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

30 Sept 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?' The eternal stringed musical instrument conundrum!
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. They simply can't. Only you can decide that.

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. Choosing a way to play based on what is going to be 'easiest to read tuition materials' is also a bit of a cop out if that way you choose is damn uncomfortable and working AGAINT your learning. 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 numerous options available to you if you are a left handed beginner, together with pros and cons associated with each that have been reported to me by actual left handers. 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 quite successfully, 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 too, because then you keep the G string at the top and the A string closest to the floor, just like a right hander.

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 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 and coped admirably (to put it mildly), 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 at all.

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, nut slots that are identical and an already questionable intonation - but 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. Nut slots too will differ to deal with the differing gauge of strings. Quite simply if you have one of those (and most of you will) you will need to reverse these critical parts, 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, when I have mentioned this to people they look at me like I am crazy.. but... there are professional stringed instrument players who do EXACTLY this. 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 with it and not have the instrument fighting against you. 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.  Very light. 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 (i.e more off the peg left handed instruments), 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! Find what works for you!


  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!

    2. I want to play uke lefthanded because i already play lefthanded guitar

    3. I play uke left handed. I began a year ago, and tried righty. I just could not strum worth a damn. For me, the easiest thing was to just flip it over. Yes, I end up strumming backwards, but since I swapped out the high G string to low, it hardly seems to matter much. The fingering, however, is a different matter. It seems very easy for me to look at a chord image, and intuitively know where my fingers are supposed to be. There are some chords that are just too difficult to do, and so I try to find alternatives. Fortunately, I have rather large hands, so there are a lot of structures that I can manage. The down side of that is that I also have large fingers, and sometimes they don't fit the strings quite right. That's probably the biggest reason I chose a tenor. The best thing about not flipping the strings, is that I can play any uke handed over to me by a righty! Unless, that is, if it's a tiny soprano.

  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.

  12. I have taught many left-handed students that play right-handed. You become ambidextrous to point after a while anyway.

  13. Yep. Lefty guitarist and uke player here. When I was starting out the shop I bought my first guitar from really pushed "learning right handed". It didn't work for me. All my guitars and basses are left handed including a Kala Ubass. I have right handed Kala tenor and a Soprano ukes. Flip the uke, flip the strings. No adjustment to bridge or nut. Intonation is fine for what I play. One day I will treat myself to a lefty uke.

  14. Beyond the additonal cost and bother of finding/converting an instrument and the hit taken in reconverting/selling the leftie instrument, there is another issue. Of the two chores in playing, chording is arguably the more difficult to be good at. A Lefty seems to have the innate advantage when playing Rightie. Why would you handicap yourself by giving up this blessing?

  15. Lan - for the simple reason I think that some people naturally take to different methods. Found it really interesting to read the spread of comments on here and on Facebook to this topic. A real spread of experiences. It's why I wrote the piece as I know some feel pressured to go in directions they just don't get on with.

  16. Strings & uke - flipped - is the best & easiest (especially as you become more proficient)for strumming etc. in my opinion

  17. I'm with problem with flipping the uke and strings...the bridge is no have a tuner...simple

  18. I agree with all the lefties above who suggest trying first of all playing right handed before going to the hassle of any of the more complex solutions. I am very, very leftie, but always found right handed guitars and ukuleles played to the better coordination of my left hand so I never felt the need to experiment with a left handed instrument. I would also suggest as others have that if this simple solution feels all wrong, or uncomfortable, or worse still painful, then don't give up but try Baz's other solutions as the eventual joy of playing will be worth it.

  19. I'm a lefty and play guitar, bass and uke left handed but thinking of getting a reso ukulele - do you know if the biscuit bridge can be reversed or does it not even need changing (as with a regular straight uke bridge)?

  20. you've got two issues Keith - the nut (which 'may' need the slots re cutting to accomodate the fatter strings) but also the bridge which also has slots. The quick and dirty way is to remove the cover and rotate the brige through 180 degrees, but the issue with that is the break angles on the slots are then wrong and you may throw intonation off. The answer may be to get a new bridge cut with slots accurately intonated.

  21. I'm not a lefty, but after years playing on a piano, where the right hand definitely works harder than the left hand, I feel like it's the opposite on a uke, almost as if it was designed for lefties...

  22. I don't understand why there is so much discussion and debate about left handed players! Just get a left handed instrument! Trust me when I tell you - it won't affect how you play, or read the chord charts, and you can still take lessons from a right handed player if you wanted to. There are plenty of left handed instruments out there for players of all levels! I play piano, guitar, bass, uke, banjolele, Ubass, mandolin, banjo and several others. I own lefty AND righty instruments, but have a strong preference for lefty. Over the years, I've reversed strings, flipped instruments, played righty...and nothing compares to playing an instrument custom made for your handedness. It's all about your comfort level. True, there are fewer models, makes, and styles of left handed instruments... and... left handed instruments tend to cost more...but, there should be NO debate about whether one should or shouldn't play ANYTHING lefty. It's not only ridiculous but obnoxious. I can't tell you how insulting it is when you ask if a model comes in left handed and they say, no - there's no need to make one - just play it righty, or switch strings around if you absolutely HAVE to. Don't let people convince you that you need to buy righty and modify it, because it may actually compromise the stability, integrity and ease of playing the instrument. Do you research, and buy the instrument that best suits your needs, abilities and overall comfort.

  23. I REALLY dont think you read the post (or the comments) - your advice works FOR THOSE IT WORKS FOR. But not all lefties do it the way you do - and nor have they throughout musical history - what is RIGHT is what works for the individual.

  24. I'm a lefty and play lefty on a left handed instrument.

    Learning the ukulele is like "patting your head and rubbing your belly" where the brain is split into focusing on directing both hands to do independent tasks.

    I find maintaining and switching strum pattern to be more efficient with my left hand. Learning chord shapes with the right hand and memorizing them works with any chord tab music book.

    Music should be fun. Do what feels comfortable but don't struggle with what doesn't feel instinctual. Without any thought - If a lefty "air guitars" as a righty, then gut instinct is to play rightie. Likewise if a leftie "air guitars" as a leftie, then that is where their instinct to hold and strum naturally is.

  25. You're right, Barry - there is no absolute 'one size fits all' advice for left-handed people. In fact, some right handed people might feel more comfortable playing left-handed.
    I think it's most important to feel comfortable. I'm left handed. My wife bought me a ukulele for Christmas and the first thing I did was to swap the middle two strings around and retune it for a left handed player. This has given me no issues at all. I feel SO comfortable playing it - I love it - but I could not possibly attempt to play like a right-handed person - it's just not natural for me.

  26. I'm a lefty who's generally reasonably competent with my RH but playing right-handed just felt completely wrong. Shame, as it's a struggle to learn left-handed - LH chord charts help (thank you, Barry!) but published music is really confusing - have resorted to photocopying LH cords & pasting them over the RHed ones...

    For a starter instrument I chose a Duke (& the shop very kindly re-strung it lefty for me). It has a really nice tone (took advantage of their sale to get the solid-top mahogany) but I now want to upgrade to a better instrument. Can't afford a Custom, but was wondering about the Snail SUC-M3 - can it be re-strung LHed without the bridge etc having to be altered? Any advice will be very gratefully received!

  27. Hi just typical problem - may somebody let mi solve it.
    I generally left handed person but writing eating right due old school. Using both handed but left is allways better in details.
    Got two weeks ago my first ukulele learning chords and beginning want keep ukelele like 90% population right handed. i'm explaining myself that it be well for me because my left hand on neck better be works with chords and right is enough good for strumming.
    It was mistake because my right hand better working with chords and left hand little better feel strings during strumming.
    Just confused - change the strings or give time left hand for exercise with chords? want play like right handed because many instruments is available but may is better idea change strings now.

  28. I'm normally right handed but two weeks after picking up the Ukulele to learn how to play it, I lost the top of my pinky finger and half of my index finger on my left hand due to a accident with a circular saw.I have had to revert to playing left handed with a Ukulele which was converted from right to left handed and picking the strings for me is becoming really difficult, so I just strum.

  29. Sorry to hear about Unknown's accident above.
    I badly broke my ring finger on my left hand 3 months ago, and though I have had surgery and three screws inserted, I cannot now close it sufficiently to even play a 'C' chord!
    Why this preamble - well I am a leftie who was playing rightie. My left is my dominant hand for most tasks (writing & eating) but I am right-handed for some other tasks (tennis, scissors, PC mouse). As a result I am relatively ambidextrous, but because of my finger I am having to relearn to play leftie. This is going relatively well, and at the moment, I am just going with restringing my uke the 'other' way round, and this seems to be working fine. I am no maestro however, so I fully take on board the potential need to resolve the bridge and nut issues - it is just that I cannot tell the difference just yet!
    Interestingly, I am finding tabs quite easy to reverse in my brain, though I am not sure how I will fare when it comes to playing more complicated chords. Thankfully, though, I have found some left-handed chord tabs which have numbered the fingers, so this should help me embed good habits early on, rather than getting my fingers in a tangle!
    Strumming seems to be OK, I just have had to adjust my strumming style to 'open-handed' with just my index finger bent, as opposed to a 'closed-fist' with my index finger straight (I don't really seem to get on well with a plectrum, but I may try this again sometime). I haven't really tried finger picking yet, but this may be a bit more challenging.
    Relearning seems to have reinvigorated my joy of playing the uke, and I will rejoin my local fortnightly gathering to start to stretch and challenge me. Thanks for the great article and debate.

  30. Just to throw another variation in (somewhat late) I am ridiculously left-handed in most things. I started out re-stringing and learning leftie. After a while, I realised that I was actually more inclined to rightie- go figure? Finger picking and strumming are both fine with my right hand. So, I restrung my restrung ukes back to right handed and it’s seemed natural ever since! I also use my spinning wheel in a right-handed fashion but throw pots on a left hand pottery wheel. As most have said, “Horses for courses”. But after rather a lot of restringing, it might be worth picking up a RH (even in a music shop) and seeing how it feels before assuming (like this silly egg) that you will automatically play leftie better. ��

  31. I’m a lefty, learning to play righty. Something to consider is that all lefty’s are, to a certain extent, ambidextrous. We grow up and live in a “righty world” and are forced to do countless daily tasks “backwards” - scissors, chainsaws, etc. I think that makes it easier for us to learn new (no muscle memory to unlearn) fine motor control skills as a righty.

  32. why not play uke left and right.. I found both ways of holding and playing the uke equally difficult ,could never figure out wether to play lefty righty flip the strings so i just practiced all the ways including the unmentioned slide style where the fret hand is on the other side of the neck, With practice what at first seemed difficult has become more natural and I find finger picking with both hands chalenging but worth the effort . so my advise practice both even use new tunings and alternate chord shapes for an ambidextrous person or lefty you probably know by now that youl have to find your own unique way


Please leave me a comment!

Help Support Got A Ukulele

Please Help Keep This Site Going!

If you enjoy this blog, donations are welcomed to allow me to invest more time in bringing you ukulele articles. Aside from the Google ads, I don't get paid to write this blog and for reasons of impartiality a not sponsored by brands or stores. Your donations all go back into the site to allow me to keep bringing you reviews, and in the end the ukuleles acquired are given to local schools and charities.