On Being a Left-Handed Pianist

Not a trumpet
O lift your little pinkie

The more that I play the piano, the more that I understand the complexity of the mental and mechanical gymnastics from when the eyes see the notes to when the fingers play them. This is even more so if I am attempting to play from memory and I have to use my not considerable memory.

Southpaws

Most people are right-handed, with about 10% of us (studies vary) being left-handed.  I am one of those southpaws, a term which originated with left-hand pitchers in baseball. Left-handed baseball pitchers and left-hand bowlers in cricket are often considered to have an advantage  when pitching/bowling to right-handers because of the different angle of attack that they can provide.

One pianist, Paul Wittgenstein, famously commissioned piano music solely for the left-hand after the amputation of his right arm during the First World War. One of the most famous of which, and well worth a listen, is Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, which will take you 20 minutes.

Cross-Dominance

So is there any advantage to my piano-playing because I am left-handed? By this I mean does being left-handed ameliorate the natural difficulties that many pianists face when playing the piano. To be honest, I have never really found that to be the case. My right hand feels like my dominant hand, and I wonder whether I am truly (or at least fully) left-handed. I am certainly not ambidextrous but I do show elements of cross-dominance. Allow me to show you a chart of how I use my hands that explains what I mean.

Cross-Dominance of Left & Right Hand

Left-HandRight-Hand
Writing
Eating (spoon)
Cutting (knife, saw, shears etc.)
Tennis
Badminton
Squash
Throwing
Eating (knife & fork)
Cutting (scissors)
Cricket
Golf
Snooker
Pool

It does get confusing (cross-dominance is sometimes known as hand confusion) because I think of myself as being left-handed mentally even though physically the right hand feels stronger, and not just on the piano but more generally in life.

Exercising & Muscle Memory 

I do daily *cough* exercises to strengthen the muscles and fingers of the left-hand. Some of those involve exercises written by stalwarts of all piano teachers, Czerny & Hanon, but also involving the device that is pictured at the very top of this post,  enabling me to exercise a whole hand or to isolate fingers in turn

My main technical weakness in my left hand is in descending notes, either in scales or in passage work, where the weakness of the fingers means that they tend to trip over each other. However, it is good to be aware of that technical flaw and to be able to work on improving it – through targeted exercises and through slow deliberate practice so the fingers learn over time what is expected of them and muscle memory starts to kick in.

Anyway, tonight I am cooking tea so I am off to peel some potatoes with a left-handed potato peeler. Don’t even get me started there.

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