Anything Left-Handed > Left handed life > Left handed recorder playing

Left handed recorder playing

Now I will be the first to admit that I am not musical and do not play any instruments (though for some reason my left-handed son Tom is a musical genius and can play almost anything).   I had an email recently from John asking for advice on left handed recorder playing and pointing me to a website that gave some very harsh and negative advice saying basically – “Don’t do it!”

I have included John’s email and the advice he found below and   I hope that anyone who knows more about this will add comments or links that may help.

This is John’s email to me:

My two sons are naturally left handed, and have just begun to play descant recorder at school. The instrument is designed specifically to be held with the left hand above the right – and the positioning of the holes on the lower finger positions don’t allow for this to be reversed. I have noticed that my youngest son seems to have a natural preference to hold the instrument in the way that is not intended, with the right hand over the left.

The wording of the information on the webpage I mentioned above leaves no room for ambiguity, and whilst the logic behind it seems reasonable, the way in which it is expressed concerned me somewhat.   My eldest son has been taking classical guitar lessons for 12 months, and plays a restrung instrument following a clear tendency to hold it left handed. Being left handed myself, and growing up with a grandparent who came from the “can’t you make him use his right hand?” school of thought, (but fully understanding parents!), it goes against my principles of allowing them to follow their natural tendencies.

I don’t suppose you are aware of any slightly more sympathetic advice that might help me to support my son with his recorder technique?

And this is the advice on the website he found

I am frequently asked for advice on “left handed” recorder playing. My answer is often unpalatable, “It is a serious error and should not be done.” A left handed person is not disadvantaged. However, if as a tutor, you encourage or permit them to play with their left hand at the low end of their instrument you are effectively disabling them. Its a sobering thought.

The reason for this is that although people are not made with left or right handed advantages in respect to recorder playing, the instruments are. Furthermore, all other wind instruments are made to be played with the right hand at the bottom. If you play the recorder with the left hand at the bottom you suffer several disadvantages, inability to play all the notes in tune, inability to play large recorders, inability to play other woodwind instruments. Of course, it is possible to adopt two styles of fingering, one for the recorder and another for the rest of the woodwind. It is not a good plan, instead of reinforcing each other, the different patterns conflict and seriously limit achievement.

Most people come into contact with the recorder for the first time as a child at school or as a teacher. Unfortunately, most recorder teaching is done by non-specialists, often by non-players. There is a lack of background knowledge and appreciation of all the implications of the “training” being given. Indeed, it seems that the recorder world is dominated by amateurism at all levels… Do not submit to the child who maintains that they can “do it better” the other way up. It really is wrong, and it really does matter. In some ways it is unfortunate that descant recorders with moveable foot joints have become the standard good quality model and two piece instruments are relatively rare and regarded as inferior. When I started playing, in the early 1940’s, only the excellent and very high priced Dolmetsch model had the moveable foot. It was obvious to everyone that recorders had to be played with the right hand at the bottom.

“Left handed” recorder playing is a very short road leading to a very limited achievement, and should be discouraged and corrected as early as possible. If you are teaching yourself, or guiding others with the aid of a book, make very sure that you do not corrupt the facts. Follow all the factual instruction. Left handedness and right handedness in the player has no bearing on the way you hold the instrument any more than the side of the road you drive on.

Another article on left handed recorder playing

I found another slightly more favourable article here

They are not quite so negative but do make the point that if you learn on a left-handed reocrder you will not be able to play other wind instruments as you develop.

and we have written our own article about this before here

Left handed recorders

I have seen comments that German company Mollenhaur have made recorders in a left-handed design but cannot actually find any on their website.

Moeck, also in Germany, do have a left-handed recorder

Recorder for left handed playing

You can get a partial solution with a multi-part recorder where you can rotate the finger holes for a comfortable fit for the little finger.   Tona at L’Altra Ma in Valencia sells them and also online at her website here

Recorder for left handed playing

We will do some more research on this but if you know more please add a comment below.


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7 comments on “Left handed recorder playing
  1. Juan Manuel Granda says:

    Good moorning, the fact that a left handed person would be in inferiority condition playing like a right handed is not true. It’s not a guitar witch clearly the hands work in a different way. Still, did you ever see a left handed violin?
    It is better to compare the recorder not to a guitar but to a piano where the two hands work in a similar way.

  2. John Harrison says:

    I am left handed and a recorder player – I play the recorder in the “conventional” way – right hand at the bottom, left hand at the top.

    There really are zero reasons to play with the left hand at the bottom and a number of very good reasons not to do so. Even the one company that makes “left handed” recorders, MOECK, only makes soprano ones and actually advises strongly against left handed playing on its web-site. The advice from “saundrecs” above may be very straight to the point, but it is completely sound. As a left-hander, I don’t find it in any way hurtful.

    I would say, if your child is going to learn the recorder, whether they are left handed or not, get them a “standard” recorder; it will not disadvantage them in the slightest, since both hands need to be equally agile.

  3. Julie says:

    I first picked up the recorder ‘left handed’ although I’m naturally right handed. I played (and still play!) left handed! Lower C# etc is a problem… but that’s all. I also play flute….right handed!! If I try and play recorder correctly, then I automatically do flute fingering!! Weird, but true!

    For all those deciding how their little ones should play…. Try to play the correct way (left hand on the top) then future playing will be easier. But if their playing is going to cease (because the change is too difficult/uncomfortable) then play left handed. Tis better to enjoy it wrongly than to never experience the joys of playing 🙂

  4. Val Banton says:

    Can I wade in and say, as a very good, semi – professional player, that in actual fact, the most difficult notes played on a recorder use the left thumb. You will not discover this until you are at a quite high level of playing. Learn the correct way. As has been said, all other wind instruments use the left on top format. Can you imagine a flautist in an orchestra pointing the other way to the rest because he is playing left handed. He would be out of a job. The same goes for string & brass instruments. Just encourage youer son to put his left hand on top. There is no other option.

  5. Wendy McNeil says:

    My eight-year-old grandchild is learning to play the recorder in his grade three class. He looked forward to and began the program with much enthusiasm, but has become very discouraged because it feels “wrong”, to him, to play in the approved manner.
    My question to purists who insist upon the right-handed technique because future wind-instrument playing will depend upon it is this: If a child becomes so defeated by his failure to play the recorder in a way that is foreign and discouraging to him, will future playing of a wind-instrument ever be an issue? With how many children will future wind-instrument playing be a factor, anyway?
    Let the little kid have fun with music in whichever way he can!

    • Charles MacRae says:

      I played the recorder at school and was ridiculed for playing left handed.
      It made me insecure and embarrassed to play and I stopped.
      I found the only sports I enjoyed were badminton and fencing.
      I would have continued to play instruments if I had been encouraged by teachers and parents.
      We are left handed and cannot change how we are wired.
      It is selfish and wrong by irnorant people who have spoiled many peoples chance of enjoying playing.
      Charlie MacRae

  6. Marian says:

    My 2 cents for what it’s worth: As a recorder teacher, I have had quite a few right handed students whose natural instinct is also to hold the left hand at the top, so I don’t think that that’s necessarily related to lefthandedness. I don’t know why some children naturally hold the recorder one way, and some the other way. May be it’s the way they hold it the first time they handle one, not sure. I’m all for making allowances for lefthandedness, and would never force anyone to use their right hand if their left hand would do as well (or better, which would be the case for left-handedness). But most instruments are meant to be played in a particular way and as usually both hands are equally important, left or right handedness does not come into play. Therefore, I agree with the above mentioned advice (alhtough not with the way it is expressed…) and would recommend that your son plays the recorder with the left hand at the top. (In the same way that I would recommend he doesn’t swap the steering wheel of his car to the other side..- I know, safety is an issue here, may be piano would be a better example: you probably wouldn’t look for a left-handed piano, although they do exist.) Turning the footjoint (if the recorder has one) to accommodate the left hand at the bottom is not really a satisfactory solution, as the holes are different sizes (and there is a note that requires one of those holes to be closed and not the other, although it will be a while before he gets to play that one…). Also, if he were to play another instrument later (especially woodwind like flute, oboe or clarinet, but also brass, eg trumpet or trombone), he would either have to re-learn with the hands in the other position, or go to a lot of trouble (and expense!) to find left-handed ones.