Learning to play the violin is awesome, but how do you decide which type of violin to choose when you are left-handed?
There are both right-handed and left-handed violins available and if you are just getting started it can be overwhelming to make a decision. Even though most people play on a right-handed instrument, you might wonder if learning the other way around might benefit you in the long run.
Before you buy a violin and all supplies, it’s important to have knowledge about the different options for left-handed violinists. The more informed you are, the easier it will be to make the right decision from the start. That is why in this post, I put together information about left-handed playing and tips to help you decide with which hand you would like to start learning.
Let’s start with the most important questions you might have wondered about.
Is There a Difference Between a Left and Right Handed Violin?
Yes! A left handed violin is a mirror image of a right handed violin.
- The strings are reversed
- The bridge is flipped
- The sound post is on the opposite side.
- Depending on whether you use a center chinrest or not, your chinrest may be flipped as well.
Can You Play Violin Left Handed?
The simple answer is yes.
There are many left handed violin players. Generally, most left handed violin players choose to learn how to play the violin right handed, meaning with a right handed violin set up.
How to Decide Whether to Play Left-handed Violin?
As a left-handed player there are many things to consider when choosing on what type of violin to play. Whether you’re considering comfort, instrument availalibity or other factors, choosing the right instrument is a major part of starting this exciting new hobby.
Although there is no solution that works for every left-handed player, there are some general things to think about to choose the right setup for your needs.
Choose a violin that fits your playing style
One of the most gratifying reasons to learn the violin is playing your favourite style of music with others. After reaching a certain playing level, you will have many options to play with others: in bands, local jamsessions, ensembles, orchestra’s, duo’s and more.
In fiddling and other alternative styles, left-handed violin playing is generally no problem. Seating can easily be adjusted to your playing style.
Many fiddlers, folk players and some soloists who are left handed, play left hand dominant. There is no synchronized playing so they don’t have to worry about hitting anyone with their bow!
Kimberly Fraser is a left handed fiddler and step dancer from Nova Scotia who plays on a left-handed violin.
Her left-handed set-up accomodates her very accurate and precise left-hand fiddle bowing.
When playing as a solo classical player, left-handed player normally works out perfectly fine too!
However, if you are interested in playing in a classical ensemble settings in the future, playing on a left-handed violin might pose more difficulties. The orchestra would have to rearrange their seating to accommodate for a left-handed player. If they did not, the bowing would look out of sync and be a distraction. Some orchestra’s might even decide not to accept a left-handed violin player for this very reason, but there is no codified rule. It might not be the same for a local or community orchestra.
If playing in classical ensembles is one of your playing goals, that could be a consideration to choose to play on a regular right-handed violin.
Choose a violin that feels most comfortable
The type of violin you play can make a big difference in your learning experience. No matter if you decide to play right- or left-handed, the main reason to choose for a type of instrument should be your comfort.
When it comes to choosing the most comfortable violin for left-handed players, there is no one-size fits all solution. Some left dominant players experience a right-handed violin more comfortable – and some experience it the other way around!
Comfort Benefits of Playing on a Left-Handed Violin
Left-handed violins are designed so the player can use the left hand for bowing and the right hand for the fingering. Especially when learning certain bowing techniques, it might be an advantage for left-handed players to use their dominant hand as the bowing hand.
In the book “Playing Violin and Fiddle Left Handed” by Ryan Thomson several amateur left handed musicians were trained to a moderate level of skill in right handed playing on violin, guitar, and mandolin. After they all purposely took the time and effort needed to relearn to play their instruments left handed. The players in this case study found that they could actually play better left handed.
Comfort Benefits of Playing on a Right-Handed Violin
However, it is being said that there are also advantages for left-handed players on right-handed violins. For instance, your fingers might naturally be able to move faster and more accurately on the fingerboard.
One of the most virtuosic and legendary players of all time is Nicollo Paganini. Experts speculate that his virtuosic left-hand technique might be caused by the fact that he was left-handed.
When playing on a regular violin, you will be able to play quick passages in the left hand with your dominant hand.
If you want to choose primarily for comfort, the best way would be to try out both a regular and a left-handed violin in a shop to feel what feels most natural to you.
In which hand do you naturally want to hold the bow? What seems to feel more natural?
You might want to play for several months on both instruments to truly make the best decision. Setting up an experiment with yourself like that might seem daunting, but if you plan to play the violin for a lifetime it might be worth the effort!
Nicola Benedetti, a Grammy Award winning, is a left-handed violinist who plays on a regular violin
Born in Scotland. Nicola was the youngest leader of the National Children’s Orchestra in Great Britain. She won the BBC Young Musician of the Year at 16, is left handed, but plays right handed. This gives her left hand technique a great advantage.
Choose a violin that accomodates disabilities
If you’re not disabled, it’s easy to take the option to play the violin with either hand for granted. Those who suffer from physical disabilities do not have that luxury.
Depending on the type and severity of the physical disability, a player might benefit greatly from switching to a left-handed set-up.
Many classical and folk players with disabilities alike have succesfully learned to play the violin on a left-handed instrument, thus been enabled to keep or start playing!
An inspiring example of this is Ryan Thomson, a.k.a. Captain Fiddle. You can see him play in the video below when he was still playing right-handed:
After developing focal dystonia, he re-learned to play the instrument with opposite hands! In his own words, “this was my cure for my focal dystonia disability”.
Choose a violin that sounds great
Which violinist does not like to play on a fine instrument? A beautiful sounding violin can play a big factor in our will to pick it up more, practice more and get better.
As the trend to build left-handed violins is still fairly recent, there are many more right-handed violins to choose from that sound great. In case you would like to play on a valuable and fine left-handed violin, you might need to find a violin builder to custom build one. Most violin builders have more experience building right-handed instruments, which might have an effect on the quality of these instruments.
You might be thinking: “But, Julia, can’t I just turn my right-handed violin into a left-handed violin?”. Unfortunately, no.
You can’t simply turn a standard violin into a left handed one, by stringing it in the reversed order. It is a mirror image and therefore crafted differently. The peg holes need to be reversed in their location to suit the string setup. Similarly, inside the body of the instrument the base bar and sound post will need to be repositioned, because the bridge is turned around.However, there is another possibility: playing a right-handed violin left-handed!
Ashley MacIsaac is an award winning Canadian Fiddler who plays on a regular right-handed violin, using his left-hand as a bow hand!
His 3 Juno Awards include:
- 1996 Best New Solo Artist
- 1996 Best Roots Traditional Album – Solo
- 1997 Best Instrumental Artist.
He plays a right handed fiddle with opposite hands!
Choose a violin that your local teacher wants to teach
Taking violin lessons and getting feedback will help you to progress quicker and is the perfect incentive to study.
If you have local teachers that are playing the violin right-handed, practicing on a right-handed instrument can become much more convenient. Even though I don’t necessarily agree with their opinion, there are still many teachers who are not willing to teach a student to play on a left-handed violin.
If you have to go out of your way to get access to a teacher that is willing to teach you left-handed violin playing, progress might be slower. Of course, nothing can stop a determined violinists, but keep in mind that feedback and mirorring other great players are a major part of your progress. The more varied, available, and convenient the opportunities are to take lessons, the better.
Choose a violin that has meaning to you
This might not be the most important factor when it comes to making a decision, but it can be desisive for some. If you inherited a right-handed violin from family, the instrument itself might have a special meaning to you. In that case the decision to learn to play on a regular violin is straightforward. Another benefit of this situation is that if you have an instrument readily available, you can also directly start playing and practicing!
Ultimately, it all comes down to choosing what feels good (and some trial-and-error, too)
Whether you go for a regular instrument or a left-handed violin, it all depends on your personal preference.
If you are just starting out, you might want to try to play on a regular violin first, to keep all your options open. If you, however, feel like playing on a left-handed violin helps you to feel more comfortable in your practice, go ahead and learn to play the violin left-handed.
Feeling like it isn’t right for you anymore to play left-handed? There’s also nothing wrong with getting back to your regular violin. You might have to try out a few different violins to find out what is the best fit, but it’s worth a little trial-and-error to learn what works for you and helps you to become a better player.
Who Are Famous Left Handed Violinists You Should Know?
Richard Barth 1850-1908
A left handed German violinist, composer, conductor and music teacher, who studied with the great Jose Joachim. Barth used his right hand for fingering technique and used his left hand of bowing technique. His Ciacona in B minor is a wonderful tribute to Bach’s Chaconne.
Paavo Berglund 1929-2012
A Finnish conductor and violinist born in Helsinki. As a child Berglund played on a violin that his grandfather had made for him.
He was a violinist in the first section of the Finnish Radio Symphony. But he did not play right handed, seating was arranged to account for his left-handed playing!
He has won many awards over the years and is renowned for his conduction of Sibelius.
Charlie Chaplin 1889-1977
Famous for his silent film, this self-taught lefty is known for carrying his violin everywhere he went.
Rudolf Kolisch 1896-1978
A violinist from Vienna. He was the leader of both the Kolisch Quartet and the ProArte Quartet.
Rudolf learned the violin as a child as a right handed player. Due to an injury on his left middle finger, he learned to play the violin left handed.
Niccolo Paganini 1782-1840
The most renowned violinist of his day. Known for his 24 Caprices. Most historians and violinists believe Paganini was left hand dominant, though there is no concrete proof of this.
Where Can I Find a Left Handed Violin for Sale?
There was time when a left handed violin was specially made by a violin maker.
Today you can also get a more affordable student violin for left-handed players.
Left-handed student violins
Left-handed electric violins
If you are looking for an electric violin, you can look for Cecilio violins.
Unfortunately they were unavailable on Amazon US/UK, Fiddlershop or Thomann at the moment of creating this blog post, but normally this brand does offer a left-handed electric violin.
If You Have a Left-handed Violin, Can You Set It Up to Fit a Left Handed Player?
Yes. You can buy both a chin and shoulder rest made specifically for you. Here are the most popular to choose from.
Guarneri model left hand chin rest
Gewa Chinrest Teka
Tamarin Wood Violin Guarneri Chinrest Left Hand
Wolf Secondo Left Hand Shoulder Rest
As I have shown, if you have dreams of learning to play the violin and are left hand dominant, that isn’t a reason that should stop you from getting started. You use both hands when playing the violin. You may even find being left-handed is an advantage on a regular violin!
However, if you have personal reasons why a left-handed violin fits you better, there are many options available for you to find the most comfortable way to do this.
No matter what you choose, I hope you will soon be enjoying to play and practice on your new violin!