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Lefty playing righty (again?)

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by phii, Mar 20, 2013.

  1. phii


    Dec 20, 2012
    Hanoi, Vietnam
    Greetings fellow TBer. I know, I know. This is one of the most asked question on TB. But, I never get the answer I need.

    The thing is. I just started to play the bass for almost a year. I'm a lefty, but since I was given a righty bass for free, I had no choice but to play righty. I have good hand co-ordination, my left hand is progressing really fast, but my right hand (the plucking hand) is pretty slow. I'm pretty bad at tremolo and extremely awkward when holding a pick, or trying to slap the bass or do the gallop technique.

    My question is: should I start all over again and change into playing lefty? Or should I stick to the unnatural way? Will it affect my playing in a long run?
    What's the advantage of both way?
  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Well, here are my thoughts:

    Playing the bass requires both hands. If you switch to a lefty bass, then you'll have your dominant left hand plucking the strings, BUT you'll be switching so your non-dominant right hand is fretting the notes (which is an important job, too). Some lefty players play lefty instruments, but there are also lots of lefty players who play "regular" right-handed instruments, because the fact is, playing bass requires coordinated effort of both hands.

    Now, let's talk a bit about the right-hand challenges you are facing. First of all, if you've only been playing for a year, you must be patient with yourself and set realistic goals---you probably won't be able to play extremely technical speed metal, for example! But can you play quarter notes and eighth notes in time with the metronome? Start with that easy exercise. Second, what exercises has your teacher taught you for right-hand plucking and picking technique? If you can tell us about the specific exercises and methods you are studying, we can help fine-tune your technique. If your answer is "I don't have a teacher and I am just figuring it out on my own" then that's your problem right there. A good teacher can show you proper technique and identify/correct any imperfections in your playing. ;)
  3. kevibass


    Sep 25, 2011
    play lefty and righty, see which side feels more natural, then go with that.
  4. Rich Treat

    Rich Treat

    Mar 29, 2010
    I would advise switching to a lefty bass, or flipping a righty bass over and playing it left handed. One of the first things that I learned as a bass player is that your rhythm hand (plucking hand) needs to be your dominant hand. Bass is a rhythm instrument, and your plucking hand is in charge of that, not the fretting hand. As an example to prove my point, you can play a rhythm line with only open strings and you should be able to make even an open string groove. If that is awkward for you to do with your right hand, then try it with your left.

    That may be a good test for you to see if you might want to make this switch. Just set a metronome, and play 1/8th notes on the open A string with your right hand plucking (the way you've been playing)(you can also change which string you are plucking every measure or two if you want). See how steady and consistent you can be over a long period of time (say 4-5 minutes straight) and if your hand gets tired. Then flip the bass over and do the same thing with your left hand. You may see right away that it is more comfortable and easier for you to be in time.

    Your non-dominant hand will follow your dominant hand, so if playing left handed is more comfortable your right hand will follow your left. I expect that it'd take some getting used to since you've been playing for a year already. But, someone who's been playing only a year probably has a lot of bad habits to correct anyway, so this may be the time to make that change before you get even more accustomed to playing right handed.
  5. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Rich Treat's logic is certainly sensible. I would however counter-point that the majority of pianists are right-handed, but play the accompaniment/rhythm (bass lines, chords, arpeggios, etc.) with their non-dominant left hand. This proves it *is* physically possible for right-handed humans to move their left hands with rhythmic accuracy (and vice versa).

    I would also argue that both hands are necessary for a bass player to create a rhythmic groove. If you look at the funkiest players (Rocco Prestia from Tower of Power for example) they have extremely well developed fretting hand technique. The plucking hand determines where a note starts, but the fretting hand determines how a note sustains and decays, which is equally important to playing a musically successful bass line.
  6. sacobass


    May 16, 2012
    Being left handed in a right handed world kinda stinks. I must say that although I am left handed I do several things right handed. I am also right-eye dominant (it does matter). I do very few things other than writing left handed because of this.

    I chose to play bass and guitar right handed simply because the availability of left-handed instruments being scarce. The only benefit that I saw at the time to playing left handed was seeing what someone else was playing and being able to replicate it easier because their fretting hand would be on the same side as my fretting hand when we face one another.

    If you do decide to play left handed there are companies that don't discriminate against lefties. Carvin makes instruments available custom order left handed at no additional charge, Warmoth also makes left handed aftermarket guitar parts for Fender style instruments and doesn't mark up for lefties. Ebay or GuitarCenter.com used page would be great places to buy left handed instruments.

    Hope this helps brother.
  7. Raymeous


    Jul 2, 2010
    San Diego
    ^ +1

    Of related importance, is the lack of options provided for the "south paws". Generally speaking most companies either do not make a lefty, or if they do you will be limited to a $100 cheapy or a $1000+ version available in your choice of black.... or black. Whichever price range you're looking at it will likely be at least 10% more than the righty version.

    :bag: Shameless Plug: I have to put this out because lefties are getting screwed in this regard, but Carvin offers their guitars and basses in lefties at no additional cost, same as fretted or fretless. Just FYI. Whoops was beaten to it.
  8. Rich Treat

    Rich Treat

    Mar 29, 2010
    Fair points, Mushroo. I would like to point out that I am definitely simplifying the intricacies of playing bass to make my point. By making a simple example my goal is to point out why it is important to make your plucking hand be the hand that is the most comfortable and capable of playing in time. By taking the fretting hand out of the equation for long enough to see which hand is most comfortable for plucking in time, a student can learn what might be best for them.

    You have to have good basic technique to be able to develop advanced technique like Rocco. Even with his left hand technique, his right hand endurance is what blows my mind. If your plucking hand is weak, it doesn't matter how good your fretting hand is.

    Your piano argument is logical, but piano and bass are just two different beasts. There is no such thing as a left handed piano for one, so left handed and right handed piano players have to learn to play basically the same way. On the other hand, there are tons of different bass players who play different ways because it is more comfortable for them.
  9. Rich Treat

    Rich Treat

    Mar 29, 2010
    Of course, I'm a righty, so advice from left-handed players will more relevant to your needs.
  10. maxpayneatlarge


    Mar 9, 2012
    Oddly enough, I'm right handed, but play left handed. I apparently have pretty good rhythm with my left hand plucking fingers...so I find that using my dominant hand for fretting very natural feeling.

    Finding left handed instruments in a local store is another issue though. You can generally find cheap left handed basses in a local store (in black of course). Once you want to step up to a MIM or American Fender or a Musicman though, you'll find that it's more difficult to find those without ordering one off some internet store, without being able to play it (check the return policies). As for usually being 10% more, what I have found is if you find them at small shops on the Internet, they'll usually work with you on price because they want to move that left handed inventory that they are having issues moving :p

    As for limited colors, that's usually true, although, Musicman makes their lefties in the same colors as the righties. Fender usually only has the choice of two of their colors.

    This is just what I've found in my experiences. I'm not saying that anything anyone else has said isn't true as that's probably been their experiences :)

  11. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I am right-handed as well, so I'll bow out of the conversation. :)

    I'll part with the hypothesis that, if Herbie Hancock can play Chameleon with his non-dominant hand, and Stevie Wonder can play Superstition with his non-dominant hand, and Willie "The Lion" Smith can play stride piano with his non-dominant hand, that a player's perceived inability to groove with the non-dominant hand is a mental block that can be overcome through practice, not a physical/neurological limitation of the human body. :)
  12. pkstone


    Apr 13, 2011
    (from another lefty named "Phil")

    I can only tell you that I started out trying to play right-handed bass. I tried it for a couple of months, but was making extremely slow progress. I went out and bought myself a lefty Jazz for my birthday, and very suddenly, I started enjoying the instrument, and making much more rapid progress.

    I appreciate Rich Treat's post; usually righties tend to say "just get over it." I don't argue that a lefty can't learn to play righty (there are dozens of examples on this group alone), but I think there is something more natural to driving the rhythm with the dominant hand, and it's not worth giving that up just to have access to more basses.
  13. remainthesame


    Sep 24, 2008
    Im a lefty, i play right handed. in fact i CANT play left handed (ive tried and failed many times) if i was you i would try to stick to playing right handed. lefty basses are more expensive and have less variety. plus you have to learn everything backwards. in the end though its all about what feels better for you.
  14. Rich Treat

    Rich Treat

    Mar 29, 2010
    Thank you, pkstone.

    To clarify, I also don't want to sound like I'm saying "it can't be done." Of course, someone can work through any challenge and learn to be a better player because of their hard work. But if one way of playing is more natural for you, then why slow your growth down by playing the opposite way?
  15. Bassdirty


    Jul 23, 2010
    Im a "lefty plays righty" too.

    If it feels good do it. Might I again mention..
    there are WAYY more options for basses /guitars for rightys..so thats a good enought reason.

    that ,and you already started doin righty.

    And the best reason: P-nut from 311 is a lefty play righty.. tell me he aint got rhythm. :bassist:

    AND theres no lefty bassist smiley :bassist:
  16. phii


    Dec 20, 2012
    Hanoi, Vietnam
    Thanks for the answer guys!

    As for my teacher, he gives me rhythmic exercises like tremolos, quarter note triplets and chromatic run. I always get the idea, but when it comes to the fingers, it always run off the tempo. Although I can now (barely) play tricky basslines like The pot, Hysteria or Who did you think I was, my plucking is not dynamic enough. I always put emphasis on the wrong note, and it makes no difference between my dominant Finger (the index) and my secondary finger (the middle).

    Finally, he advised me to switch into lefty, stated that the plucking hand is more important than the fretting one, and it's natural for the dominant hand to do the rhythmic part. I agree with this point of view, as I'm approaching tricky plucking hand techniques like Steve Harris's gallop and Slapping. Buying a lefty bass is also not a problem to me. He would also help me reverse my bass, as to restring a righty into a lefty.

    However, since my teacher is not a lefty, his opinion is not entirely precise. I come to TB to ask if any lefty have faced the same problem as I am facing now.
  17. Rich Treat

    Rich Treat

    Mar 29, 2010
    It sounds like you'll get a lot of conflicting answers from TB. Some lefties play right handed basses, and some play left handed basses. The key is to find what works best for YOU.

    My best advice is to trust your teacher. He is the one witnessing your playing and your growth. You're paying him for his knowledge and experience, so trust in that. If he'll help you set up your current bass to play left handed, then there is no loss. If it works for you, problem solved. If it doesn't work for you, then you can always switch back. It is best to take the opportunity to discover for yourself.

  18. I'm a left handed writer, but I do a lot of things righty- shoot basketball, swing baseball bat, golf, hockey stick. As far as using my left hand, I catch and throw baseballs with my left hand (it's a problem). I DO however, play right handed basses and guitars.
    I remember being a young kid (before I played bass) and doing a 4 finger gallop motion on tables. My dad (zero musical ability) did it all the time; he always 'galloped' the William Tell Overture main theme, for whatever reason. I copied this, but on my left hand, as I'm a lefty.
    Since I got my first bass at age 14 in 2006, I've lost this technique on my left hand. I can only gallop on my right hand now. I had right-hand galloping mastered by 2008. Run to the Hills is second nature to me.

    I guess my point is to stick with it. Both hands are equally as important as far as speed, strength, and dexterity. So give it time, your hands will learn what to do.
  19. bander68


    Jan 29, 2013
    Lefty playing righty, not very advanced yet. I'm quite satisfied so far with having my dominant hand on the fretboard, because at this point that's where the "action" is. Now y'all have me wondering...

    I also teach beginning percussion classes, and that's one SERIOUSLY right-hand-dominant area. The method we use is literally called "right-hand lead" method. I've adapted as a teacher to be able to force it, and now it comes naturally, even though you can clearly hear my left hand is still stronger when I play snare drum rudiments.

    A bass pro friend of mine suggested to me that I take some of those beginning percussion exercises and practice them to strengthen my right hand 2 fingers. They're usually basic 8ths... RRRR LLLL RRLL RLRL....or paradiddles like RLRR LRLL RLRR LRLL...and now I have an issue because my dominant right hand finger is my index (L) finger and I'm doing right hand lead exercises with my weak finger on my weak hand as the lead....
    It's not going very fast right now, but it's slowly coming together.

    The point is - if you practice it, eventually you'll adapt.
  20. Bassguitr123


    Mar 20, 2013
    I get what your saying, but to counter it, I play righty bass. My non-dominant left hand can play the frets with great timing and speed, the non dominant hand is designed for rhythmic agility, such of what is used to play piano.

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