If you’re left handed, the world of guitar can sometimes feel a little alienating. After all, only 10% of all players are left handed. And if you’re teaching yourself, you’ve probably found that most resources are geared toward right handed people. But is learning as a lefty any different? In this article, we’ll take you through what you need to know and show you some helpful left handed guitar chords for beginners.
Left Handed Guitar Chords Every Guitarist Must Know
Most guitarists start out the learning process with playing open chords. But once you’re comfortable with open chords, learning barre chords as a left-handed guitarist will take your playing to new heights. Because you use your index finger to “bar” across the strings, your hand acts like a capo. So by moving the same shape, you can play in different keys. (For more info on how to play chords in any key, check out the section below.)
Barre chords tend to be easier to remember, too. Most major chords use the same fingering pattern, as do many minor chords, and so on. In the case of F major (the first barre chord many guitarists learn), all you have to do is lift up your index finger and you’ve got F minor.
Though these chords are very convenient, they do take some practice to get right. Namely, you’ll need to practice getting just enough pressure on the strings. Some newer players don’t push hard enough, and that results in the muting and buzzing of certain notes. Other players push too hard, and that leads to needless hand fatigue.
If you’re just beginning to learn barre chords, we would recommend you start with the following:
- F major
- F minor
- G major
- G minor
- A major
- A minor
Before you really progress through barre chords, make sure that you understand just how much pressure to apply to the fretboard. To make sure you’re fingering your chords correctly, make a barre chord shape of your choice with your fretting hand. Then strum down once. Does the chord ring out clearly? Or are some strings muted and buzzy?
If the latter happens, you may need to apply a bit more pressure. Take care to ensure that your fingers aren’t touching strings they aren’t supposed to. Remember that when fingering individual notes, it’s best to use your fingertip instead of the finger pad.
Similarly, when you’re playing barre chords, it’s a good idea to let your index finger “roll” outward a bit. This makes sure you’re barring the strings with the tougher outer edge of your finger.
Are Chords Different on a Left Handed Guitar?
Are lefty guitar chords any different from chords for right handed players? The answer to this question is somewhat complicated. When it comes to which notes you play on which frets, the chords are the same. However, left handed chord diagrams are different from those for right handed people.
Chord diagrams are designed to look like the neck of your guitar if the guitar is upright and you’re standing in front of it. On a right handed guitar, the low E string is on the left. On a left handed guitar, the low E is on the right.
This means that left handed guitar chord diagrams are essentially flipped versions of right handed diagrams. Many left handed guitarists learn to read chord diagrams for righties, but it may take some getting used to. If you can, it may be helpful to find some left handed chord diagrams. Many offer them for free online, and if you’re a beginner, learning from left handed chord diagrams can make mastering chords a lot easier.
Of course, if you sometimes use left handed chord diagrams and sometimes use diagrams for left handed players, it’s easy to become confused. When reading chord diagrams, always check the right and the left sides and look for the thickest string. Since that’s the low E string, you’ll then be able to orient yourself on the fretboard.
How Do I Teach Myself Left Handed Guitar?
You may have noticed that most online instructional videos are geared toward right-handed guitarists. If you’re left handed, it can be helpful to get some advice on your fretting hand position that’s especially geared toward lefties. That said, the fact that some guitar courses are taught by right-handed people doesn’t mean they won’t work for you as a lefty.
The truth is that learning left handed guitar isn’t all that different, but you may need to do a little mental gymnastics to flip around any chord diagrams or instructional videos you see. Before beginning your journey, it can be helpful to delve into some resources for left handed guitarists. Many websites offer free lefty chord diagrams and scale diagrams. Some even include links to specialty shops that offer a range of left handed guitars for sale.
Now that you’re ready, it’s a good idea to make a plan for teaching yourself to play. Here are a few common options:
- Purchase books and let them guide you
- Take an online course and let it guide you
- Piece together your own program using free resources
Each of these is a viable path. But regardless of which one you pursue, remember that having a plan when it comes to your learning is key to success. Often, the main reason beginning and intermediate guitarists don’t progress is that they don’t know what to learn next.
Easy Guitar Chords for Left Handed Players
Left handed guitar chords for beginners often aren’t too different from guitar chords for right handed beginners. The first guitar chords lefty players learn are usually open chords that don’t require a whole lot of hand stretching.
If you’re just starting out, and especially if you’re teaching yourself, it can be helpful to have an idea of some guitar chords for left handed beginners and intermediate players. Many of these chords were chosen because they are used in a wide range of songs in a wide variety of genres.
Depending on who you ask, these chords might be considered beginner chords or intermediate chords. Since many of them require you to coordinate three fingers on the fretboard, they can be a little tougher than the two-finger chords you may want to learn at first. (For some guidance on two-finger chords, see the section on easy chords for beginners below.) As you master these chords, don’t worry about diving into barre chords, which are a more challenging part of learning rhythm guitar.
Every beginner left handed guitarist (and really every guitarist in general) should know these common chords, especially when they’re played open and in the first position:
- C major
- E minor
- D major
- G minor
- A minor
- F major
- E major
- A major
With the exception of E minor, all of these chords require you to coordinate three fingers. If you aren’t sure if you’re ready for that step, you could always start with E minor until you feel ready for more challenging chords.
Part of the challenge of teaching yourself to play guitar is knowing when it’s time to move on. When it comes to basic chords, make sure that you can switch between them quickly and without really thinking. It definitely takes some time to get to this point, so be patient with yourself! Practice your accuracy in switching your chords, and the speed will come in time.
How Do I Play These in All Keys? Tips for Lefties
As you learn both left hand guitar notes and lefty chords, you’re probably hoping to be able to play in different keys depending on the song you’re playing. If you’ve been working on scales, you’ve probably found that some left handed guitar notes can be played in different keys just by moving a chord shape to a different fret. Scales are fairly easy to play in any key once you get the hang of them, but what about chords?
The journey toward being able to easily play chords in all keys begins with barre chords (discussed above). To play the F major shape described above, you bar your index finger across the first fret and then use the rest of your fingers to make the shape of an open E major.
You can move this exact same shape up and down the neck to play different chords. But to understand what exactly you’re playing, you need to understand the concept of root notes. For this chord shape, the root note is whatever note you’re playing on the low E string. If you play the low E string down the neck (going one fret at a time), you get these notes in order: F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb and so on. So if you slide the F major shape to the third fret, you’re playing a G major.
When you’re first starting out, it can be helpful to have a handy reference to remind you of which fret goes with which chord. Here’s a quick list to help:
- Open — E
- 1st Fret — F
- 2nd Fret — F#/Gb
- 3rd Fret — G
- 4th Fret — G#/Ab
- 5th Fret — A
- 6th Fret — A#/Bb
- 7th Fret — B
- 8th Fret — C
- 9th Fret — C#/Db
- 10th Fret — D
- 11th Fret — D#/Eb
- 12th Fret — E
As you practice and begin to use these chords, you’ll likely start to internalize the root notes. When this happens, you’ll be able to move to them without really thinking.
Be patient with yourself while learning barre chords — whether you’re a lefty or a right-handed guitarist, switching between barre chords is a challenge. This is especially true when you switch between barre chord shapes or when you switch between barre chords and open chords.
Now that we’ve been through some of the most important guitar chords for lefties, you may still have some questions. Here are some frequently asked questions:
Of course — playing the guitar right handed is near-impossible for left handed people. The best thing to do is make sure you have a left handed guitar. Of course, some players, like Kurt Cobain, simply flipped a right-handed acoustic guitar upside down and re-string it. Some other players take it a step further, flipping a guitar over, not restringing it, and learning inverted versions of notes and chords. But generally, it’s a lot easier to play a standard left handed guitar.
The steps to stringing a left handed guitar are essentially the same as the steps to stringing a right handed instrument. However, if the guitar is on a stand and you look at the strings head-on, they will appear to be in a different order.
With a right handed guitar, the low E string will be on the left and the high E string will be on the right when looking at a guitar this way. However, when you look at a left handed guitar, the high E string will be on the left and the low E will be on the right. The order changes to ensure that the high E string is closest to the ground while you play.
As mentioned above, left handed guitars appear to have the strings in reverse order compared to right handed guitars. So if you’re converting a right-handed guitar to a left handed guitar, you would install the strings in the opposite direction.
Converting a guitar is harder than it looks, though. Most acoustic guitars have compensated saddles that help adjust string length so the guitar’s intonation can be perfected. If you convert a guitar but leave the saddle the same, your intonation is likely to be very, very off.
Similarly, you’ll need to install a left handed nut. Just as the strings on a left handed guitar are in reverse order compared to a right handed acoustic, the size of the string slots in the nut must be in reverse order as well. If you’re fairly confident in your abilities, you may be able to take the conversion process on yourself. But when you’re in doubt, see if there’s a guitar shop near you that can do it. Most of the time, converting a guitar you already have is cheaper than buying a new guitar.
Unfortunately, many left handed guitars are more expensive than guitars for right handed players, even if the specs on a guitar are otherwise the same. There are a couple reasons for this. Left handed guitars take more time and money to craft because they deviate from the normal production at any given factory. And since the company will sell very few lefty guitars compared to guitars for right handed people, they are not especially economical to produce. Another downside for lefties is that most guitar brands don’t offer every model as a left handed version as well.
However, purchasing a left handed guitar does offer some major advantages over just flipping over a right handed guitar. This is especially obvious with electric guitars. If you flip a right handed guitar and play it left handed, the tremolo arm will be in the wrong place, and the volume and tone controls will be so high up that it’s difficult and awkward to use them. And if your guitar has a cutaway (especially a single cutaway like a Telecaster or a Les Paul), the cutaway will be rendered largely useless. Not to mention, it will look funny at the top of the guitar.
There’s a much bigger variety of left handed guitars available than there was decades ago. In many cases, you’ll have an easier time playing (and sound better, too!) if you make the investment and purchase a guitar designed for left handed people.
We hope that you now feel like you have a grasp of what you need to know to successfully start (or continue) to play left handed guitar. Learning guitar can be a challenge at first, but you’ll ultimately be glad you put in the hard work. And remember that even though playing left handed has its own unique challenges, learning to play guitar left handed isn’t all that different from learning right handed guitar. Happy playing!