Jimi Hendrix Greatness Explained
Jimi Hendrix was a pretty good guitar player. He was also more ambidexterous than most. At least one guy quoted by another guy thinks this may not be coincidental.
Was Jimi Hendrix’s ambidexterity the secret to his talent? This is the question explored in a new paper by psychologist Stephen Christman (via TwentyFourBit), who argues that Hendrix’s versatility informed not just his guitar-playing — but his lyrics too.
According to Christman, who is based at the University of Toledo, Hendrix was not strictly left-handed. Although he played his right-handed guitar upside down, and used his left hand to throw, comb his hair and hold cigarettes, Hendrix wrote, ate and held the telephone with his right hand. He was, Christman argues, “mixed-right-handed”. And this “mixed”-ness, signaling better interaction between the left and right hemispheres of the guitarist’s brain, suffused every part of his music.
Hendrix’s special ability, Christman wrote, “enabled him to integrate the actions of his left and right hands while playing guitar, to integrate the lyrics and melodies of his songs, and perhaps even to integrate the older blues and R&B traditions with the emerging folk, rock, and psychedelic sounds of the 60s”. Certainly the guitarist’s technical virtuosity is clear. Christman points to Hendrix’s technique on songs like Still Raining, Still Dreaming, “where Hendrix uses his right hand to play an intricate series of bends and slides, while his left hand, in between plucking the strings, uses the pickup selector to switch back and forth between the treble and bass pickups”.
Many guitarists are left-handed, including Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler and Kurt Cobain, and Christman argues that great guitarists tend to be relatively ambidextrous. Conversely, many piano and keyboard players are strongly right- or left-handed: they rely on the independence of their two hands, playing separate lines.
This is an interesting theory. On the other hand — pun initially unintended — one would have to know what percentage of great guitar players were right-, left-, and mixed-handed and compare this to the distribution of these traits in the general population.