What Is a Left-Handed Violin?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

A left-handed violin is a non-violin designed to be played by those whose dominant hand is the left hand. It is a mirror image of the traditional violin, a soprano stringed instrument held under the chin and played with a bow.

Left-handed people use violins tailored to them.
Left-handed people use violins tailored to them.

People who use traditional violins support the instrument and execute fingering with their left hand. They do all the bowing work with their right hand. This makes sense considering that the control of the bow largely determines the sound the violinist can produce with his instrument. However, it means that traditional violins are problematic for left-handed individuals, because these players must control the bow with the non-dominant hand. A left-handed violin is supposed to address this problem so that left-handed players can achieve the same level of tonal richness, responsiveness and overall technique virtuosity as right-handed players.

A left-handed violin is built specifically for use by left-handed people.
A left-handed violin is built specifically for use by left-handed people.

As a mirror image of a traditional violin, a left-handed violin is strung starting with the lowest string, G, on the right side rather than the left. Some people try to adapt regular violins by merely restringing the violin, but this doesn't work. The differences in string and overall performance positioning mean that the peg holes, base bar and sound post all have to be flip-flopped. Adjustments also are necessary in the bridge and chin rest.

Left-handed violins allow users to use the bow with the left hand, unlike traditional violins, which are held between the performer's left hand and chin.
Left-handed violins allow users to use the bow with the left hand, unlike traditional violins, which are held between the performer's left hand and chin.

A left-handed performer using a left-handed violin ultimately may play at a higher level than if he played with a traditional violin. There are disadvantages to left-handed violins, however. The first is that, because more people are right-handed than left-handed, the demand for left-handed violins is lower. Left-handed violins thus are hard to find. People often have to custom-order them, and when they do, the instruments are more expensive because the manufacturer has to absorb the added costs associated with a customized product.

Those who want to use left-handed violins also face limitations in education opportunities. The majority of violin teachers and method books assume that the violinist is right-handed, so a left-handed violin player may have to mentally flip all the directions given if a teacher does not remember to do so. Some teachers insist that playing right-handed is the only way to play the violin and try to force right-handed playing, similar to the way some left-handed children used to be forced to write with the right hand.

Performance opportunities also are an issue for a left-handed violin player. Playing in a very small group usually is not problematic. In larger groups such as orchestras, however, seating accommodates right-handed bowing and is designed to support a uniform look within the group as members play. A left-handed player may have issues with his bow interfering with the bow of his neighbor unless the group allows him more room. Even if the group does this, the left-handed player will stick out visibly to the audience, which may serve as a distraction from the performance.

Left-hand children's violins must be custom-made.
Left-hand children's violins must be custom-made.

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Discussion Comments


I'm a left-handed professional violinist and I play in the regular way. Has anyone ever seen an orchestra with a violinist playing by the other side?


A non-violin? So someone who plays one is unworthy of lessons because they are not playing a real violin? I listened to this crap my whole life. I am right-handed, by the way. But not all of us were born with perfect fingers on our left hand and I dared to ask if I could play it the other way. Impossible!

I was told that for 40 years and guess what? My non-perfect left hand bows just fine. Too bad I listened to idiots for so long and had to teach myself. Funny how people who refuse to teach someone because they are not perfect didn't notice they were only pretend teachers.

Their non-student is sort of laughing at you now, but mostly feeling very sorry for you that you ever believed you were a teacher. (I met so many of you and I still run across you now with little comments like non-violin, ruined violin, and other sweetly nasty wording choices). Instead of someone who loved the violin enough to find a way, you stood in my way.

I read somewhere about a boy who has a hand much like mine. He couldn't even afford a violin and the whole town pitched in, thanks to his teacher and supported him. She didn't stand there and tell him that she was 'very sorry' and he should try out for choir instead. She found a way. That's a teacher. Good for her.

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