Do left-handers make better musicians?

From McCartney to Iommi, the masters of many genres are southpaws. Happy International Left Handers Day to the 10 percent

It’s an oft-wheeled-out old wives’ tale that left-handers are more creative – one that doesn’t quite stand up to scientific scrutiny. But take a cursory glance at the annals of musical history, and you’ll see countless influential musicians whose handedness is the mirror image of the norm. With today (August 13) International Left Handers Day, the date and the evidence both beg the question – is there something in the blood of lefties that makes them more musically inclined?

The science suggests that those who exercise their left hand as much as their right are technically ‘inconsistently handed’, which lends them to “prefer obscure styles of music” – a trait that’s ideal for any budding musician looking to push boundaries. The icons speak for themselves, too. Take Jimi Hendrix, for example – a famed left-hander whose influence on modern music needn’t be repeated yet again. Kurt Cobain, too, made his southpaw guitar a key factor in Nirvana’s longstanding iconography.


And, of course, there’s Paul McCartney, whose mirror-image bass playing is etched into the memories of anyone who’s so much as glanced at a Beatles performance. Lesser-spotted lefty Phil Collins’ kit is set up backwards, too. Less obvious? David Bowie, who was famously left-handed, but chose to play a right-handed guitar. Perhaps he was trying to save the pennies – a lefty guitar is more expensive, after all. It’s a trait that both Paul Simon and The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb can boast, too.

Travel back further still, and there’s yet more evidence to suggest the lefties have got something up their sleeves. Albert King and Otis Rush, two of blues’ most pivotal figures, were both left-handed, and both played right-handed guitars re-strung and flipped over. Even further back, some writings suggest that – even back when such things were seen as demonic – a little fella called Mozart was a lefty.

In underground genres like punk and metal, too, the cliche stands up. Trace the roots of heavy metal right to the source and you’ll find Tony Iommi, a revered left-hander and a man often single-handedly pinned as the creator of metal; his riff-heavy work in Black Sabbath defined a generation of headbangers. Rancid guitarist Tim Armstrong, meanwhile, perfected the choppy three-chord punk aesthetic, which has packed out Warped Tour crowds and sweatbox venues ever since.

All of these musicians are more than just additions to an arm-long list of icons – they’re integral innovators, whose works have pushed music forward in ways that countless other, right-handed musicians have failed to follow. While it would be trite to diminish the talents of the countless musicians whose dominant hand falls in line with the norm, there’s little denying the influence left-handed musicians have had on musical history. Long live the southpaw.


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