Updated: Jun 25, 2021
When I was growing up in the 90’s (yeah, the greatest decade ever), I remember in elementary school the teachers asking us if we were left or right handed. The class poll would take place in two waves. First the ‘righties’ would raise their hands followed by the ’lefties’. I remember as clear as day that the wave from the righties was a tsunami while the lefties were but a ripple. Like 90% in my class were right handed! Who knows, maybe a few lefties were peer pressured into years of pretending to write right handed (no wonder some of my friends had horrible penmanship… haha). But still, the ratio was dramatic. As a righty, my sympathy goes out to all you lefties living in a righty world.
Remember these chairs in school?
Or scissors, cameras, and getting ink on your hands when you write? Oh man, lefty struggles are real!
And this same bias has found its way into the music world. Go into any music store and ask for any instrument… in a lefty design. Most likely they‘ll say “shucks”, and tell you they don’t carry any. And this extends to our precious ukulele.
I can’t remember how many times someone’s asked me if we carry left handed models. Like that old saying goes, if I got a dollar every time someone asked me that question I’d have a ‘lambo’………. on the moon (🦍💎🙌🏼). Sheesh, they don’t even have a left handed emoji, just a palm up right hand!
And to make things personal, two of my sons are left handed! So when teaching my son Ben the ukulele, I had to figure how to teach him.
This post is dedicated to all you lefties out there. The forgotten 10% in society. And my son’s Victor and Ben. Dad’s got you!
So for you righties reading this, here are some struggles lefty ukulele players know all too well...
-You can’t just grab any ukulele and jam it.
-Lefty models, if you find one, are always more expensive.
-Tablature is always right hand oriented. Good luck finding learning materials.
-Being challenged by righties to learn the ukulele the ”right” way.
-Learning how to do you own ukulele set ups.
So if you‘re a righty out there count your blessing! There are many. And for all you lefties wanting to learn the ukulele, here are some things you can do to make your journey a lot easier.
Buy A Right Handed Model
I know this sounds counterintuitive but hear me out. Like I mentioned above, finding a left handed ukulele is like finding a needle in a haystack. And what are the odds of it being one you’ll love? Probably nil. And add in the fact that left handed models are more expensive and you can see why its a hard pass. But if you absolutely need a cutaway, or arm bevel, get a left handed model. But if those things are trivial to your playing, I recommend getting a right handed ukulele. This will ensure you’ll find the ”right“ ukulele since there will be a plethora to choose from (I just love that word).
In order for a lefty to play a right handed ukulele they can just learn to play right handed. Yikes! I bet that wasn’t the answer you were looking for, but some lefties choose to do this. They force themselves to play this way. To go against their natural tendencies. Like a student being forced to write with their non dominant hand because the other is in a cast. It can be done, but it‘s a rough road. An easier way is to learn the ukulele upside down.
Since the ukulele is a right handed, the nut is already slotted for the strings to be tuned and played with a right hand orientation. This means you can’t just reverse the string order and play. Doing this may cause buzzing issues with strings not fitting correctly in the slots. So you will still tune them normally. This is why you would have to learn the ukulele upside down. More specifically hold the chords upside down. This will allow you to play a right handed ukulele in a left handed position. You’d be able to strum and pick notes with your dominant hand. So instead of playing the C chord, on the 3rd fret, 1st string. You’d hold the chord with your right hand, 3 fret, 4th string! And then proceed to learn all your chords like this.
Now another thing to consider is that your strum patterns would need to be reversed as well since the chords would sound different being played in reverse. Instead of strumming DD-U-U-DU, you‘d strum UU-D-D-UD to achieve the the same sound. Remember you are playing the ukulele literally upside down when playing it left handed. So everything, even the strumming pattern, will need augmenting. Now the greatest benefit to learning this method is that you can pick up any right handed ukulele and play it. Plus right handed players will be astounded at you ability to do things upside down!
Change The Nut
Now the most complex fix if your a left handed learner is to change out the nut. Most repair shops and music stores can do this for you. They can pop out the original right handed nut, and install and slot one for left handed orientation. This way you can play a right handed ukulele in the left handed position while holding the chords in the proper configurations. Plus you wouldn’t have to learn strumming patterns in reverse. You would be a mirrored doppelgänger if you were playing next to a right handed player. No you may have an issue if your ukulele has a compensated saddle to help with intonation, so if yours does, you may have to flip it around as well.
For my sons this is what I did for them. This way when they‘re grown, they won’t be able to “borrow” my precious right handed ukuleles…. Haha!
So there you have it! A post for all the left handed players in the world. Don’t think I forgot about you and this very important issue. I hope it helps you on your journey. And if you‘re a parent with a left handed child, I hope this encourages you to get them started on their ukulele journey.
Keep jamming and aloha!
Ladies and gentlemen.... that's Kurt Colbain!