Left Hand Guitar

Teaching Guitar to a Left-Handed Child

Left or right?

Teaching guitar to a left handed childChildrens guitars are available in 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 sizes, depending on how young they start to play. Image: woodleywonderwork

My daughter is only 4 and a half and has decided she wants a toy guitar for Christmas. She saw one of these little electronic toy guitars in a shop and started to pretend to play - of course it was based on a right-handed style guitar. My daughter is left handed, so it got me thinking about when she is a little older, and might want a real guitar. Should I get her a normal mini guitar (i.e. a right-handed guitar) or is there a child-sized mini? Should she just learn to play right-handed, since she is starting from scratch so has never experienced a left hand guitar so will not know any better?

We live in a world that is set up for right-handed people, and it is not unless you have a left-handed child, or are left-handed yourself that you really notice things. I buy my daughter left-handed scissors, as I don't want her getting frustrated with right-handed scissors and the Wii is set up for her left-handed.

In the past, left handed guitars were often difficult to find and typically more expensive than regular right handed guitars. Today, a quick search on the web shows there is an abundance of children's left hand guitars, and my view is that you should do things that feel instinctive and natural, so I would definitely get a left-handed guitar for her. Right handed guitars can be converted to left handed, typically by changing the nut and restringing. Although not terribly expensive, this is a job for an experienced luthier, and probably not worth doing on a cheap childs guitar. Great childrens guitars can be sourced at very reasonable prices; these days, even the cheapest guitars are perfectly adequate for the young learner.

Some children are ambidextrous, so it may not matter either way, and it is worth trying to discover which is their predominant hand. Give a child a guitar and see how they instinctively hold it. When I first picked up a guitar I held it left-handed, but someone told me I was holding it 'incorrectly' - and so reversed it and learnt right-handed. I learnt to write right-handed, yet play pool left-handed, so I guess I must have been ambidextrous as a child.

Otis Rush - So Many RoadsIn the days when left handed guitars were hard to find, players often learned on a regular guitar turned upside down, often without even restringing - pictured here, bluesmen Otis Rush

Electric or acoustic?

The choice of whether to learn on an electric or acoustic guitar is not affected by the students dexterity, as long as they have access to a genuine left-handed guitar. Converted right hand electric guitars are not adviseable due primarily to the positioning of the controls, but also the depth of body cutaways on certain models. In general, younger players will find an acoustic guitar more practical, whilst teens may prefer an electric as their second guitar.

Learning at home, learning at school

Teaching a left hand guitar playing child should not be an issue. I hear tales of right-handed teachers that don't want to teach left-handed pupils. But, in fact, they can be much easier to teach, since the tutor merely has to sit in front of them, allowing the student to mirror their actions. This is the same reason learning guitar online is easier for the left hand guitar player than for a right-hand guitar player. Naturally younger children benefit far more from supervised, rather than independent study. If you do not play yourself your child will need some help. Many schools offer guitar tuition for left and right handed students alike, and it is a very good idea to enrole your child in these courses if available. They can supply left handed instruments and provide tuition as part of a regular school day. This is an excellent way to find out whether playing an instrument is right for your child without unnecessary outlay should they give up a week later.

There are several excellent books produced specifically for left-handed beginners (see some of the better titles below) and working through these with a tutor is probably the easiset and most methodical way for younger children to learn. A left hand chord book is really useful! Older children who are serious about the guitar can benefit from the very many online guitar courses and free lessons on video sharing sites such as youtube and vimeo. As a left hand guitar player, one simply has to sit in front of the screen, and mirror the actions in front of you. It is like learning to play looking in a mirror (except your reflection can play better!) and of course, you can pause as required.

Left Handed Childrens Guitar Method
Hal Leonard Guitar Method - Left Handed Version
Picture Chord Encyclopedia for Left-Handed Guitarists

With the Internet there really should be no extra difficulty for the left hand guitar player. Finding guitars is easy: most of the major guitar brands now produce left-handed versions of their main acoustic and electric models. So if your child wants to play guitar, and they are left-handed, let them learn the right way, with a left-handed guitar!