After some delay, my book on human evolution and the hand is in production at MIT, title Prehension: A Philosophical Anthropology. I expect it to be published in fall 2015. As it happens, the left hand has been on my mind a lot recently, mainly for musical reasons. For both guitar and drums you need a good left hand: you have to cultivate dexterity in the non-dominant hand, which takes time and effort. What this does is enhance bilateral symmetry, so that you are not so manually lopsided. This changes proprioception, among other things–you feel your left hand more, becoming more aware of it. Since I play a lot of racquet games, and so have a very developed right hand and arm, the change in my left hand restores a sense of balance. Recently I was watching Buddy Rich playing drum solos and was very struck by his left hand technique, which seems physically impossible (but there are techniques to develop it)–just amazingly fast, controlled, and musical. Then there are guitar shredders whose left hand achieves remarkable feats–like the guy who can play 27 notes in one second. I’d like to know how many drum rebounds per second Buddy got with his left hand–including bounces it could be as much as a hundred. I’m designating October Left Hand Month (or Right Hand Month if you are left handed). Let’s celebrate our non-dominant side, with all its locked-up potential. (This is part of the Cult.)

5 replies
  1. brent kozak
    brent kozak says:

    I look forward to reading ‘Prehension’ when it comes out.
    I am left handed but play the guitar right handed as i learned on a guitar which i shared with my father and brother who are both right handed.
    This caused me to struggle with timing in the beginning(hours of metronome practice was the solution)but i had a great advantage with chords and string-bending for lead guitar.
    I met any frustrations early on with the realization that left handed pianists would not have the luxury of inverting the strings or the instrument.

    • Colin McGinn
      Colin McGinn says:

      Ringo Starr is left-handed but plays drums right-handed, so he had to work on his rhythm too. It’s odd that on guitar one’s best hand does the least complex work (strumming as opposed to fretting, bending, etc). The dominant hand is where the rhythm mainly resides. Yet in drumming the left hand carries the beat on the snare.

  2. brent kozak
    brent kozak says:

    That is an inspiring fact about Ringo.
    I also think it odd that the non-dominant hand is usually the fretting hand on guitar.
    In my case it now feels completely natural playing right-handed and totally awkward when i have tried to play a left-handed guitar.
    I also experienced that sense of balance as i developed my right hand dexterity through learning the finger-picking style of playing.

  3. Richard
    Richard says:

    In Simon Callow’s series ‘Classical Destinations II – Great Cities and Their Music’ there is mention of Chopin’s left hand. In Warsaw’s Chopin Museum we are shown a bronze of that hand and told that Chopin’s left hand was probably the single most important thing in the musician’s life. It was said that the artist “very carefully maintained his left hand”. Callow states, “The left hand is considered the absolute security of any piano player’s technique.”

    ( By the way … I am repeatedly brought back to your beautiful assertions in ‘The Whispering Mind: The Enduring Conundrum of Consciousness’. )

  4. Alan Colquhoun
    Alan Colquhoun says:

    Adroit pianism eschews gaucheness.
    Both hands are evenly subsumed under a meaningful attitude.
    Granted, the fingers must hit their mark (and that takes practice).
    But in performance, it’s the hands (and face) that sluice the attitude, much as they’re prone to do when speaking (or signing).


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