Challenging Traditions

The idiodextrous bassists featured on this site play ‘left-handed’ on a ‘right-handed’ double bass.

Why are the words ‘right-handed’ and ‘left-handed’ in inverted commas here? Well, because idiodexterity challenges the traditions of which hand is given which role in playing strings instruments.

Over centuries, playing a string instrument ‘right-handed’ has come to mean using the right hand for producing sound (plucking, bowing, strumming) and the left hand for pitch control (fingering notes and chords). There’s a clear bias built into this arrangement that assumes the right hand is the dominant (stronger, more ‘dextrous’) hand for the majority of the population – which makes some sense, since around 90% of humans are right-handed in most populations. (See this excellent book for more).

What is less clear is why the task of producing sound is considered to be best suited to using the dominant hand. Studying idiodexterity challenges the traditional way of doing things and the assumptions on which they are built.

What do you think about the traditional assigning of the right hand to sound production and the left for pitch control? Visit the Participate page to have your say!

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