Need help: my student is left handed

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Ciacchi, Mar 14, 2017.

  1. Ciacchi


    Mar 14, 2017
    This year I decided I can play the bass good enough to start giving private lessons to boost my income (no need to say gigs don't really pay rents... not that the lessons do, but that's not the point). A pianist friend of mine set up this music school and I joined in as the bass teacher. Today I got my first student, a 18yo boy, and gave him my first lesson. Everything went fairly smoothly, but he told me one thing that got me thinking:

    The thing is: he is really just starting. Never studied theory, never played any instruments before but has a lot of musician friends and chose the bass. He doesn't have a bass, so I take mine to the lessons, and he said he will borrow one from a friend. AND he's left handed.

    The way he mentioned to me was "yeah, I'm really excited about playing the bass, it's just going to be a drag to learn to play it reversed". When he told me that I said something to the effect that since he was just starting out, it was no problem to study the bass right-handed, since he will find the very first hand movements difficult regardless of which way he chooses, and it could be a good opportunity do develop his right hand.

    That said, afterwards I felt a little uncomfortable. He will kinda need to make a big decision now: to learn to play a right handed bass upside down; to learn to play the right handed bass right handed; to go and find a left-handed bass OR find a right handed bass that he could restring (kinda Jimi Hendrix-like). And me being his first ever music teacher have to help him in this decision, and I'm not really sure if what I told him is 100% true.

    I've seen in some threads here that there are lots of left handed bass players that play just like a right handed person with no trouble, but I'd like to know how the process was, if it was painful in any way. The cousin of a friend of mine (a 10yo girl) is left handedly trying to play a right handed violin, and apparently it's very frustating to her. I wouldn't want to make a burden out of this kid's first contact with music.

    That being said, however, I can't restring my bass every time I give him lessons (also because I wouldn't be able to play anymore...), I don't know if he will be able to restring his friend's bass and I find it really really unlikely that he can 1) find and 2) afford a decent left handed bass here, plus the fact that if he ever needs to borrow a bass for an emergency (the band is on the stage, 10 min to start playing, the A string broke!) it will make things much more difficult. So for the sake of practicality, I want to stick to the first answer I gave him, but I would really much appreciate the insight of the community to guide me through this.
  2. Zooberwerx

    Zooberwerx Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2002
    Virginia Beach, VA
    Hand him a tennis racket and ask him to play air guitar and use the resulting RH vs LH orientation for guidance.

    Remyd, RickyT, vdbass and 6 others like this.
  3. gjohnson441496


    Dec 14, 2014
    Make him play right handed and stand him in front of a mirror.
    RickyT and CooWoo like this.
  4. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    I'm lefthanded, and play right handed. To me it makes sense - you fretting hand is your dominant hand. And if he is playing with friends, it will be easier to swap.
  5. dxb


    Dec 25, 2016
    I'm left-handed but play right-handed. I made that decision initially because I already had a right-handed guitar and just decided to give it a go. After a while it wasn't too bad, but the thing is I never really got to the point where I was 100% comfortable playing right-handed. My weakness continues to be anything involving fast strumming or precise picking and I think its because I just don't have an extremely high level of control over my right hand/arm.

    That said, when I started playing bass, I found that as long as I was playing with my fingers and not strumming or playing with a pick, I had no problems at all- I even preferred it. Something about not having to move my whole arm made it a lot easier in terms of control. You mentioned a leftie trying to play right-handed violin and having a really hard time, which makes sense because that also requires moving your entire arm.

    As far as advice, I'd have him try playing right-handed and see how it goes. He might get used to it really quick, or if not, at some point he could still decide to switch over.
    Eikari, bobba66 and Ciacchi like this.
  6. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism

    I'm left-handed and I play right-handed as well. That being said, I think it will be a really bad idea to force right-handedness upon him. My father is old enough to have lived in the dark ages (the 1960s). Kids who wrote left-handed were corrected to write right-handed, the left hand was the devil's hand. My father has terrible handwriting because of this.

    When I was younger all of my friends had guitars (hence I got bass). When I was at their homes and playing their guitars it never felt odd to me but I also didn't know there was an alternative. I also do many activities right-handed. By the time I got to play a lefty I was playing for a while and it felt really odd. If the kid already desires to play left-handed, you should respect that as it will be much easier on him. I would show him both ways and ask him which feels more comfortable. Yes it sucks buying left-handed basses but, as a left-handed person, he is already used to living in a right-handed world. Additionally, why do you possibly need to re-string your bass because the student is left-handed? A left-handed player plays exactly like a right-handed one just with the hands reversed.
    Bioflava likes this.
  7. Ciacchi


    Mar 14, 2017
    You spotted the problem: my girlfriend studies psychology, and she strongly advised me to NOT teach him right handed (and cited the left handed violinist thing), exactly because it could feel too imposing to him, as it was to your dad and our violinist student.

    When I talked about restringing the bass I thought of how Jimi Hendrix plays guitar: instead of E A D G, it would go G D A E. Actually I assumed this is how lefties play it, but I don't really know. So when you are playing a left handed bass the G string is farthest from the ground? Isn't that a bit confusing? I'm kind of imaginig a piano where the highest keys are on the left side and the lowest on the right side... Anyway, that could solve my problem of showing him both ways to play without having a left handed bass.
    Bioflava likes this.
  8. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism

    I think Jimi just turned a guitar upside but I could be wrong. Left-handed instruments are usually tuned exactly like right-handed ones with the lowest string being closest to your face.

    Do you know staff or will you be teaching him with TAB? Either way, the notes are all lined out the same.
  9. Ciacchi


    Mar 14, 2017
    Exactly, so if I turn a regular bass upside down, the string closest to my face will be the highest, right? So to get the real feel of a left handed bass I'd have to restring it... I'm almost sure Jimi restrung it. There's a famous old brazilian guitarist, Canhoto da Paraíba (it's an artistic name, it translates to "The Left Handed from Paraiba"), that learned to play with a guitar turned upside down (lowest strings down), because he shared the same instrument with his many brothers. It's actually pretty amazing...

    I know staff, but won't be using it for now since he never had any music lessons in his life. But eventually I think I'd prefer it to use staff over tab, also because there would be no orientation problem...
  10. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Your girlfriend is trained to way over think things and she is acting upon her training.

    You just got testimony from a few guys who are left handed and play right handed with zero adverse effects.

    I will add mine to the list. I write and throw left handed. I play bass right handed and I'm so glad I do. 35 years now and zero issues.
  11. LeftyD


    Feb 22, 2017
    Las Vegas
    I am left handed. I tried right handed. No way. I envy the lefties that play right handed. So many more basses that you can choose from. See how he adapts or doesn't.
  12. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Send him to a store that has at least one lefty bass and one righty bass in stock. Until he tries both he won't know which is better for him.

    You were right to tell him that just because he's left handed it doesn't mean he is required to play bass that way.

    Give him the info. Let him decide.
    seang15, Gearhead17 and Ciacchi like this.
  13. My 2 cents' worth as an experimental psychologist and left-hander who plays right-handed: I'm not aware of any studies that reported problems when teaching a left-hander to play right-handed, unless Ciacchi meant that encouraging a lefty to do anything righty in general could cause issues. If there are studies addressing any of these problems, I'd like to read them.

    When I started out, I held the guitar the same way everyone else in the class did. Like another poster, I'm better at playing with my fingers than with a pick, but that just tells me I need to put in more time with a pick to get proficient. When you're starting, everything is new and some things will come more easily than others. In my guitar class, I got good at bar chords and fingerpicking faster than many other students, but struggled with a pick.
    Ciacchi likes this.
  14. mcarp555

    mcarp555 Guest

    Jul 14, 2013
    NO! If he is left-handed, then he should learn that way. No disrespect to the people that do it differently, but there is no need to screw this kid up just because it inconveniences you. If you can't teach him the way that's best for HIM, then politely decline. The idea that "he can learn either way at the start" is bogus. I could no more learn to play righty than you could learn to play left-handed when you started out. There are more choices than ever before for the LH player, and forcing yourself to conform to suit the masses is just wrong. Whenever these threads surface, there's always a slew of guys who go on about "I learned to play backwards/upside-down/against my natural inclination", etc. Big deal. How many people have struggled to learn to play the "wrong" way for years, then give up in frustration because they simply can't do it? Those are the people you don't see on these threads talking about their failure to coordinate their hands properly. The idea of "forcing" children to do anything with their non-dominant hand should have ended in the 19th century.
  15. Worldeeeter

    Worldeeeter Inactive

    Mar 29, 2010
    Asheville, NC
    1. It's not your job to provide an instrument to him. It's great that he wants to learn, but he needs to have a bass, especially a lefty.
    2. If you teach him right-handed, you'll be doing him a huge favor. If he can learn right-handed, it will open up his options for gear in the future 1000x over. Lefty bass options are limited.

    I agree that, if the right-handed playing thing becomes an issue, and he cannot procure a left-handed instrument, you should probably walk.
    swarfrat likes this.
  16. dxb


    Dec 25, 2016
    I think it really depends on how strongly left-handed the student is, especially as it pertains to playing bass. Some lefties simply can't play right-handed and they definitely shouldn't be forced to. However, a lot of us can handle it fine, and I think it would be wrong to not at least encourage them to try right-handed first. Going that route will certainly save a lot of frustration down the line when they get a bad case of G.A.S. and see just how few options there are for left-handed basses.
    maxmaroon likes this.
  17. Amano


    May 5, 2015
    Planet earth
    ^ This 100%. If you think about it. The reasson to let your student play a righthanded instrument is because he has no bass and you don't have a lefthanded bass. Its no excuus. Not at all. Today there are many basses available for lefthanded players. Also at low costs. Look for Rondo Music, Schecter, Squier, Sire Marcus Miller and many more. I play lefthanded and I ' m glad my former teacher adviced me to.
  18. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    The majority of us in this thread have stated openly that we CHOSE to play right handed. I was not forced to do anything. I played 11 years if baseball left handed. I played tennis left handed. I wrote left handed.

    Perhaps people hounded you over it. If so, I hate it for you. But you are painting the issue with a very broad brush and assuming some mean and judgemental tactics were used on all of us. Far from it. I am a "victim" of nothing. And the world isn't full of "leftyists".

    I taught lessons for years. I had plenty of left handed students. I have all of them enough information to make an informed decision. I only had one that chose to play left handed and I taught him that way with no issues. But to say that I somehow used sinister tactics to force students to play bright handed under duress (especially being that I am also left handed) is ludicrous. I am aware that you didnt5point any fingers at me specifically, but you did imply a certain level of cruelty in ANYONE who would have the audacity to even bring it up to a lefty noob. Simply not so.

    The world is what it is. Not every bass is available in left handed. I am not a minority victim. I am a right handed bass player that has gotten steady gigs since I was 1986. :thumbsup:
    Impermanence likes this.
  19. IME (15 years of teaching private lessons), this is not always the case. Usually, and especially after a certain age, we have more rhythmic control in our dominant hand, which gives us an advantage with note value string plucking that can lead to faster progress with a stringed instrument.

    Yes, a beginner can learn either way. So could a veteran if forced to switch due to an injury. That's not really the point. I believe there is a natural handedness that lends itself to more intuition and progress with playing a stringed instrument and I always tried to defer to that.

    I hand an instrument to my students and have them try it both ways. I observe which hand is giving them an advantage with plucking or strumming. I ask them to tell me which one feels more comfortable. With younger students it tends to matter less, and I've seen it go both ways and occasionally something more like true ambidexterity, but most of the time we went with their established dominant handedness as the plucking hand.

    Entry-level left-hand basses are plentiful these days. No reason to routinely encourage all students into right-handedness. And lefties can mirror righties just fine during the lesson and learning process. They're used to doing it.
  20. mcarp555

    mcarp555 Guest

    Jul 14, 2013
    I agree strongly that the student needs to be the one to choose what is best for them. Sometimes that may mean not suggesting they learn to play "like everyone else" just because "more instruments are available" or some other nonsense. You are correct that I am not singling YOU out specifically (how could I?). But there are many, many teachers out there that cannot, will not consider what is best for the student. Just like there are many many people who sell instruments and would rather push what's in stock than have to bother ordering a LH instrument (and possibly never seeing the customer again for whatever reason). I've heard of luthiers who will not even work on LH guitars. There are a lot of people who stubbornly refuse to consider any option other than playing like the rest of the herd. Many other people just never think about it, and assume that it would be just as easy to play righty as not. As I said, no disrespect to the people who choose to play differently; you may be the exception in how you deal with your students, and that's not a problem from me. But you would be by far in the minority.

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