One Hand to Rule Them All: A glimpse into the fallacy of the left-handed disadvantage, from the perspective of another Southpaw

April 23, 2019

As a left-handed person, I am familiar with all of the inconveniences of living in a right-handed world.  The discomfort of doing basic grade-school crafts involving scissors, being the oddball at tennis camp that's hazardous to stand next to during demonstrations if you're right-handed, and having a perpetual pen stain down the side of your hand after every essay written at school are all constant struggles. When I was young and starting to learn how to play classical guitar, I was asked by my teacher if I wanted to play a left-handed guitar.  Having already experienced the isolation of being a lefty in a group activity that involves any kind of hand- dominance issues, I immediately declined and wanted to learn to play like everyone else.

My decision to conform to the normal technique of the classical guitar did not disappoint me. I never once experienced any kind of discomfort or disadvantage by playing "right-handed". My technique was always solid and I stayed right with the learning curve of everyone else in my group. My parents and teachers always thought- "Well she played tennis right-handed, she must be ambidextrous. That's why she can play so well like this." How my mother or anyone else who knew me could label me as ambidextrous after seeing my attempts at penmanship with my right-hand I will never know. The point is that I am not ambidextrous at all. I'm just like any other left-handed person. So why play right-handed?

First of all, if one thinks about the different aspects of playing any kind of guitar, the conclusion drawn is that there are often very intricate and physically demanding movements required of the left hand (from the perspective of a right-handed guitar). For example, any Bach fugue requires a fair amount of left-hand choreography in order to play every voice with the proper duration and melodic attention. While the finger independence of either hand is important and may prove difficult regardless of which hand is dominant, the left hand will present some serious challenges- even for an advanced player. Therefore, how could being left-handed hurt this progress?

So if this information is in fact true and the dominant hand should be used as the "universal" left hand, why don't we switch right-handed players to left-handed guitars? Although there is no exact scientific proof, there is evidence that this rule doesn't apply across the board- it has to do with the 10 percent rule.

The 10 percent rule of hand dominance states that a person's dominant hand has about 10 percent more grip strength than their non-dominant hand. However, in a study recorded in the US National Library of Medicine, the 10 percent rule was shown to only apply to right-handed people. The difference in hand strength for right-hand dominance was on average about 12 percent in favor of the dominant hand. In left-handed test subjects, the difference was actually a negative percentile, meaning that some test subjects actually had stronger grip strengths in the right hand. While the left hand in a left-handed subject is significantly more coordinated, it is not necessarily weaker.

So, why do left-handed guitars even exist? Perhaps it's a personal choice or a psychological block against playing something labeled as a "right-handed" instrument. Do these social conformities create problems for left-handed students in their development? Additionally, why is there not more available information as to why one is preferable over the other? One can peruse guitar forums and find confused parents and teachers asking the question- what do I do about my left-handed student? The diversity in answers and explanations to each side of the argument are proof that this territory should be explored in the scientific and musical community.

-Kathryn Lambert

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