by not admitting that the reason you did was "I didn't want to, but I was talked into it" or "I had to, or they wouldn't let me learn." Pushing to have everyone who comes after you subjected to the same unpleasant experience just because you did it is wrong.

I'm still trying to work out what the conspiracy theory is about, in case there really is more to this than "we don't serve your kind here." That's all I can make of it at the moment, but it's a really venomous "we don't serve your kind here." The fact that it devolved more or less into a discussion about making allowances because it might be too late to turn me around is a bad sign. Is that what passes for open-mindedness around here?

No points for that, sorry. It's perfectly okay if you nab 'em when they're too young to fight back, huh? That's the spirit! Of course they can't find a left-hand violin the proper size, but the fact that any potential market for those has been squelched by right-handers refusing to let kids play left-handed might have something to do with that. Otherwise left-hand models would be readily available in all sizes, at a mere 50% markup over the normal kind. This is America, after all.

I suppose that grudgingly allowing violins to be played left-handed might lead to universal education, votes for women, racial integration, and other forms of coddling and catering. (Who the hell do they think they are, anyway?) And from there we somehow get to the total collapse of modern civilization, but I can't quite work out the path from point A to point B.

I'm hoping to figure it out, though, if someone will be kind enough to explain the reason - the actual reason, please - why everyone's so hell-bent on seeing to it that no one ever, ever, ever plays a violin left-handed. Never mind what I'm up to; what are YOU up to? It's a serious matter because you're shutting people out of something they would like to do, which they are entitled to pursue, and which, as musicians, you should be promoting to the general public as much as possible instead of doing what you're doing. That would be encouragement vs. discouragement. Making it easy vs. making it hard. Opening doors vs. slamming them in people's faces, just because you can.

Even worse, you're doing your level best to persuade all other violin teachers to join your lynch mob, which is not only downright nasty, but also unethical. What kind of thought has actually gone into all this? What are you trying to accomplish? What is the threat? It must be a whopper if it's causing so many teachers to turn down business rather than just... you know... teach.

I suspect it's just a mean-spirited sport. Am I wrong? Is there a metabolic disorder of the adrenaline gland, common to most violinists, that causes them to jump up and scream "Holy Mother of God, don't teach THEM!!!" whenever somebody suggests that left-handedness might not need to be clubbed like a baby seal? If there is, can I get it named after me? That'd be cool.

Right- or left-handed, it's the student's problem to work out how to achieve what the instructor demonstrates. Playing left-handed is an advantage there, since right-handers don't have a ready-made excuse for screwing up. (Oops, sorry. People who play right-handed don't make mistakes, do they?) I can imagine it would be difficult for the teacher, though, what with the bow going up and down exactly the same way. On the other side.

No no, I can't show you staccato on my violin if you're holding yours over there. Can't... think... everything... going... dark...

aaarrrggghhhh

If I were right-handed, that's exactly the sort of master violinist I'd want to take lessons from, too. I assume the inability to explain the techniques clearly enough for everyone to understand warrants a discount on the fee.

I know the answer won't turn out to be "Go ahead and play left-handed, see if I care," because obviously everybody cared all kinds of ways when the comments were posted. Some cared enough to diagnose me as a mental case merely for inquiring about lessons, with plenty of concurrence. (That is not a normal reaction, folks. If you think it is, check with some right-handed people who live on planet Earth. I know some of that was tongue-in-cheek. Some of it wasn't.) Some cared enough to jump in with pre-emptive strikes on ensemble playing and having a special violin, without bothering to find out first whether I'm interested in one or already have the other. Everybody cares plenty. Nobody's said why in a way that doesn't boil down to "We don't serve your kind here, and death to anyone who defies us."

The bit about playing with an ensemble begs the question. People don't play left-handed in orchestras because right-handers won't let them. Get it? And never mind the seating arrangements. There's a perfectly simple solution to that which would neither affect the sound nor "ruin the silhouette." (Oh yes, there is. Think about it for 10 seconds.) It's just that nobody would ever do it, for the same reason they don't want people playing left-handed in the first place, I guess.

It's disingenuous to invent and enforce a rule that nobody can play with a group left-handed, and then tell left-handers they have to switch or give up because they'll never be able to play with a group. That's cute all right, but logic it ain't.

As for not being able to play other people's violins, I've been around for a while and have yet to walk into a situation where a violin was lying around which needed to be played by me, never mind having to borrow one in an emergency. (Quick - play Locatelli's "Labyrinth" or we're all done for! But... but this violin is... NOOOO!!!!) Is the prospect of anything remotely like that ever happening a reason to vigorously block all attempts anyone ever makes to learn left-handed?

The truth is that southpaws don't have a club. We used to, 20 or 30 years ago, but it's been disbanded. It's of no interest to left-handed people to see other left-handed people any more because they're everywhere these days. (Well, not around you because you immediately torch any who get within range, but in the world of the living there are lots.) There are a few hangers-on who didn't get the memo and are bucking for idiocy like having left-handed levers on all water fountains, but they're crackpots. I've never been one of them and don't know any personally, but they're allowed to be crackpots. They're probably like that because they got their skulls split open for trying to take an interest in the violin.

It seems it's right-handers who have formed a club now. I don't know what they need one for, since they're a majority. It must be about something terribly important to invoke all that rock-throwing and name-calling whenever a southpaw has the unmitigated gall to offer a northpaw money for violin lessons. I would flog myself for it if you hadn't already saved me the trouble, but I'd still like to know why anybody thought it was so vitally necessary to do that.

Whatever the issue is, clearly it's far more important than either spreading the joy or advancing the cause of music education - AT ALL, never mind in a positive manner. Nobody's the least interested in either one of those things. (With a few exceptions which were duly noted. And thanks much - you know who you are.)

So what's up with all that? C'mon, I promise not to tell.

January 26, 2006 at 06:58 PM · > I suppose that grudgingly allowing violins to be played left-handed might lead

> to universal education, votes for women, racial integration, and other forms of

> coddling and catering.

Well, personally i'm strongly against any form of racial, sexist, or other kind of discrimination. But learning to play a musical instrument is a discipline. There's one right way to do it, and a beginner can't just decide "oh, i like to play it better this way" ....

I'm right handed, so i don,t know what it's like to be left handed, but this reminds me of music classes in primary school - you remember those little flutes... at first i had taken the habit of playing it the wrong way (hands inverted) - when the teacher noticed, he told me i was holding it wrong. Of course i had to re-learn the proper way to hold the little flute. I don't know what the teacher would have said, if i just replied "oh, i like it better this way" ....

What would you think if you went to a concert and saw each musician holding his instrument however he wanted - violin sitting on his lap, holding the bow in the middle, or playing notes with his thumb on the fingerboard, etc etc. I don't think it would be a very pretty sight.

This is pretty much what happened to the world of "popular" guitar, especially in the past few decades - every halfwit and his kid brother could pick up a guitar and try to be like Jimi Hendrix, James Hetfield, Kurt Kobain or other no-technique player he saw on TV - and look at the disaster that resulted. Most steel-string and electric guitars are now built to not only accomodate, but also encourage the most common technique flaws. Guitarists with decent playing technique are a dying breed.....

I think common sense should draw the line between innovation and stupidity.

January 26, 2006 at 10:33 PM · People don't "decide" to be left-handed because they "like" it. It's the way the body works.

Surgery is also a discipline. Should left-handed surgeons be required to wield the scalpel right-handed, or do you think it matters?

Oh dear, I shouldn't have brought that up. Please, don't say left-handers wouldn't be surgeons because the curvature of their hands gets in the way, obscures the view of their assistants, etc. Not true. I personally know a left-handed surgeon and have watched her perform an operation. Handedness is not an issue, just skill. It should be the same with the violin.

> What would you think if you went to a concert and saw each musician holding his instrument however he wanted - violin sitting on his lap, holding the bow in the middle, or playing notes with his thumb on the fingerboard, etc etc. I don't think it would be a very pretty sight.

Neither do I, but then I didn't suggest any such thing. I don't equate using the appropriate hand to hold the bow with propping the violin between your knees just because you happen to feel like it. If others do, maybe we're getting to the heart of the problem here. (Athough good heavens, if anybody can play beautifully by doing that, I say more power to them. Music isn't for looks. It's for listening.) However, there is a proper way to hold it on the left side just as there is a proper way to hold it on the right. Within that definition, I see no reason to cry murder on anyone who does that.

> This is pretty much what happened to the world of "popular" guitar, especially in the past few decades - every halfwit and his kid brother could pick up a guitar and try to be like Jimi Hendrix, James Hetfield, Kurt Kobain or other no-technique player he saw on TV - and look at the disaster that resulted. Most steel-string and electric guitars are now built to not only accomodate, but also encourage the most common technique flaws. Guitarists with decent playing technique are a dying breed.....

What does that have to do with playing left-handed? Are you suggesting that all bad players are either left-handed, or emulating a left-handed musician? Um... yeah. But let's try this: if right-handers who knew what they were doing would stop refusing to teach left-handers, things like that wouldn't happen.

Before someone comes back with "And if left-handed players would just play right-handed, things like that wouldn't happen either," I would like to get back on track by restating the question I'm trying to get an answer to:

Why are so many of you so determined to see to it that left-handers switch over, or are denied instruction?

January 27, 2006 at 12:45 AM · Julie, they might not be reasons, but don't you see they suffice as reasons? I couldn't read all of you. There's too much :P

P.S. But a lot of your statements are more idiotic than theirs.

January 27, 2006 at 12:52 AM · Actually, he did answer my question - I just missed it until I thought it over. I'm trying to compose a message on that, but may need some assistance after it hits the fan. Stick around.

January 27, 2006 at 01:19 AM · Damn straight. There's no way wimmen will ever get the vote. Now back in the kitchen with ya.

Personally, I'm completely in favour of the rapant discrimination against left-handers that so obviously currently pervades society. They're obviously weird.

Sheesh. Talk about over-reaction.

Neil

January 27, 2006 at 02:07 AM · All right, I think I get it now, thank you. The answer was here:

"a beginner can't just decide "oh, i like to play it better this way"

...and I responded that people don't decide to be left-handed because they like it. And then moved on when I should have stopped right there.

That attitude absolutely explains all this. You guys think left-handedness doesn't actually exist. You think it's something you can just "get over" if you want to. You think it's willful rebellion. No wonder you're so ticked off.

Being left-handed is not willful rebellion, but I don't hold out much hope for convincing anybody of that. There's been plenty of discussion about try-to-use-your-other-hand-and-see-what-it-feels-like, and that hasn't engendered much sympathy. Either nobody has, in fact, tried that, or you did but missed the purpose of the exercise.

Left-handed people are left-handed in the same way that right-handed people are right-handed. It's not a "preference." You don't "prefer" your right hand for fine motor skills; you use your right hand because using the left is awkward. Left-handers use their left hand because using the right is awkward in exactly the same way.

Animals are more evenly divided 50-50 when it comes to being left- or right- ...um, pawed. It's only people who have a large right-handed majority, and that's probably because some idiot came up with a superstition and decided to get everybody to gang up on left-handers over it. (Yeah, I know which superstition it was. Somebody else can go there if they want; I ain't gonna do it.) After several hundred centuries of witch-burning, the percentage would of course remain much lower because the gene pool has been reduced. Not to mention that, although it happens less these days, there are still adults who won't "let" children be left-handed. There are still plenty remaining in the closet.

In any case, left-handedness is a real thing, just like right-handedness is. We're not doing it on purpose to get attention, okay? We'd rather not get attention. Attention for a left-hander consists of being mocked, yelled at, called names, and told we're not allowed to play in "normal" people's sandboxes. That is nothing more than a stupid, meaningless prejudice.

A lot of the misunderstanding has to do with the fact that many leftys do more with their right hands than righties do with the left, just because they more or less have to. We've all been through that. There are leftys who have learned to use scissors right-handed. I use a computer mouse right-handed. But I did that for my own reasons, and it was my choice. (And not the rebellious choice, either, you notice.) That doesn't mean I'm sort of right-handed already and it's no big deal to train my right wrist to a new and complex task. It's the same deal that it would be for you right-handers to learn to bow left-handed. Which not one of you would want to have to do.

Is being right-handed something you can just "get over?" Can you understand what it would be like to be told you MUST use your left hand for something that is, by nature, a right-handed task for you, or else just go to hell, because everybody else says so and there's nothing you can do about it? Seriously, could you just close your eyes and contemplate that for a minute?

You guys who are still burning witches, please stop. And if you're having too much fun with it, because it's not exactly considered politically incorrect yet and there are hardly any other easy targets left, at least have the good grace not to insist that all violin teachers treat us as badly as you do.

Thank you.

P.S. Neil - marry me, you hunk o' burnin' love!

January 27, 2006 at 03:05 AM · > After several hundred centuries of witch-burning, the percentage would

> of course remain much lower because the gene pool has been reduced.

Is left/right handedness really hereditary? I have some relatives who are left handed, so i wouldn't have figured so. Never really thought of it.

Of course punishing people for being left handed is just plain wrong. I know some leftie people who are just a bit older than me, when they were kids they would get slapped on the wrists whenever they used their left hand to hold a fork, or a pencil.... that's just retarded.

> There's been plenty of discussion about try-to-use-your-other-hand-and-see-what-it-feels-like,

> and that hasn't engendered much sympathy.

Like i said above, i don't know what it's like to be left handed, so my opinion on this can't be very objective. However i do believe that if 90% of people were left handed, i would use my left hand for more things as well.

Another point i mentioned before, is that most musical instruments require fine motor skills from both hands. When i was a kid and first picked up a guitar, i didn't know which side was the correct side to hold the instrument. At first it seemed illogical to me that the left hand had to do all the complicated finger work on the strings. So i always figured that left handed people would have an advantage in playing guitar or other stringed instruments.

January 27, 2006 at 03:53 AM · Not that I want to get involved any further than this, but...

In my opinion, playing violin left-handed is kind of like swimming left-handed. Handedness isn't that much of an issue. If anything, my left handed students sometimes seem to take to the instrument faster. There are a lot of lefty violinists around playing standard instruments.

A "left-handed" violin is termed thus probably due to the convenience of the term more than any propensity of the set up to left-handed (aka right-brained!) people. "Reverse violin" would be equally apt. It exists mostly for people who have medical limitations that make it impossible to play the "standard" (NOT "right-handed") way.

All my un-authoritative opinion,

'Erie

(An ambidextrous, non-confrontational person who writes with her left hand probably 60% of the time)

January 27, 2006 at 04:01 AM · Erie, you're a chick! Ambidextrous is hot.

January 27, 2006 at 12:12 PM · > Is left/right handedness really hereditary? I have some relatives who are left handed, so i wouldn't have figured so. Never really thought of it.

Sure - it's a recessive gene. It's like the way two brown-haired parents can have a blond child.

> So i always figured that left handed people would have an advantage in playing guitar or other stringed instruments.

I know; that keeps coming up, and is the reason people keep saying "try it yourself." I think that's the most effective way to get the point across, i.e., if it's an advantage to finger with the dominant hand, how come fingering with the right hand isn't the natural right-hander's way of doing it?

The reason is that although you do have to learn new skills with both hands in order to play, fingers are more easily (and comfortably) trainable than wrists are. It just doesn't feel natural for you to pick up a violin the first time and hold the bow with the left hand, even if you don't know how to use it yet. You have a pretty good idea how you're GOING to use it, and you know you're going to need the dominant hand to keep control of it.

The fingers of both hands get lots of training at new things, as hands have to work together frequently. Tying shoes. Assembling things. Typing. Fingers are relatively easily trainable, because they have to be, and they get lots of practice in daily life. It's less likely that you've ever been forced to specially train your inferior wrist for anything much. Shaving requires no finger motion, you're just holding the razor and using wrist action. Try that one - how long do you think it'd take to learn to give yourself a nice clean shave, quickly, with your non-dominant hand?

That's why you don't bow with the left, and why leftys don't want to bow with the right. Can you do it? Sure, if you put enough work into learning how. But you're doing it the hard way, and it's a colossal waste of time when you could have just used the appropriate hand in the first place. It's uncomfortable, slow, clumsy, frustrating, and somewhere in there you're going to end up feeling very bad about yourself. And if someone MADE you do that, you'd probably balk at it. At the very least, you'd want somebody to give you a damn good reason why you should. Something besides "Because that's the right way to do it." The right way? For you, yes. For me, no. Which part of "I'm left-handed" is so hard to understand?

I am quite amazed at all this - it never crossed my mind that there are so many people out there who think left-handedness is a figment of the imagination. Oh, so THAT'S where the "mental illness" angle came from (and so quickly, too)! No no... babies a few months old, learning to pick up their own Cheerios before they can talk, do not "decide" to go with left or right depending on whether they're planning on a lifetime of being establishment-bucking troublemakers. When did you decide to be right-handed, and what was your line of reasoning?

> If anything, my left handed students sometimes seem to take to the instrument faster.

Maybe they're talented. Wonder how good they'd be if you hadn't slowed them down by making them switch hands?

January 27, 2006 at 12:55 PM · You'll be happy to know that the large majority of horses are actually left-handed. I mean left-hooved.

January 27, 2006 at 01:40 PM · WHOA people.

Ok, a few things are being lumped together into one and are muddying things.

1. Whether a teacher should decide how an instrument is held, or a beginning student.

2. Whether in violin playing, the bow hand is the dominant hand.

3. Whether people should (have the right to) use their dominant hand for one handed tasks.

4. Whether people think left-handedness is a "figment of people's imaginations". (?!)

5. Whether a classical instrument should be played "according to tradition".

Most people are talking about #1, saying the teacher should decide.

A few people are saying #5.

Julie, I don't think ANYONE disagrees with you on #3 or 4. If they did, they'd deserve your tirades.

The main thing being debated here is #2, and understandably there are differing opinions.

There is no question that left handed people should use their left hand for one-handed tasks. But is playing the violin a one-handed task? I personally find bowing to be more complex and subtle than fingering. But is that because bowing IS more complex and subtle? or is it just me?

If a teacher believes that the bow hand is dominant, then he/she should teach a left-handed student to bow using his/her left hand. This would be the correct setup "relative to the body".

However, for someone who thinks that violin playing is not a one-handed (or more accurately, a one-hand biased) activity, it would not make sense to "bow with the dominant hand" because to them, bowing is not dominant to fingering.

Then there is the issue of who decides. It makes sense that in a discipline that requires such skill and experience, a teacher would know more than the student. (Julie, many people seemed to be surprised that someone who didn't yet know how to play the violin already "knew" that bowing was more difficult than fingering. This was in no way an affront to left-handed people worldwide.) That said, this only works if the teacher is reasonable.

Eric, what do people who can't play guitar have anything to do with left-handedness? Do you think there aren't right-handed people who suck at the guitar?

It's amazing how much people can just talk past each other because they're talking about totally different things. How sad.

January 27, 2006 at 03:10 PM · So, my mom is left-handed, and when she started playing with me (we did Suzuki together when I was a kid) she automatically put the violin up on her right shoulder. It seemed natural to her. The teacher corrected her; the violin she had was standard, and the teacher was the teacher, so Mom listened and learned the standard way. She found bowing to be more challenging, but then that can be equally attributed to a lack of real interest in the violin -- I was the one who wanted to play.

The most compelling reason for her to have played with the violin on her right shoulder is that she's long had problems with her left shoulder, such that resting anything on it is painful and causes dizziness.

My sister is also left-handed, and learned to play the cello the standard way. I doubt she ever thought to question. She quit after not very long because the sound of the half-size school cello drove her nuts. Can't really blame her for that one!

Oh, and my mom often writes with either hand, with different handwritings but equally precisely. My sister can write with either hand, but typically doesn't. So that'd make my sister, who did fine "right-handed" on the cello, more left-handed than Mom, who gravitated toward "left-handed" violin.

I guess that tells me that it's not so dependent on your degree of left- or right-handedness.

Emily, my pony is left-hooved!

Julie, you suggest that we should allow children to decide which side they'd like to play on. That's a lovely thought, and in an ideal world would be great. We'd probably have more comfortable violinists (well, until they got into an orchestra situation, and I don't mean pro -- I'll get to that in a minute). But in general, a nice idea.

But then you need to get practical. The majority of music education happens in public schools, on a very limited budget. How many reverse violins, violas and cellos should a school have to purchase at 150% of the cost of a standard instrument? 50/50 ratio? That means that in a school where 20 kids could've played string instruments, now only 15 can -- because the money for instruments got used up that much faster.

One year, there are ten students who want to play reverse and five who want to play standard. They're starting on half-size instruments, say. When they grow out of those half-sizes and go to 3/4 or full, what if the ratio of available instruments doesn't meet the ratio of students that need them? There are only 8 reverse full-size instruments available for ten students -- so two either have to switch midstream or quit. Guess which they'd tend to do? Now, you've got 13 students left out of that 15 that could start, out of 20 that might have played if the school could have standardized on "right-handed" instruments. If you're advocating for wider music education, I think standardizing is really the most practical way to go.

Then there's the orchestral experience, which is not just for professionals. It's an important part of the musical education of any beginning to advancing player. I play in my local community orchestra for fun -- there are no auditions, nobody gets paid, and there are plenty of adults of all levels who enjoy it.

The reason why it's difficult to play reverse in an amateur orchestra (where everyone's bowing in different ways anyway and slouching and using their own stands and everything) is a simple matter of available space. There just isn't much room in most stages and rehearsal spaces, especially where there's also enough light to see your music. Players are already jostling each other and trying to keep their scrolls out of the way of each others' bows and vice versa.

When a bow knocks a scroll, no big deal -- it's rare that the impact does anything more than discombobulate the players. Once in a while you'll knock a string out of tune. But imagine if you get two scrolls knocking together -- which you absolutely will, in such close quarters. Whack! Four strings slip out of tune unless you're really lucky, and you lose a quarter of the section while they curse and quickly re-tune. If two bows collide, it's not as much of a problem, except that it will CONSTANTLY happen, and both players will get bruised knuckles -- or simply will learn to play timidly, for fear of bruised knuckles. So much for those sweeping downbows -- nope, too dangerous. I just don't see how that's fun, do you? If you had even numbers of standard/reverse players, it'd be easier, as you could just place them in rows according to which side they play on, through first and second violin, viola and cello. So... how likely is that, really?

It's not a question of trying to keep the lefty down. Since at least 1300 if not earlier, violin-like instruments have been typically played on the left shoulder, not exclusively, but predominantly enough that when the Italians came along with their master luthiers, those luthiers structured their masterpieces with the treble strings on a particular side and the bass on the other. Since everyone still copies those same instruments, guess what? They've become standard. It's a question of striving for excellence in the construction of the instrument. Interestingly, many luthiers don't even play beyond basic tuning, so it really is an academic exercise for them -- the challenge of tool-user vs. wood in the pursuit of perfection. :)

All of these things add up to a highly standardized activity, whether as a hobby, a challenge or a profession. I have no interest in preventing someone from playing an instrument however they'd like to, but from my perspective, the minor gains experienced by a few players just isn't worth losing a quarter of prospective music students in grade schools and watching community orchestras decline in participation because they can't physically deal with all the conflict.

So if you want to play reverse and you have a properly reversed violin (with all the internals properly structured for the reversed strings), have a ball! If you decide that you want to participate in a community orchestra as you become more skilled, be prepared to sit in the back and bring your own light -- and I'm sure you'll enjoy the experience.

If, all goodness forbid, your soundpost should fall when you're two hours from home, tools or luthier, chances are you'll have to put the instrument away and not play again until you're home -- instead of borrowing someone's spare instrument. Yes, I've loaned my spare instrument to a friend whose soundpost fell on the way to rehearsal an hour from her house. Good thing for her that we both play standard.

So, being aware of all these points, whatever makes you happy is what you should pursue.

(Oh, and Julie -- this is the internet, not some utopian commune. :) Don't expect everyone to be open-minded, but do expect everyone to be stubbornly vocal!)

January 27, 2006 at 04:41 PM · "Try that one - how long do you think it'd take to learn to give yourself a nice clean shave, quickly, with your non-dominant hand?"

It took me a month to get reasonably proficient at it.

I'd say that now, after 2 years at it, my right hand is at 80% of my left in terms of shaving.

(Yes, I'm a leftie, and I can left with the write hand and all that ffuts sdrawkcab.)

This is such an inane discussion.

Jimi Hendrix rocks! So does Paul! (he's not dead, you know...)

(Right-handed fools--telling us that mediocrity is caused by the sinister left handed people mucking up discipline ;^)

January 27, 2006 at 04:45 PM · "If, all goodness forbid, your soundpost should fall when you're two hours from home, tools or luthier, chances are you'll have to put the instrument away and not play again until you're home -- instead of borrowing someone's spare instrument. Yes, I've loaned my spare instrument to a friend whose soundpost fell on the way to rehearsal an hour from her house. Good thing for her that we both play standard.

So, being aware of all these points, whatever makes you happy is what you should pursue."

Holy cow. Can you say, "soundpost setter in gig bag?"

If you loan your instrument, then what instrument do *you * play?

January 27, 2006 at 04:40 PM · "I don't have anything against new ideas just because they are new, but please...if she's serious enough, she will conform."

Or she will die at the stake.

January 27, 2006 at 06:45 PM · Um... I loan my spare... which by definition, being spare, means that it's not the violin that I'm using at the moment. Right?

Yes, and after my friend went through that experience, I started carrying a soundpost setter in my case. However, I recently had the experience of not being able to get my soundpost back up because it'd be cut too short and the humidity had suddenly dropped. The morning of a concert I begged an appointment from my luthier, who carved me a new post. But the soundpost setter in my case didn't do me a lick of good in that situation. I'm just pointing out difficulties of which it'd be useful to be aware for anyone who chooses a nonconformist approach to the violin. It's always best to have as much information as possible, so that each person can decide how much hassle they want to put up with on the one hand vs. the other.

I notice that you didn't take issue with my other analyses. :)

Oh, and I never have figured out quite how to shave under my right armpit using my right hand. Have you, Bill?

January 27, 2006 at 07:19 PM · "Oh, and I never have figured out quite how to shave under my right armpit using my right hand. Have you, Bill?"

LOL!

January 27, 2006 at 07:43 PM · Whether being left-handed is an advantage or a disadvantage overall, from the comments it appears that there are at least some advantages. So that's what to convince the student with - that there are advantages being left handed. And be definite about it; there should be no hesitation or question in your voice.

As to armpits, however, that is an entirely different matter. This thread needs to stick to the topic and roll on to answer the question, not to stain this website with any more odiforous comments. Many here are willing to shoulder this burden, armed with their own experience and talent since they were little shavers.

January 28, 2006 at 02:17 AM · Actually, in my public school system students had to buy their own instruments if they wanted to be in the band. I'm not arguing that every music learning center ought to have a full range of left-handed whatevers to loan out - although I could point out that for the last few decades school classrooms have usually included a couple of left-handed desks in case someone needed them. (My high school did, anyway - and they were certainly present in all the classrooms at my college in the early 80's.) So you get a left-hander - okay, have one of the old beat-up loaners restrung. It's cheap enough to do, and good enough to learn on.

Also by the way, being told "go ahead, do what you want" is better than "no you can't," but I suppose that comes with the caveat that no matter how terrific anyone is at playing violin left-handed, they'll never be able to get anywhere with it. I mean, wouldn't be accepted at serious competitions or anything except possibly as a novelty? (Probably not even that.) Would never be groomed for a concert career? Although I know there are people who play left-handed for a living, I don't know of any left-playing world-renowned classical concert violinists. If there are any, please advise; it would make my day, and I'll give them a boost by going out and buying all their CDs this weekend.

Meanwhile, I assume there are none, and not because it wouldn't be possible for anybody to be that good playing left-handed. It's because they can't get there without conforming.

So I ask again: why?

And again, I it looks like the answer is that most of you think left-handedness isn't a real thing. As evidence of that, I cite the following recent statements:

"Then there is the issue of who decides. It makes sense that in a discipline that requires such skill and experience, a teacher would know more than the student."

"Julie, you suggest that we should allow children to decide which side they'd like to play on."

And I am trying to tell you that handedness isn't a "decision," and it is most certainly not a decision anyone should ever make for someone else. No one has the right to do that; I don't care who they are or what they're teaching. You don't "decide," and other people don't decide for you. You're born with it. It's physiology.

I talked to some people at my office about this today. Here's what happened.

1. Male, right-handed, age 30. His jaw dropped to the floor, he stared at me incredulously for several seconds, and then said, "They think left-handers are doing that to be... DIFFICULT?" I said, "Yes, that's what they think." He said, "That is the dumbest [expletive] thing I have ever heard of." Then he wanted to know whether you're all "old people," and I said I didn't think so.

2. Male, left-handed, age 37. Plays piano. He chuckled quite a lot in between several iterations of "That's unbelievable," then asked, "Are all these people in their 70's, or older?" I said I didn't think so.

3. Male, right-handed, age 58. Laughed hysterically and said, "I thought it was only people my age who used to think things like that." Then he told me about his cousin, who was made to switch hands in school, couldn't write, tried to switch back later, and to this day cannot write properly.

And while we were talking, I mentioned that forcing children to switch hands tends to cause permanent cognitive disorders like that (I personally know someone else who developed a similar problem he's stuck with for life), as well as stuttering and bed-wetting. He said, "Really? That's interesting. My cousin wet the bed until well into his teens, and nobody could ever figure out why."

Well, that's why. Look, I'm not making this up - there's plenty of literature on the subject out there, and has been for years. That's the reason schools finally stopped forcing left-handers to learn to write right-handed several decades ago. (Mostly. I know of a couple of instances in the 60's and 70's when parents had to go smack an elementary-school teacher in the head to make them knock it off.)

And to pre-empt various reactions to that which I already know I'm going to get, let me say this first: I am in no way claiming that switching hands inevitably results in some awfulness like that. I know you all have left-handed students playing instruments or doing other things right-handed (or you're one yourself) who do not wet the bed, stutter, or have learning disabilities. What I am saying is that when you make someone switch, you're messing with the way their brains are wired, and that has been proven to be Not A Good Thing To Do. If your right-converted leftys are perfectly okay, congratulations. They won the lottery.

Anyone wants to do whatever left, right, or both, that's dandy. But you don't "decide" which hand someone else should use. Yes, if a child takes violin lessons, the child should bow with the hand he wants to bow with. The teacher, in his infinite wisdom, does not have the right to dictate someone else's physiology. Even if nothing bad results from it, it's just wrong on the face of it.

And, I feel, they should also not be telling anyone that if they don't/can't/shouldn't switch, they also can't/shouldn't learn to play the instrument at all. Because that is discrimination. They can learn it left-handed.

The reason I asked the 3 coworkers about it is that I was completely taken aback to find out that so many right-handers think you can just choose to be right-handed, if only you weren't so stubborn. I had never heard such a thing expressed before, ever. I wanted to know whether that's a widespread belief, or what. I didn't think it was. And while 3 people isn't exactly a representative sample of the population, I think the reactions I got confirmed my suspicions.

In the real world right-handers do not think you can just "get over it" if you want to, and that if you don't you're just being difficult because you like making trouble. It's only you guys who think that... and you ALL think that, with a couple of possible exceptions.

I can't give this a sincere tone in writing and I know it looks sarcastic (no precedent for that, huh?), but this is the best way I can think of to put it, and I do mean it absolutely sincerely: I don't want to interfere with your religion. I really, really don't. I think you're so wrapped up in your "discipline" that you truly believe the violin is a sacred object, far more important than the person holding it. The person holding it is nothing. It's all about the sacred violin. People can't just bust into the church demanding to be blessed with Koolade instead of holy water; I understand that. To me, and to other outsiders, violins pointing in opposite directions is "Huh? Oh yeah, I guess it does look sloppy. So what's playing tonight?" To you, it's an unthinkable sacrilege.

I have no wish to interfere with it, and now that I know what it is, I'm satisfied. I'm not going to go through the ritual required to apply for membership (you're welcome; no doubt I was blacklisted way back anyhow), but I honestly don't want to try to break up your church. I just wanted to know what was going on.

I think it would be nice if you'd consider opening up a little, loosening up a little, maybe... integrating. But I don't insist that you do, on my own behalf or anyone else's. I think the left-handers who switched for you did it because they really wanted to belong to your church, and that's one of the requirements. I would like to learn to play violin, but I don't want to make a religion out of it. If I (or anybody else who wants to) can just take some lessons, left-handed, without anybody hunting me down and tarring & feathering me for doing it, that's good enough.

Thanks, all.

January 28, 2006 at 03:34 AM · Enuresis is not a psychosis--it is a sleep disorder. Deep sleep leads to enuresis. Go look up the current research. One of my cousins is very right handed and he stuttered. He was not a closet leftie. I am the leftie. I made him studder by beating him up when we were kids.

I really am as baffled as Julie is by all of the psychobabble and "blame the victim" crap about playing mirror. But let me point out some other examples of "labels" which are arbitrary and often wrong.

1. Field hockey. There is no mirror image stick. It is vorboten.

2. Ice hockey. The labelled "hand" is backwards from the statistical choice. Kids who grow up playing hockey (canadians) more often than not shoot "right" when they are lefties and shoot "left" if they are righties. Among me, my bro, my cousins, this is true 100%.

Down stateside, sporting goods stores do not understand this, and they always stock too many "right" sitcks. TO the point where the "left" sticks run out aover and over and they never figure it out.

3. Baseball. Left and right are only rather loosely associated with handedness. I hit "right".

4. Golf. I hit right. Feels like a hockey stick to me.

5. But tennis I hit left (one hand).

6. Lacrosse. If you cannot shoot *both* ways, you are a cripple. Same for soccer.

I think that the argument that "both hands have something important to do" is based on this not-so-clear-which-should-be-dominant question.

But I agree that there should be a choice. In the above examples, notice that only the field hockey players aren't given one.

And that is that.

January 28, 2006 at 05:00 AM ·

January 28, 2006 at 04:23 AM · Greetings to the Left-handed Violin discussion group!

I am a violinist with the White House Orchestra, a branch of the U.S. Marine Band. I have unique experience and perspective in this area in that my stand-partner for 10 years played "left-handed" violin. Her status was born out of tragedy, I'm afraid. She joined "The President's Own" Marine Orchestra back in 1975 as a "right-handed" violinist. She rose to be Assistant Concertmaster with an all but certain path to the top chair. In the early 80's she was mowing her lawn (you see what's coming), went to retreive a rock that was jammed, and upon its release, had three of her left-hand fingers cut off or mutilated.

In an act of extreme poise and bravery while in the medivac helicopter, she told her husband (our current concertmaster) that she still wanted to play--he was to tell the doctors to "set" her left hand in a way that could hopefully grip a bow upon healing.

A long story and equally long recovery made short, she made a comeback that was nothing short of a miracle. She certainly didn't reach even close to her prior level of playing; however, she persevered and was able to play at a respectable level--enough to be allowed to continue her military music career and complete nearly 30 years in the Marine Band's orchestra.

This all happened several years before I joined and she was made my standpartner (I'm Principal Second) a few years into my career there. Over the years, I gained a unique perspective on her situation and how it might relate to others either in a similar situation OR who are left-handed to begin with. (She was not, for the record, left-handed.)

First, as many have mentioned, in order to play left-handed, it is absolutely critical that the violin itself be reversed. After the obvious restringing that must occur, it is imperative that the BASS BAR be attached on the RIGHT underside of the belly of the violin. The sound-post, therefore, must be moved as well. These are critical elements in the overall sound-production of the violin when played "backwards."

Let me now address some of what has been discussed:

1. There is NO comparison between switching right to left on violin and switch-hitting in baseball. It might be a better analogy to speak of switch-throwing, but only slightly. I heard someone critical of the idea of "left-handed violinists" say once, "If you're left-handed, you don't drive on the left side of the road, do you?" I used to subscribe to this position, but I don't anymore. For one thing, it would be MORE accurate to claim, if you are left-handed, you don't simply drive with your left foot. Even British cars use a right-footed system. BOTTOM LINE: It's a foolish comparison because CARS simply are not made to accept a "left-footed" driver. VIOLINS, on the other hand, can be re-configured.

2. Simply saying that guitar players like Paul McCartney and Jimi Hendrix played left-handed, so it should be okay for violinists, is again, an unfair comparison. Electric guitars do not have the internal "organs" of a violin and are much easier to reconfigure. Still, as mentioned, it is not impossible to acquire a left-handed violin.

3. For those who claimed that the violin is really a left-handed instrument, I disagree. While the left hand is very active, it is the bow hand and ARM that are the most "athletic" when playing the violin--(return to the throwing analogy)--and require much more development than the left hand. You can find dozens and dozens of fine violinists who play perfectly well in tune; however, it is the BOW ARM that separates the GREAT violinists from the good one--through projection, tone quality, and sustainment. This is why it is critical to focus on the bow arm very early in a child's development. Unfortunately, most teachers deal with the bow much later.

4. My standpartner, with her unique perspective of having now played BOTH ways, mentioned to me a fascinating phenomenon that she discovered during her recovery. She said that the transfer of information from her left hand to her right hand (i.e., fingerings) was remarkably fast. She said that this wasn't surprising to her therapists, for the brain acts in mirror images in this regard. THIS is why it is relatively easy for someone to bat lefty and righty, if they practice at it. The BOW ARM technique, on the other hand, was VERY DIFFICULT to recreate in her left arm. Why? Because, the bow arm is more PHYSICAL than MENTAL--athletic, as I mentioned earlier. There are muscles in the bow arm that have been trained to respond over many many years. The transfer of fingerings is largely a mental process. Yes, there is deftness that must be developed; however, it is on a much smaller scale.

5. In light of all these findings combined with how the brain works and develops, it seems to me that the issue is NOT whether it is right or wrong to play left-handed. Rather, it is an age issue as related to the development of the child's brain versus the adult brain. In other words, the brain of a left-handed child will likely accept playing the violin the standard "right-handed" way because their brain and body are still developing. A left-handed adult (e.g., the person who opened this forum) conversely is much less likely to have the capacity for learning the violin the "right-handed" way because his/her brain and body have developed a FIRM left-handed (right-brained) experience.

VERDICT: I believe a left-handed adult interested in learning the violin should be allowed to play left-handed, provided they are willing to acquire a left-handed violin to play.

As was mentioned earlier, there ARE benefits between teacher and student from the MIRRORIING perspective.

Hope this helped!

Best wishes,

Peter

January 28, 2006 at 06:05 AM · Interesting point about age, but I think you'd find it was more about individuals than age. All else being equal though, yes maybe. When you begin something like violin, to many people at least, it's so foreign initially that there wouldn't be any preference for either right or left. I suspect Paulene's student taught herself a little bit and developed a preference.

Point of interest, somebody already pointed out, I think, if there is any handedness built into the violin, it's right handedness. It would have evolved right handed, not left handed.

January 28, 2006 at 08:00 AM · That makes sense.

January 28, 2006 at 08:27 AM · Unless it was invented by da Vinci, in which case maybe righthanders have been playing it backwards all along.

January 28, 2006 at 10:55 AM · He did invent it. He didn't build one, but his research on sound physics and tonality - and a design he put on paper - were used to construct the first violin a few years after his death.

He played a few stringed instruments, built a few, and I have no idea whether he played them left- or right-handed. (Left, I'd bet. He didn't seem to go in for "conformity" much.) But he probably turns over in his grave whenever someone says left-handed playing should be discouraged.

> When you begin something like violin, to many people at least, it's so foreign initially that there wouldn't be any preference for either right or left. I suspect Paulene's student taught herself a little bit and developed a preference.

Not so foreign. Holding the pot and stirring. You've seen the violin played before, you know what the general idea is. How many right-handers pick up a violin & bow for the first time, try to position them, and have to be told, "No no, dear - it's the other way around"?

If a right-hander just naturally went for the left-hand position, I'd question whether they're ambidextrous or an already-converted lefty.

Thanks very much, Peter. I still think it's a religious debate ("You just can't do that." "Well yeah, actually you can." "But no, you just... can't... DO that.") But the inside perspective of switching the other way, with the consequences described in detail, is very helpful. I admire your stand partner for her dedication.

Nobody would have dreamed of kicking her out of the orchestra under the circumstances, but if she'd started out playing left-handed originally she never would have been there in the first place, yes?

January 28, 2006 at 10:52 AM · You give militant leftist a new meaning.

January 28, 2006 at 11:11 AM · Just a note on left handed violins - a recording by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has a photo of them playing, however it has been reversed somehow, and has all the violinists looking like they're playing left handed. That's one way to get a left handed violin!

January 28, 2006 at 11:13 AM · Um... Thanks, Jim? I wasn't a militant southpaw until I ran across this link and saw all the poison that was being spewed all over me & my kind behind my back. I've never had to argue about left-handedness before; in real life it just doesn't come up, which made this stuff all the more shocking to me.

Although, as someone has pointed out, it's obviously an issue in many sports. Sports are definitely not real life.

Unless you're an athlete, of course. Music being real life if you're a musician. Still, I would think the goal should be for all musicians to play in the way in which they can best achieve their potential. It makes sense to me that what's best for the player is what's best for the Sacred Violin - and the Holy Ensemble too. Better music. Not how pretty it looks, but how good it sounds. The art should be about crackerjack performing above all. Whatever it takes to get that should be not just tolerated, not just allowed, but encouraged.

Oops, I think I went too far there. But I'll tell you that a couple of people (right-handers) who play with groups have told me privately that there aren't a whole lot of decent violinists out there at the community-playing level, whereas you can do pretty well getting good representation with most other instruments.

Of course - the violin is particularly difficult to master. That being the case, why wouldn't you want to produce as many decent violinists as possible by letting left-handers play left-handed? They keep saying ad nauseum that switching puts them at a disadvantage; maybe they know what they're talking about. Maybe, by going along with it, instead of ending up with 10 mediocre players you'd have 6 mediocre and 4 good ones. Why is "the teacher should decide" more important than that? It makes no sense to me.

I believe what we have here is an elitism that's doing more harm than good to the cause of music. And I still see no sign that music, per se, is of any importance whatsoever. Developing more good players, achieving their highest potential, isn't a consideration if that means going against tradition. It would violate the sanctity of the violin.

I had an argument something like that with my mother once. She was taught piano old-school, that you have to hold your fingers very stiffly in order to play "properly." Well, you play like that and it's difficult, uncomfortable, and you sound like you're firing a machine-gun. The constant tension is tiring, a waste of stamina. People don't advocate that any more, unless there are still some die-hards around.

My first piano teacher didn't make anybody do that, and Mom didn't try to make me do it. But she still believed in it, you bet. One day we were watching Andre Watts, I think it was, playing a concert on tv and I said, "Look - HIS hands are relaxed."

She nearly knocked my block off. But hey, I was right; there was a well-respected, highy successful concert pianist playing "incorrectly." Not doing it the One Right Way. Would he have been just as good if he'd played as stiffly as possible? I say no, but "good" is subjective - let's say yes, many many people would love his playing if he played like that.

The point is that if he used the methodology that was best for him personally and got great results - even an old-schooler like my mom was thrilled by the performance, and she certainly wasn't thinking about hand posture until I rudely mentioned it and burst her bubble - AND he was happy doing it that way, maybe The Correct Way is not what's best for the overall art. Maybe what you do best with the green crayon, I do best with the blue one.

And I think it should be okay to do that. You want to do something different, it doesn't work out, then you were wrong, obviously - but no harm, no foul. Go against tradition, play like gangbusters (by anybody's standards), and be told you "shouldn't" have done what you did in order to play your best because that's "wrong?"

Weird-o-rama.

It's just not my church. My loose, informal, non-accredited church says if it's music vs. propriety, music wins. I'd rather not see someone playing in an unconventional manner if it doesn't result in BETTER music; otherwise it's, yes, a bid for attention, bucking the system just to needle people.

But making left-handers play right-handed, if it's uncomfortable for them to learn that way, does not make them better violinists. If they're lucky they can ultimately play just as well (I believe most probably don't get that far, and are worse for it to some degree) - but BETTER than if they played left-handed? No. If that's true, a certain percentage of right-handers should be playing in left-hand position, and you all need to try it out to see if you're one of 'em.

Any system which dictates that some people should NOT use their hands to best advantage is system for the sake of system. Actual musicianship just doesn't matter.

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