How uncommon is it to play lefty?

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Mike Clougherty
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How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by Mike Clougherty »

This is something I've been curious about. I play the whistle left handed, and out of all of the sessions and festivals I've been to, I have never seen another lefty. Is this a fluke or are there really not that many of us out there?
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by kkrell »

I don't think it's that uncommon. Mary Bergin certainly plays that way. I imagine quite a number of left-handed players do. I do see a lot of left-handed flute players, though - there seem to be tons of them.
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Tell us something.: Well, what can I say, I love whistling and the culture that surrounds it. I've been reading this forum for about a year, which is the same time that I've been playing the whistle, though I've been exposed to ITM for most of my life. With a name like Michael Patrick Clougherty who could've guessed? Haha. Anyway, I love this forum and the people that populate it, and I look forward to participating!
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by Mike Clougherty »

Wow! I feel like a bonehead for never noticing Mary's hands! I guess when playing videos I tend not to focus on whether they are left or right handed. I wonder why there seems to be a plethora of lefty flute players? If they are playing keyed flutes, they would most likely have to be specially made seeing as it's not the norm, would they not? I know some makers must make them, but I don't know how common it is.
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by An Draighean »

I am strongly right-handed, but for reasons now lost to me I picked up the whistle left-handed a long time ago. Not sure if the (Irish) person that introduced me to the instrument played that way, or I just picked it up that way and no one told me differently. I played that way for a long time, until I took up the pipes and realized what I had done. At that point having a choice to either learn the pipes left-handed or re-learn the whistle right-handed, I chose the latter. It took a good few months to begin to feel comfortable with it, but now I can't really remember how to play lefty. And, I think I'm a better whistler right-handed - some ornaments like crans just seem more fluid with my dominant hand. For me personally, I'm glad I made the switch.
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by kkrell »

Mike Clougherty wrote:I wonder why there seems to be a plethora of lefty flute players? If they are playing keyed flutes, they would most likely have to be specially made seeing as it's not the norm, would they not? I know some makers must make them, but I don't know how common it is.
Keyed lefty flutes are not so common, but some makers do offer them. Some flutes also have a symmetrical embouchure hole - others may require a special cut to faciliate left-handed playing. Usually, the left-handed player is either playing a keyless flute, or a keyed flute in which they do not use all (or any) of the keys (or some really strange reach-arounds).
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by whistlecollector »

kkrell wrote:
Mike Clougherty wrote:I wonder why there seems to be a plethora of lefty flute players? If they are playing keyed flutes, they would most likely have to be specially made seeing as it's not the norm, would they not? I know some makers must make them, but I don't know how common it is.
Keyed lefty flutes are not so common, but some makers do offer them. Some flutes also have a symmetrical embouchure hole - others may require a special cut to faciliate left-handed playing. Usually, the left-handed player is either playing a keyless flute, or a keyed flute in which they do not use all (or any) of the keys (or some really strange reach-arounds).
Historically there has been a market for "left handed" instruments. From the earliest days, keyed instruments had "swallowtail" keys that facilitated playing the low notes with either left or right hand. These weren't "left handed" instruments per se, but their symmetricality lent themselves to play in either direction.

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=46493&start=195#p1151448

Scroll down a bit to the picture of the three flageolets. There's an actual "left handed" English flageolet there. On this instrument, the keywork is set up specifically for a "left handed" player.

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=46493&start=210#p1179450

Scroll down to the curtal, and you can see the swallowtail key --- though I'm not sure how easy it would be to play left handed! (Haven't tried!)

Note below the curtal the old oboe. Many early oboes continued the practice of the swallowtail C key; and often sported symmetrical left and right handed D# keys. This old Potter marks a break from the old tradition in having only a right handed D# key and a C key with its touch to the right.
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Mike Clougherty
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by Mike Clougherty »

An Draighean, it's funny you say that because that's essentially my situation. I'm ambidextrous, but because of school and societal norms I do most things right handed (writing, etc.) When I first picked up the whistle, I just grabbed it in the way that seems to be described as lefty. Speaking of pipes, when I first started playing, I visited a festival and a piper saw me playing and told me "you best learn ta play proper or you'll never play the pipes." This was the first time that I realized that I played differently from everyone else, and he was right about the pipes!

Whistlecollector, that is really interesting to see the swallowtail key. I've never seen one before! Are they a thing of the past now, then? It seems like it would be mighty handy.
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by Mr.Gumby »

he was right about the pipes!
But I would assume it was not because of you playing left handed. I have taught several left handed pipers, true citeogs as well as ones that started with the hands reversed on the whistle. and then you have the likes of Patsy Touhey, Willie Clancy, Seán McKiernan or Mikie Smyth among others.

And how common, look at the mix on these pics.

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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by kenny »

I was at Hammy and Conal's flute "Cruinniu" in Ballyvourney a week ago. I think it was the Thursday night, there was a line of 5 young flute players [ by which I mean the oldest was maybe 16 ] backed up along the wall in the smaller session in "The Mills". Every one of them was playing left handed, and that's something I've never seen before - certainly not 5 in a row.
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by Mr.Gumby »

5 would be a lot in one go Kenny. I like how a left and right handed player can bounce tunes off eachother, flutes sticking out in both directions.


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Mike Clougherty
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Tell us something.: Well, what can I say, I love whistling and the culture that surrounds it. I've been reading this forum for about a year, which is the same time that I've been playing the whistle, though I've been exposed to ITM for most of my life. With a name like Michael Patrick Clougherty who could've guessed? Haha. Anyway, I love this forum and the people that populate it, and I look forward to participating!
Location: Midwest, USA

Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by Mike Clougherty »

Sorry about the lack of clarity in my statement on the pipes, Mr Gumby. It was meant to be a joke about how I'm pretty terrible at playing the pipes! The few times I've tried them, I played them right handed simply because the person who was showing me how to play was right handed. I'd be really curious in having another go left handed, though.

It's funny seeing that picture of the two flute players playing mirrored of each other. When I first joined my school band when I was 10, I wanted to play the flute, but they wouldn't allow you to play left handed because I would have been "in the way" of the other players playing right handed. I guess it's understandable, but I decided to play percussion and stand up bass in orchestra as it didn't matter to the director which way I played.
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by Mr.Gumby »

Sorry about the lack of clarity in my statement on the pipes, Mr Gumby.
I knew what you meant, I used the opportunity to get a few lefties in. Image

A bit silly to worry about looks, isn't it. Not all bands mind though.

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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by whistle1000 »

I've always been so impressed how Seamus Egan plays whistle right hand top but flute left hand top! :shock:
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by whistlecollector »

Mike Clougherty wrote:Whistlecollector, that is really interesting to see the swallowtail key. I've never seen one before! Are they a thing of the past now, then? It seems like it would be mighty handy.
Pretty much a thing of the past!

You can, of course, still find them on modern reproductions of ancient instruments. Many makers of baroque oboes, shawms and renaissance recorders use swallowtail keys. Modern zampognas also carry on with that kind of clapper key, though either a straight key or a half-swallowtail key.
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Re: How uncommon is it to play lefty?

Post by Steve Bliven »

whistle1000 wrote:I've always been so impressed how Seamus Egan plays whistle right hand top but flute left hand top! :shock:
I've always been impressed how Seamus Egan plays (period)

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