Left Handed?

My child is left handed.

I am a right-handed parent of a left-handed child. I share that with you so that you will know that I completely understand what it's like to try and sort out a world that is, in essence, designed backwards from what my child needed to make things work. From handwriting to scissors, notebooks to music lessons, it was as much a mystery of how to best help him as if was to him just why so many things seemed set up wrong for how he used his hands! When my child was young, I remember asking every left-handed adult I met for tips and helpful hints.

When it comes to playing ukulele, you really have two ways you can approach handling left-handedness

What won't work.

You (your child) cannot simply flip the ukulele in position, follow the rest of my teaching, and expect success. That will not work. Here's why.

The strings on a ukulele are all individually tuned (1A, 2E, 3C, 4G). When you simply swap sides, the strings are now in reverse order (1G, 2C, 3E, 4A). If you follow the chord charts as shown. A finger meant to be on the G string will instead be on the A string, and the sound will be wrong. Chords are meant to be simultanous soundings of pitches that sound good, or, well, harmonious together. That is NOT what you will get by flipping the uke.

My usual approach

To be honest, I encourage my players - left handed OR right handed - to all learn to play in the same playing position (ukulele neck in front of the left shoulder). Here's why.

When playing the ukulele, or any stringed instrument, both hands are at work. Unlike piano, however, the hands are not performing mirror tasks. The right-hand will be strumming for beginners (finger picking tends to come later). This is an easier fine motor task that placing fingers on the fret-board for playing chords. Finger placement for playign chords is more demanding in terms of precisou and strength, and is the task of the left-hand in the traditional playing position. As a result, the left-handed learner actually has a distinct advantage over her right-handed peers.



But sometimes...

Remember how I told you that I'm a parent of a left-handed child?

I've also spent years working with students. I understand - and empathize - that sometimes people who are left-hand dominant simply want their difference accommodated. Most of my students are willing to give my usual approach (at left) a try. Most of them find success with it.

But sometimes, students just aren't willing to give it a try.

In this situation, the playing position can be changed (and, resultingly, the roles of the hands switch), if the player has a "left-handed" instrument.

Left-handed ukuleles have several differences.

  1. The strings are in the opposite order, so chord formations work for the student.

  2. Two pieces of the ukulele are adjusted (physically changed) to properly accommodate the different thicknesses of the strings. They may look similar to the eye, but each string is actually a different diameter. Strings in a different order mean the nut (the small piece at the top of the fretboard, usually, white or black) and the saddle (a small piece, usually white, that sits on top of the bridge at the bottom where strings are secured) must be adjusted to properly seat the strings.

Where do I find Left-handed ukuleles?

WHat about the one I already bought?

If you already have a "right handed" ukulele and are really handy, you should be able to take the ukulele to your local music shop and have them make the switch, If so, check to see if they will adjust the nut and the saddle. If they will not, or tell you it's not necessary... Well, first, I disagree. Strings that slide out of place are fustrating for young players as well as their parents. But really, if they won't adjust the nut and saddle, then you can just do it yourself by swapping the order of the strings. The YouTube video at right shows the process for removing and replacing the strings.

If you have not yet purchased a ukulele and you are sure your learner will insist on an alternate playing position...

Then you might just want to purchase a left-handed ukulele at the outset. At right is a picture of the left-handed version of the Ranch Conert Ukulele that I use daily in teaching. It's a little workhorse at a reasonable price.

You can find many other options on Amazon by running a search on the terms "left-handed ukulele." Just be wary of settling for a "bargain" price. A reasonable starter instrument should still be good quality.