Anything Left-Handed > Recreations > Music and Lefthanders > Wind instruments

Wind instruments and left-handers

We often get queries from parents concerned that their left-handed child is not being allowed to play their chosen instrument in the most comfortable way for a left-hander.

One concerned mum contacted us on behalf of her 5 year old daughter Kerri   who had started to play the recorder and was progressing extremely well, playing as her left-handed mum did with her right hand at the top of the instrument.   Things began to go wrong when Kerri was told by her teacher to use her left hand to play the top notes, which she found very uncomfortable and thus dented her conficence and enthusiasm to play.   Why, asks her mum, does it matter?

Playing the recorder, the left hand takes the lead

Playing the recorder, the left hand takes the lead

We asked advice at the Royal College of Music and the Centre for Young Musicians.   Adopting the standard hand position for wind instruments is important, it seems, because although the recorder would appear to be pretty ambidextrous, should a child wish to progress to other wind instruments such as the clarinet, oboe or saxophones, the lower holes are positioned for the right-hand fingers.     However, both hands need to be equally flexible and are worked just as hard so these instruments could be considered even-handed.   It is unfortunate that Kerri’s teacher did not alter her fingering when she first picked up the instrument, as she would have then played her first notes with her left hand, and have become accustomed to holding the instrument this way.     Once positioning has been learnt, it is very uncomfortable to reverse it.

Interestingly though, the standard finger position could in fact be considered to be advantageous for left-handed players, as Club Member Vicky who plays the oboe and recorder pointed out.   Vicky found that since the first notes you learn are with the left hand, she feels greater co-ordination and control than right-handers would.   This point is taken even further for players of the French horn, an instrument which gives left-handers a distinct advantage, as it requires geater dexterity in the left hand than the right.

We will be adding articles on playing other instruments soon,   and do add your comments and experiences on playing wind instruments in the box below.

More information on learning to play instruments left-handed is available in Lauren’s Book   “Your Left-handed Child” published by Hamlyn and available from our online shop.

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70 comments on “Wind instruments
  1. Jane Bleaken-Ball says:

    Hi there. I would like to say that I completely disagree with the above article. The recorder is not “pretty ambidextrous” as is quoted here. One hand uses a thumb for the notes and the other thumb is redundant except for supporting the recorder. One hand uses the little finger and the other not. That means that a recorder is definitely NOT any where near ambidextrous. Also the fact that the left handed girl and her LH Mum already had picked up the recorder in a lefty way demonstrates that there is indeed a left or right handed difference.
    I believe the answer is to expect that all musical instruments should be made for left handed players as well as right handed players. (Just like there are left handed guitars.) And that all children should be allowed to play and hold all instruments the way they choose.
    I’m frankly shocked and extremely disappointed that this website, a dedicated left handed forum should still be shamelessly promoting the acceptability of forcing a left handed person to learn an instrument the right handed way!!!
    It’s about time the likes of The Royal College of Music and Centre for Young Musicians should be challenged about their archaic attitudes to left handedness.
    Think about this – yes you can teach a lefty child from an early age to do instinctual tasks the right handed way. Yes they might become good at those tasks and manage ok, but the learning process is 10 times harder, and the lack of flow and natural instinct will always hinder the left handed person from achieving their full potential.
    Here is my Parrot theory – “You can teach a parrot to say words, you may even teach it to recite Shakespeare, but that parrot will NEVER write it’s own symphony”
    It’s the same as how you can teach non genius 3 year old children to recognise and repeat back the names of numbers and letters, but they will not be able to understand the concept of counting, mental arithmetic, writing or reading.
    Left handedness is not a “choice” or a “preference” like a lot of right handed people would like to promote. Just the same as right handedness is not a “choice” or a “preference”. All children MUST be allowed to create and express themselves in the way that comes naturally to them. And the areas where this is most important are music, sport and art. How cruel to know that left handed folk are more creative because they are controlled by the right hand side of the brain, then to hinder that creativeness by making them do things opposite to what comes naturally!!

  2. Tim Scheidler says:

    If you play a simple transverse flute you can play it either way (barring, of course, proximity of a neighboring musician). I know some Irsih flute players who do just that. As you probably know, the reason that Boehm System flutes (concert flutes) are right-handed is because the both keys and the plate on the blow hole are specifically designed to be right-handed.

  3. Tim Scheidler says:

    Respectfully, I must say horse-hooey. The holes are bored down the middle of the bore. There might be some slight offset of a hole due to the tuning process during manufacturing, but not nearly enough to make any difference in fingering. The thumb-hole is also directly on the back side of the bore and it won’t make a difference whether the thumb is coming from the left or the right. As someone with 22 years of experience in music, including 8 years playing the penny whistle (I have competed in the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil), I can tell you that it makes absolutely no difference what hand is on top. And yes, I am almost completely left-handed (although I play with the left hand on top, it would simply be a matter of practice for me to switch hands).

  4. Tori says:

    Hey, I played the recorder in elementary school, I sat in the back so my teacher never noticed i, apparently played it backwards cause my right hand was on top ost of the time. I went on to play the flute right hand like everyone else and excelled when I first started. I never had a problem transistioning since i had gotten used to transitioning to right handed stuff because few people noticed I was let handed, I have even gotten in trouble for writing on the wrong side of the paper do to bad instructions.

  5. Austin says:

    I play the Clarinet and find it an being left handed. There is a break when you play the notes Bb, A, and G#. All of these are played with the left hand. Making it easier. There are also notes on the saxophone, flute, and oboe that are easier for left handers to play. I got first chair at District Honorr Band for Bass Clarinet if that says anything. 🙂

  6. Kathleen Arends says:

    The recorder is NOT ambidextrous. It is important for the LEFT hand to be placed in the upper position on the recorder, no matter whether the player is left- or right-handed. The notes low C, C-sharp, E-flat, and F* CANNOT be played with the right hand on top; the holes are not bored that way. Anyone playing recorder with her right hand at the top will be severely limited in repertoire, as they will be able to play only the very simplest tunes. Recorder is not a toy, but a real instrument. Bach and Telemann, among others, wrote music for it–which cannot possibly be played with the wrong hand on top.

    *assuming a Baroque-, not a German-fingered recorder

  7. Hannah says:

    I am an old lefty who played the alto sax in high school I was taught the proper way to hold the instrument. This didn’t present a big problem for me, however I never became an outstanding sax player. I have to agree with the teachers on this issue. Being left handed in a right handed world is not a disability, it simply calls for adaptation. Lots of various L.H. items aid in this. Look around, you may not find an aid for playing reed instruments, but don’t ask the world to change, just explain to the child that some things may be more di
    iicult.

  8. Juergen Roos says:

    Left hand concert flutes are available from VIENTO since 2011.
    They are made for
    – right handed flutists with back, shoulder or neck pain.
    Playing sometimes with a left hand instrument can relief such pain, as the mucles are brought in balance again.
    – right handed teachers
    Teaching with a left flute is much more fun, as teacher and student face each other.
    – and for left handed students, of course.

    More information you find here: http://www.viento-flutes.com/left-handed_concert_flute.php

    Juergen Roos
    VIENTO Querflöten, Germany

  9. Juergen Roos says:

    Concert flutes for left handers are available since 2011 from VIENTO flutes.
    More information about left handed flutes you can find here:
    http://www.viento-flutes.com/left-handed_concert_flute.php

  10. Adam says:

    Please let the child play the damn instrument the way the child prefers.

  11. Taylor says:

    Hi,
    I’m working on my third year of clarinet, and I’m obviously a lefty.
    I have no problems with playing, probably partially because the left hand is on the top. My first year, I had absolutely no trouble at all. My teacher highlighted me to the class, yet nobody knew of my “secret”, which was (and is) being left-handed.
    There is one other girl that I know of who’s a lefty in my section. She is amazing! I find it odd and intriguing that our top two chairs (including me) are lefties. 🙂

  12. Simon W says:

    I played the recorder in primary school and found it easy, but when I was 8 or 9 started playing the flute, I have cerebral palsy in my right side so to this day I am at at disadvantage and can’t play above grade 6 as my right fingers can’t move fast enough or with great enough precision, but I’m also self-taught in the clarinet and I have always fancied playing a brass instrument. Should I take it with my disability, that the french horn is the best option? I am very left handed.

  13. Andy P says:

    Even though the French Horn APPEARS to be a Left Handed instrument, it’s actually Right Handed!! – Confused?
    Let me explain! – Originally, the Horn had no valves, and (my hat goes off to Herr Leutgeb and other early Hornists!!), “chromatic” notes – ie those not appearing naturally in the Harmonic Series – were produced by moving the right hand in and out of the “bell” of the instrument to varying degrees. – This is STILL done to “tune-on-the-fly”!
    Interchangeable “Crooks” (pieces of tube of varying lengths) were then introduced to enable different “keys” to be played.
    FINALLY, during the 19th century, VALVES were introduced, but the way of holding the Horn wasn’t changed, resulting in a “Left-handed, Right-handed” instrument……………
    – I hope that you can follow that!!
    Andy Parker (a Left Handed Horn player!!)

  14. Peter says:

    I’m left-handed, and I taught myself to play the piano accordion a few years ago, after picking one up in an auction. I only found out a few months ago that I’m playing it upside down 🙂
    So much easier with the keys on the left.

    I play a few wind instruments too, but all right-handedly – I’m strongly lefty in most things, but pipes and horns (including bagpipes) seem natural enough the right way round.

  15. wayne says:

    HI” I am looking for rory the guy that play a right handed guitar left handed . I love to talk to him becouse i have been playing that way for over 45 years Hope to here from you . Thank wayne

  16. iraj derakhshan, md, neurologist says:

    12.16.2010
    I am a neurologist with interest in laterality of motor control.
    I am a right hander and I play the violin. I read some of the comments which were made earlier by right and left handed players of different musical instruments. Handedness is primarily an expression as to which of the two hemispheres is in control of action (including that of speaking). Approximately 80 percent of people are left hemispheric in their laterality of motor control and 20 percent are right hemispheric. There is no circuitry for “ambidexterity). Of those who consider themselves right handed, approximately 80 persent are right hemispheric for action (i.e. are wired as left handers). Approximately 50 percent of left handers are wired as right handers (i.e. are left hemispheric for action). Therefore, 1 in five person in society displays (claims) a handedness for which they are wired in the opposite direction (a huge minority that had caused a Babylonian chaos before the discovery of the circuitry underpinning handedness (see above).
    There is a simple way to find out which way a normal person is wired: simply draw two lines at the same time while holding a pen in each hand. The hand opposite the hemisphere of action draws the longer and the straighter line (or draws a larger box if the object was to draw a box with both hands at the same time). This is because the real dominant hand is directly connected to the opposite (action) hemisphere, whereas the nondominant hand must await the arrival of the command issued in the action hemisphere to reach the other hemisphere (which is the “slave processor” for the action hemisphere through the corpus callosum). This causes a delay in moving the nondominant side of the body equal to the inter-hemispheric transfer time (About 20 milliseconds or more). This is why the bowing is ahead of the fingering in violin playing and why there is a “melody-lead of the right hand’ in piano playing. And why (I suspect) the left hand is held on top of the right in wind instruments (i.e. providing a more even playing field for both hands (as it takes time for the wind to reach the farther end of the tube played by the faster right hand).
    Those who are interested in more information can acces my scientific articles online at http://www.mimickingman.com
    I. Derakhshan, md, Neurologist

  17. Kate says:

    I am left-handed and have a music degree from Durham University. I play the flute and discovered at the age of 16 that I needed grade 6 piano (as well as grade 8 in my own instrument) to get into university. So I went to a piano teacher and told her I needed grade 6 piano. She thought I was mad, given that I had about 18 months, but we did it. It never came into that I was left-handed. What did come into it was that I was hopeless at sight-reading more than one line at a time, as I was a flautist, not a pianist. I could play anything by ear and “got away with it” for ages by simply asking her to just play things through a few times so I could hear what it sounds like, until she twigged that I couldn’t really sight-read at all.

    I started out like most children with a recorder at the age of 6 or 7 and didn’t start the flute until I was around 12 or 13. If you are musical you are musical, I do not think it has anything to do with handedness, and wind instruments are no more difficult to play with one hand on the top than on the bottom. You cannot play the flute the other way round because you all need to be sitting in the same direction in the orchestra. It would be chaos if some were pointing one way and some the other.

    What was interesting was that, as a bit of fun, a musician made a “left-handed” flute and it was in a well-known flute shop in London when I went in once to have my flute serviced. I was about 15 at the time and probably around grade 5. A professional, right-handed flautist was in the shop at the same time. He picked it up, but could not even get a note out of it, as his brain somehow could not cope with it being round the wrong way. Yet, I played it straight away. Very strange!

  18. Heather says:

    I am an 11 out of 12 lefty, I tried to learn to play the piano my teacher finally told me I was wasting my time and money, my right hand just did not do what it was meant to do, if I could have found a left handed piano!! being in the retired age group I grew up in a world where to be left handed was not acceptable, and was always being forced to be right handed, which failed miserably and made me miserable as well. I play percussion, and get comments that I look odd when I play, but of course I play left handed with my right hand doing very little work. I notice that I play in reverse to a right handed player who brings the right stick down first, and above the left one.
    My husband and 2 of our 3 children are left handed, but they are each ambidextrous to a degree, they play brass instruments with ease, and our eldest son taught himself to play guitar on a borrowed guitar which of course was right handed.

    • Dane says:

      your teacher’s lying! I’m left handed and I play the piano smoothly ^^ at first I had a hard time with my left-right hand coordination but after practicing a couple of times my left-right hand coordination improved! 🙂 see? even left handers can do what right handers can

      • James says:

        I too am a lefty piano player, the only thing that you have to do is PRACTICE,PRACTICE,PRACTICE, if you really want to play you have to, PRACTICE,PRACTICE,PRACTICE!

  19. Libby says:

    I started playing recorder in year 3 and clarinet in year 5 and have never had any problems playing either of them, I think it may be becuase I find it more comfortable with the left hand at the top like its suppossed to be played. The only problems I do have is the keys at the bottom right hand side which often have to be used. I’m in year 9 now and I’ve olny just realised that that is why it seems easier for me. My Dad tried to teach me guitar with the strings reversed but I was rubbish!

  20. Zoe says:

    I get conflicting advice re playing the recorder. All right-handed professional musicians and music teachers tell me it does not make a difference, but the few left-handed people I know tell me it does make a difference.

    I am not sure if this will be different in a few years time, as my parents’ generation was still taught to write with their right hand not matter what to ‘train’ both hands, and because ‘it doesn’t make much of a difference.’ Well, that has been proven wrong, and I wonder if in ten years or so all left-handed children will be taught on lefty instruments…

    I have been advised to buy my child a conventional recorder, and am currently trying to decide whether I should just go ahead and by a left-handed one nonetheless!

    As for left-handed musicians having an advantage over right-handed musicians when it comes to strings…I know for a fact that that’s not true, since I am a musician myself (violin). Also, if that was actually the case, why are instruments not built in a way that favors the (right-handed) majority of musicians – in a world where everything else is geared toward right-handed people? This argument does not follow, IMO.

    • Linden says:

      Hi Zoe, I’m lefthanded, and a music teacher. I started on recorder and I was good at it from the start (I had parents to help me understand the new concepts and encourage practice). I now play flute, clarinet and sax and there’s just no way you can play those the other way. Sometimes my weaker right hand gets tired holding the weight of a clarinet or sax but in terms of dexterity your hands do the same thing. It’s not like piano where rigt is dominant, and *definitely* not like strings! With woodwind, both hands must work together and have the same sort of actions. If your kids want to play more complex instruments than recorder down the track, not just simple folk flutes, they have to learn the usual way. It never ever bothered me – I think I probably saw recorder as a bit left-handed because that was the one on top, that plays the first notes learnt!

  21. Edward Johnson says:

    Anyone who is interested:

    There is a company in Ireland that sells wooden Irish flutes and can make them right or left handed. It is called Hamilton Flutes. You can find links to it by doing a Google search (or another search engine) under Hamilton Flutes. They offer keyed and unkeyed versions of the instrument. I
    was not sure if this should have been in the “other instruments” category because it is not a conventional flute so I put a comment about it in that section also.

    Edward

  22. Leslie says:

    But don’t any of you oboists make your own reeds? I had to learn to make them when I was an oboe major in college; not knowing that there were such things as “right” handed and “left” handed knives, I purchased one for righties. My oboe teacher at first was going to have me return and switch it, then decided that I should try learning to use it right handed. I did, and made reeds all through school and beyond – right handed. I couldn’t begin to do it the other way around now!
    Also learned to knit right handed when the Girl Scout leaders couldn’t figure a way to teach me to do it the opposite way. I can use the mouse either hand, but the really important things like eating and writing are left-only.

  23. Sarah says:

    I am a leftie and play recorder and clarinet in the conventional way. I also teach Primary School children to play the recorder and in my experience, it is the RIGHT HANDERS who always want to put their right hand at the top, which feels more natural to them. At the start of every beginners class, I get all the kids to hold up their recorder in the air with their left hand at the top and go round making corrections. As others have stated, it is important if students go on to learn other instruments and also to avoid confusion when teaching in a group. I wonder if anyone has any fun tips to help kids get it right, especially when practising at home?

    • Daniel says:

      Hello Sarah.

      I’m teaching also, here in Portugal, some children how to play the recorder. To the righties, I usually say that the right hand is in the bottom because it has four holes, and the left hand has only three (no counting with the thumb). Well, to the lefties, i say that they have to use the thumb, and so the left hand is in the top of the record!

  24. Daniel says:

    I’m a director of a wind band. I had a directing teacher who used the baton in the left hand. When he was showing how to do, i did like a mirror, because i was tough by other teacher to use the right hand. But, if i want to show how to do to my pupils, i use the left hand and they use the right one, like a mirror.

  25. Dawn says:

    I played the clarinet from 5th grade through the end of 8th grade. I never had any problems adjusting to it. My left hand on top and right on bottom. The hardest part was the keys requiring my right pinky. The hardest part had nothing to do with the keys. It was actually making the correct note sound and not a squeak. I don’t know if my ease was due to my left handedness or if it is because of what little right handed things I do. I am way more left handed than right but I sometimes wonder about what I naturally do right handed.

  26. Chell says:

    I play alto sax, which actually seems more left-handed than right handed. There are a few more keys for the left hand for the right, including a thumb (octave) key, and two extra pinky-finger keys. However, the right hand needs slightly more flexibility than the left, as more keys are pressed by the palm, rather than the fingers on the right hand than the left.

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