Would Jimi Hendrix have the same legacy if he’d played right handed? Well, ok, there’s a good chance yes. After all, he IS Jimi Hendrix. But part of what sets him apart is his style of playing and the cool way he holds the guitar. It’s his signature.
I’ve been pondering this a bit lately, because my daughter recently started guitar lessons. She’s right handed, but for some unknown reason insists that she’s more comfortable playing left-handed. Normally I’m all for being different, but this complicates things. I’m new to all things guitar, but apparently it means we either need to have her regular guitar restrung for a lefty, purchase a custom-made guitar for a six-year-old beginner (um, no) or force her to play right handed.
Now, playing right-handed has several benefits. Assuming this sticks and she continues, she could more easily borrow other people’s guitars. And buy them cheaper (any thing that starts with “custom made” sounds expensive). Also, many teachers are more comfortable teaching right-handed, simply because that’s what they’re used to.
But I did some research and found a few interesting tidbits. First, I learned that Paul McCartney originally tried to play the guitar right-handed, but made little progress. He was going nowhere until he reversed the strings and switched to what was more comfortable – playing lefty. The rest, they say, is history.
I also read that although he’s a lefty, Jimi Hendrix’s dad insisted that he play right handed (he thought playing left-handed was the sign of the devil), so Jimi learned to play both ways. He could play right-handed, left-handed, even upside down – but whenever his dad was around he made sure to play the ordinary, “right” way.
Don’t Fight Natural Instincts
Pondering these two greats made me think how some skills and natural talents simply can’t be forced. Sure, you can try to change someone or fit them into the mold of what is “normal,” or you can take their natural instincts and talents and encourage them to run with it. Ordinary isn’t always best.
I have a friend who is a pretty good golfer. He’s happens to be left-handed, but he plays right. When he was young and just beginning everyone insisted he play right handed, for many of the same reasons as the guitar above (easier to buy clubs, can always borrow someone else’s, etc.). So he did.
At first it was hard to learn and didn’t feel natural. He kept at it and today he enjoys golf and plays any chance he gets. He’s good, too. But he’s not great.
The question is, could he have been a great golfer had he been encouraged to play the way it felt natural? Who knows.
Would Paul McCartney have become frustrated and quit playing if he were forced to play the guitar right handed for much longer? Hope not. But again, who knows.
It’s not about Lefties vs. Righties
This post isn’t a debate about lefties vs. righties at all. It’s more about following your passion and natural instinct, even if it’s not the most conventional or easiest way. Most people who are experts in their field – no matter what industry — have a combination of passion, natural talent, hours of practice and good timing on their side. They followed their heart and jumped at opportunities. This is what makes them great.
The accountant next door may be a damn good accountant. But could he have been a great photographer had he pursued his first true passion?
Or what about the project manager down the hall? No doubt she’s good at what she does. But could she have been a great marine biologist if she’d pursued her childhood dream of working with dolphins?
Of course, we can’t all be legendary musicians, Nobel Prize-winning scientists or billionaire CEOs. I’m a dreamer but also a realist, and I’m all for having a plan B in life. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work your tail off for Plan A. Even if it’s hard or not the ordinary way.
There’s a decent chance my daughter will decide in time that guitar just isn’t her thing. So if you see a lefty youth size guitar on Craigslist in a few months you’ll know it didn’t quite work out. But at least it won’t be because we forced her into something that didn’t feel right. I want her to know that often the easiest, most traditional route isn’t always the path to greatness.
“I don’t work at being ordinary.” –Paul McCartney