Left Handers Day

Did you know that 10% of population have a super power?  

They are left handers!

The 13thAugust is Left Handers Day, a day to tell everyone how proud you are of being left-handed, and also to make people aware of the problems left-handers face working with gadgets designed for the majority of the population who are right handed.

7 Problems for left-handers’ 

When left handed as a child, it’s your birth right, 

No need for someone to change the way you write.

Chairs with desks attached, always on the wrong side – that’s not bright.

The flap covering jean zips blocks access from the left, quite a plight.

Pens in banks to sign cheques, are always attached on the right

Spiral notebooks and three-ringed binders feel like torture, and cause a fight,

Normal scissors used by most, don’t work for lefties, try as hard as we might,

Cameras have their buttons on the right-hand side, now that’s a complete slight,

Our own hands smudge our writing as we go, which is no reason for us to feel contrite,

Come on designers, provide more left-handed stuff, bring us more delight,

Rather than us having to face gadgets for the right-handed, forever putting up a fight.

Left handers of the world, time for us to unite!

(a Monorhyme poem © Lis McDermott 2020)

Sinister Left Hand

Throughout history, left-handers have had it tough.  

However, early on, for the Celts, left-handedness was associated with femininity, and they worshipped the left side.  

Then Christianity came along, and the right side begins to be associated with good, and the left side, bad.

“And before him shall be gathered all nations: he shall separate all nations one from another, as a shepherd divideth hissheep from the goats; and heshall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left…then shall the king say unto them on hisright hand, come, ye blessed of my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…then shall hesay also unto them on the left hand, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matthew 25; 32

(I’ve used the older King James version because I love the poetic language).

Muslims also honour the right hand above the left. The right hand is used for honourable purposes, and the left for actions which though necessary are unclean.

During the Spanish inquisition, the Catholic church condemned and sometimes executed those who were left handed and in the Salem witch trials, use of left hand could lead to being burnt at the stake.

This idea has continued throughout history, with left-handers being persecuted as evil or witches.

Along with historical myths about left-handedness being linked to the devil, (one reason possibly due to the smaller number of people being left-handed), language may also play a part in the negative reactions to left-handedness.

In French, left is ‘gauche’, which in English translates as clumsy.

The Italian word for left is ‘sinistra’.   

As a harpist, having to learn the harp, musical vocabulary was an extra, on top of the instrument-specific musical terms I’d already learnt as a pianist and very bad, violinist.  

When you play the harp, because of the physical nature of the instrument, your hands can play both bass notes, and treble notes.  Therefore, on the music the words mano sinistra,and mano destra, informed me as to which hand to use to play those particular notes.

I could remember the ‘sinistra’ one, mainly because it sounded like sinister, and I knew that the left hand had, in the past been thought as ‘of the devil’.  Not particularly PC, but it helped me at the time.

Right-handed and left-handed instruments

Thinking back to my harp made me consider how left-handed musicians cope with predominantly right-handed instruments.  

There are obviously some lefthanders who play instruments where your hand dominance doesn’t  matter, because both hands are required to have equal skill, such as the piano, harp, many woodwind and brass instruments.

However, the guitar is an instrument that can be adapted to be played in many ways.

Left handed guitarists or electric bass players do one of the following:

  • Play the instrument truly right-handed
  • Play the instrument truly left-handed
  • Alter right-handed instruments to play left-handed
  • Turn right-handed instruments upside down to pick with the left hand, but not altering the strings, therefor leaving them reversed from the normal order.

(The fingering is the same for methods 2 and 3.)

The violin, cello, and other members of the string family, (apart from the harp), are instruments where your left hand has the dominant role in creating the pitch. The right hand controls the bow. Left-handed violins do exist, but for orchestral players, they learn to play the right-handed way, because it would cause disruption in the orchestra. The way the string section is seated, (in pairs), if a right-handed player sat next to a left-handed player their bows would be constantly becoming tangled.

Famous Musicians who are left-handed

  • Paul McCartney -switches the order of the strings
  • Kurt Cobain -was a natural left-hander, but taught to write with his right hand. Fender made him special Mustangs when the band became famous, after he found it hard to find left-handed guitars.
  • Jimi Hendrix- like Paul McCartney, strung his guitar strings the other way around.
  • Ringo Starr – a left-handed drummer played a right-handed drum kit.
  • Phil Collins – a left-handed drummer played a left-handed drum kit. (The instruments that create a kit are arranged differently).
  • Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath – also a left-handed guitarist. He lost the tips of his middle and ring fingers in an accident when 17 years old, and created plastic fingertips which enabled him to create his sound.
  • Paul Wittgenstein- was a classical pianist, who lost his right hand during the First World War. He was determined to play the piano successfully again and commissioned several important works for the left hand alone. The most famous being Ravel’s beautiful, but very hard to play, ‘Piano Concerto for the Left Hand’.

I don’t have a super-power, as I’m not a left-hander, but I have several friends who are. Today, celebrate your right to be a lefty!

“Whatever the right hand finds to do, the left hand carries a watch on its wrist to show how long it takes to do it”.

Ralph Washington Sockman