How Do I Play The Ukulele If I am Left Handed? | GOT A UKULELE - Learn Ukulele, beginners tips and reviews

30 Sep 2016

How Do I Play The Ukulele If I am Left Handed?

Here's another question I get emailed about a surprising amount of times.

'Hey Baz, I'm left handed and wanting to learn the ukulele. What are my options?'
left handed ukulele

And, surprise surprise, this being the ukulele community and all, when I see the subject discussed on social media channels there is the usual (and disturbing) number of people who consider that the best way to answer that question is to dictate to other people exactly what they should do. Now whilst I am not a doctor, I do have a child who is left handed and a few friends who are dominant with their left. What I DO know is that there is no one size fits all for how you go about learning if you are a leftie. And please don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Handedness is not an exact science. I know many people who are left hand dominant in some things, but do other things right handed. In fact I once knew a guitar player who despite being quite clearly right handed in all walks of life, had learned to play guitars left handed (don't ask me why, but it worked for him). There are also plenty of ambidextrous people who can do things both ways.  And please don't listen to the people who claim that you should judge these things based on your dominant eye - it's really not that simple. What matters in this subject is what is comfortable to YOU. And bear in mind that playing the ukulele is a two handed skill.

I thought however that it would be helpful running through the options available to you if you are a left handed beginner, together with pros and cons associated with each. I list these in no particular order, because as I say above - it's more complicated that presenting a single solution that works for everybody. In fact, as I know different people who do each of the things listed below, that should be enough to tell you that different things work for different people.

So let's take a look...

1. Flip the ukulele and flip the strings.

That is to say you turn the ukulele upside down so the neck rests in the right hand and you strum with your left. To add to that you also then flip the strings in reverse, because then you keep the G string at the top and the A string closest to the floor.

The attraction of this option is that it creates an exact mirror image of the right handed playing technique, so perhaps it means no disadvantages for the lefty over the righty. That is to say - you strum with your dominant hand and fret with the other one. Some people claim that they even find this method more logical for reading chord boxes on song sheets as they represent a more obvious image of what is on the neck. (Again, no hard and fast rules though and I know many lefties who prefer reversed chord charts - so the point here is 'experiment and see if it works for you!). Incidentally - my Kindle Chord book has all the chord charts in left hand orientation!

The main disadvantages to this are twofold. First, if your ukulele has pickup controls, volume controls or a cutaway, they are almost certainly installed in a way to suit a right handed instrument. Flip the ukulele and all that stuff ends up on the wrong side of the instrument. Of course, some would say that people can work around that, and of course Jimi Hendrix famously played a Fender Stratocaster in reverse, but with a small ukulele I couldn't personally get on with a pickup volume control hidden on the underside of the body. Of course, with a standard pineapple or figure of 8 ukulele with no controls, this isn't an issue.

The main  disadvantage though, is the need for reversing the bridge and saddle. Some people will tell you that this isn't necessary, and I suspect they must be referring to cheap ukuleles with dead straight saddles and an already questionable intonation - that's not good advice though. Increasingly these days, saddles are being set on angles, or manufacturers are installing compensated saddles to improve intonation. This refers to the scale length of each individual string, and they are NOT all the same. Quite simply if you have one of those you will need to reverse it, and with a compensated saddle that isn't as simple as just putting it in the other way around - that won't work. You will need a new one cutting. If the bridge slot is cut at an angle, you would really need to replace the whole bridge! At the nut, you may get away with it, but if your nut slots are precisely cut you may find that certain strings don't fit in the slots any longer. These things can be remedied, but they will take someone who knows what they are doing.

2. Flip the ukulele, don't flip the strings

This one gives the left handed player the benefit of keeping the fretting in the right hand and strumming in the left, but avoids the hassles of flipping the strings. I do know a couple of people who play this way, but personally I struggle with it for another simple reason. By flipping the ukulele but not the strings, when you strum, you are then effectively strumming in reverse. The A string is nearest the ceiling so a down strum sounds like an up strum. I think it does sound different and you will want to bear that in mind.

And of course the issues with control plates and cutaways also applies to this option as a problem.

Saying all of that - Albert King and Dick Dale both played left handed guitars with the strings upside down, so it can be done!

3. Play right handed

Please don't take that to mean I am acting like a strict Victorian schoolmaster who would rap the hands of left handed children if they didn't hold a pen with their right hand. But for some people, they naturally find they can do this and this is the way they choose to learn. It does of course remove all the issues I mention above, but if you are planning to go this route, you really need to be comfortable. And of course when you are starting out, you may be finding the ukulele difficult enough as it is and not be able to spot if it is hampering your learning. So it's really hard to be precise as to whether this is a good option or not, but I DO know left handed players who play righty.  And there is a history of it in music also, with guitarists such as Mark Knopfler, Gary Moore, Johnny Winter and Duane Allman all being naturally left handed people who play right handed guitars...

4. Buy a left handed ukulele

Ahhh, if only it was that easy. The sad fact is, because of economies of scale, rather like guitars, ukulele brands are quite light on the true left handed ukulele. There are some notable exceptions, Blackbird, Kala, Baton Rouge for example all offer left handed models, as do one or two others. But the reality is that they are really not all that common, and you are certainly not going to get the wide choice of the right handed player. It's been a gripe of the left handed guitarists for many years, as not only do they get less choice, but they also seem to have to pay a premium for what they do get.  But of course this does open up the opportunity of considering a luthier built instrument. A good luther will be able to make you a left handed ukulele to your design just as easily as they can make a right handed one. And as I have said many times before, they can cost far less than you think. Just take a look at the work of my luthier of choice - Rob Collins at Tinguitar.

So ultimately, it's about choices, and all of them tend to come with some compromises I am afraid. I would love for there to be more options out there for left handed players, but that simply isn't the case, and I wouldn't get too excited about that changing all that rapidly either. But at least there are choices, and the world of music is littered with left handed players of stringed instruments who have done rather well for themselves. Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Paul McCartney, Tony Iommi to name a few - so you really shouldn't let it put you off!


  1. I'm left handed and play Bass,Guitar and ukulele lefthanded.
    The main problem I had was finding left handed instruments.
    I recently purchased a lefthanded bass ukulele (Countyman) and was the only one I could find with the bridge piece correctly oriented to correct for intonation.
    As pointed out in the article above, shorter scale instuments generaly have straight bridges and just flipping the strings is adequate as I did on my Kala eight string uke.

  2. The article DOESN'T suggest that just flipping the strings is adequate - quite the opposite!

  3. I'm a leftie who plays rightie (as do nearly all of my leftie friends). One funny thing about ukulele (and guitar) is that there are left-handed versions at all. Not only are there no left-handed pianos, but there are (next to) no left-handed violins, cellos, trumpets, saxophones, clarinets, flutes etc., either. I have a feeling that the first left-handed guitars were exactly the sort of cheap item with no compensated bridge etc with which you could reverse the order of the strings and flip over.

    You mentioned, and rightly discounted, dominant eye theories, but there is a dominant hand test you can experiment with. Just start clapping rhythmically for a minute or so. After a minute, have a look to see which hand's moving toward which. If both hands are coming together, or if the right hand's moving toward the left (right-hand fingers hitting the l.h. palm etc), play rightie, no matter what hand you hold a pen in. Only if your left hand is definitely moving toward your right, should you consider playing leftie.

    That said, my advice to any leftie taking up the ukulele (or the guitar) is to start off by playing rightie. After all, if you've never played one before, you've no antecedent muscle memory to unlearn. Mark Knopfler's a leftie who plays rightie: playing the wrong way round doesn't seem to have held him back (Duane Allman, Michael Bloomfield, David Bowie, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Robert Fripp, Noel Gallagher, Gary Moore & Johnny Winter also come to mind. ). Only if you really can't get on with it playing right-handed should you consider switching. As all us lefties know, it's a right-handed world out there, and choosing the leftie route takes you down a long, lonely path.

    1. I am a lefty but play right handed. I agree completely, I don't understand why you would play lefty with all the trouble it brings!

  4. Bob Brozman was a lefty playing righty. Most lefthanded players I know of, went down that math. Our friend Fred from the Winin' Boys is a lefty playing 'lefty restrung' (and in D6). Not too many people playing 'lefty strung righty'. Not even as a political statement...

  5. I play leftie without restringing, which has the advantage that I can pick up any 'symmetric' uke and play it, and that righties can play mine. The sound is a little different because of the inversion of up and down strums, but it's not as noticeable as it might be. One advantage is that certain barres are way easier, especially the dreaded 'E'. I do find myself using rather different chord fingerings for some things though.

    Oh and I tried playing rightie both with the uke and when I started guitar (which I play with a 'proper' left handed guitar), but the hands just didn't like it compared to leftie.

  6. I am another leftie who plays right handed. It has always puzzled me a bit as to why this is "wrong" - after all, my clever left hand is doing all the fiddly bits with the chords, while my not so bright right hand is just strumming up and down. So isn't that how all left handers should play? Isn't it the right handers who are getting it wrong?

  7. I too, am "left handed" but play all my instruments "right handed." Frankly, you need skill and coordination on both hands while playing, so if you are left handed, then playing your instrument right handed simply means that you will have all that left handed-ness assist you on your fingering hand, as opposed to your strumming hand. Either way, you will need skill and coordination.
    Perhaps the answer to the question is to simply pick up your uke and see what feels best for you. As Barry says, there is no one right answer - just do what feels right and don't let others dictate anything as if there were only one option.

  8. Lefty playing left-handed here. I'm with Barry on this one though.. There are pros and cons, and I wouldn't presume to tell anyone the other way is wrong. Likewise I refute anyone who dares to assert that for all left-handed players right is right.

    Personally I've not come across a slanted bridge yet (except on a banjo uke - easily rectified!)

  9. A lefty playing lefty. My brain just can't operate the other way round. I'm very jealous of other lefties that can play right-handed.

    After reversing the strings on my Makala Dolphin I had some intonation problems. I fixed that by filing out the nut to get the C string to sit deeper. On the other hand, my Bruko came set up for a lefty. No idea what they did but it plays like a dream.

    Never seen a slanted bridge on a ukulele. Sounds a bit fiddly so going to make sure I avoid that next time. Thanks for the tip!

  10. Yes I've bought two ukuleles from Brüko now, and both times they've happily shipped them to me strung left-handed at no extra cost. I know it wouldn't be that much trouble for me to swap strings over, but it's good to know the slots in the nut and saddle fit the strings ok before it's shipped, and it's nice to be able to take the ukulele out of the box, tune and strum it straight away!

  11. I play a regular strung right-handed uke upside down. I started on guitar that way. It's never been a problem & just means I've had to make my own chord shapes. (D's & E's are actually easier for me). Striking strings in reverse doesn't make much difference, if anything it gives me a slightly different flavour. I adapt accordingly on slower things & just use different fingers for picking. A couple of chord shapes have been tricky but overall I don't think this way is any harder or easier. I have a few videos on YouTube under the name lurch36.


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