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Thoughts on Being Left-Handed and Playing Right-Handed Bass

paul mccartney left handed bass playerEvery so often after playing a show, jamming with someone or in casual conversation it will come out that I’m left-handed. First there will be a raised eyebrow and a follow up: “You’re left- handed?” Then it will hit that I also play music and that I’m a bass player and the next question will be like “but you play bass right-handed, right?”

Yes, yes I do. I’m a left-handed bass player who plays bass right-handed and for as long as I can remember, this style of playing has only made sense.

Being Left-Handed and Playing Right-Handed Bass

When I first started playing bass, I did just that – picked up the bass and started playing. My dad, the person who gave me my first bass, was right-handed and played right-handed bass. At the time, I wasn’t aware there were left-handed basses (Paul McCartney and the Beatles weren’t major influences in my earliest playing). So to me, this was bass and this was the way it should be played.

Fast forward a few months into my development and the right-handed bass guitar still made sense to me. In my mind, the left-hand was the hand that was doing most of the heavy lifting. It was the hand that had to move nimbly from fret to fret, string to string without ever tripping up. The right-hand, my lesser hand, was just supposed to move my index and middle fingers (and sometimes my ring finger, too). By comparison, the left-hand had much more to do and, to me, it made sense that right-handed bass felt so comfortable.

When I did become introduced to left-handed basses and had the opportunity to pick one up and play one, I hated it. Perhaps it was because I was long since used to playing right-handed bass guitars but playing a left-handed bass didn’t make any sense. The hand that was tasked with moving around the frets was now, to me, demoted to moving a single finger (or two, or three) while the lesser hand, my right, was now doing the heavy lifting of moving around the fretboard. I put the bass down immediately and returned to my right-handed bass.

“I’m Left-Handed. Shouldn’t I Play Left-Handed Bass?”

If you’re an aspiring bass player who happens to be left-handed, my advice is to try out both kinds of basses and see which one suits you best. In my case, it happened to be a right-handed bass, first, because I didn’t know better but second for the rationalization I mentioned above. You might be different. You might embrace the left-handed bass and not see it at all the way I did and proceed to play it as the manufacturer intended for you to play it.

“But What About Lessons and Learning Songs? Won’t I have to Worry About Things Being Flipped Around?”

Less than you might think. It’s still a bass guitar. A G on the D string is still a G on the D string – whether written in standard notation or in tablature. If you’re working with a teacher, it might be a mental change that might need to be overcome with your teacher, likely, playing right-handed and yourself playing left-handed.

Learning songs on your own time and learning the instrument can be more challenging. In addition to overcoming the learning curve of just making the bass guitar play some note that don’t sound terrible, you’re also going to have to experience learning from online bass guitar resources and teachers that play right-handed. Will this change the music you learn? No it won’t however, you will have to get used to adjusting what they’re teaching to suit your particular bass playing situation.

At the end of the day, bass is another musical instrument. Your comfort on the instrument is ultimately going to affect how far you make it off the starting block in the beginning. If you’re looking at videos of Paul McCartney and thinking I need to learn bass like that and force yourself into learning left-handed bass despite it not at all feeling comfortable to play, you’re already setting yourself up to fail. My advice as a left-handed bassist playing right-handed bass: go with what is the most comfortable to you and the rest will work itself out.