Left or Right?

I'm working on a new course, and part of the course deals with scales. I think it is helpful to see some form of a diagram on screen at the same time as the scale is being demonstrated on the video, but I can't decide which way to orient the diagram!

That's where YOU come in!

At the end of the day, this is all about how I can help you learn to play guitar, so I'm just asking a simple question today: which of the two pictures below is most intuitive for you to understand?

LEFT ORIENTATION (Diagram shows the nut on the left, how right-handed players would normally approach the fretboard):

Left Orientation

Left Orientation

RIGHT ORIENTATION (Diagram shows the nut on the right, in line with how the guitar is shown in the video so the pattern moves in the same direction as the fingers in the video are going):


Right Orientation

Please vote for your preference, left or right, in the poll below. Additionally, if you have any other thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them in the comments area below.

63 Responses to “Left or Right?”

  1. Rick August 1, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    Is there a way you have it as an option? If there was a button to click on you could toggle between the pics.

    • SL Scott August 2, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

      I prefer the first option, it is more intuitive. Newbies may not yet understand that they must first imagine the guitar as if it were laying in playing position upon their lap. Once you figure out that trick, it will be easy. I am not a beginner but I am not all that advanced either and this is very logical to me. I would suggest also NUMBERING the strings for students. Not everyone knows the names of the strings or the acronym Eddy Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddy to learn the strings or the the difference between the 1st and 6th string. It isn't difficult, but a lot of info for a beginner to learn. When I began I knew there were two E strings, one was thick, one thin, one high, one low but the concept of the order was baffling to me, as was memorizing the string names. When I numbered AND named the strings it was easier to keep it all straight in my head. Most tab charts I have seen in books and on other sites use the LEFT option but some add the numbers to help beginners handle the info in a more logical way. That's my two cents!

  2. Fred August 1, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    When I view the information the nut is on the left. However, the notes your showing on the right correspond to how I see them on the left. This is very confusing?

  3. Neil August 1, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    My mind picks up on the right orientation easier. I was getting brain cramps looking at the left orientation.

  4. Jonathan Boettcher August 1, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    @ Fred - I can't make it an option in a video, the DVD is rather non-interactive in that sense. The other thing about the left and right is that the low string switches from being "lowest" on the page in the left format to being "highest" on the page in the right format... in other words, the string position is reversed as well.

    @ Neil - funny, I get brain cramps going the other direction. Guess that's why I asked! 🙂

  5. Peter August 1, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    My right side of my brain felt it was easier when viewed from the right. I had to "flip" my thinking viewed from the left. Either way would work for me. Your explanation is clear and easy to understand. Keep up the good work.......P

  6. kim August 1, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    The notes on the left feels natural - that is the way I see the neck and it is consistent with other training material so no time is wasted making adjustments.

  7. Glenn August 1, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    I ditto what Kim said. Keep up the good work!!

  8. Martin Krohne August 1, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    In this context, the diagram should match what I see the guitarist doing with his fingers. I know this is the opposite of a lot of other training materials. In truth, I have not found a consistent approach in training materials anyway. The best compromise would be placing the nut at the top. This would probably not work with the layout you have here.

    Placing the nut on the left while showing the live fretboard with the nut on the right is too large a cognitive load on the user. Match the diagram and the video image. If the diagram has the nut on the left, show me a video with the nut on the left. And vice versa.

    The actual direction matters less than having a diagram that matches the accompanying video.

    My two cents as a graphic designer for over 30 years and an interaction designer since 1994.

    • Jonathan Boettcher August 1, 2014 at 10:54 am #

      @Martin - Thanks for your input Martin, that's basically the thought process that started this whole debate. From a design stand point, I completely agree with you, and it is consistent then between the live demonstration and the diagram. That said, my own brain just absorbs the left-oriented diagram instantly, and I have to look several times at the right oriented one to figure it out.... argh.

      I do like Rick's idea of making it interactive, and your suggestion of a vertical diagram; however unfortunately I think neither of those are practical in this case.

      So far the Left Orientation appears to be winning in the polls 🙂

  9. Belinda August 1, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    so is one upside down from the other. (brain has melted)
    Then I say use what is normally used. lol 😉

  10. Martin Krohne August 1, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    And, as a final note, many guitar players learn by watching other guitar players play. That generally places the nut on the right from our viewing direction.

  11. Martin Krohne August 1, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    Next question. Takamine or Epiphone? Hah!

  12. Axtone' August 1, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    In reference to video, the right side orientation is the most logical. Without the video the left works for me also. Either way I could transpose it......

  13. hi August 1, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    Maybe try filming from the top of the guitar looking down. Then show the right side version if the diagram. That will give a "pov" perspective. Just a suggestion. Give it a try. Maybe w/a go-pro.

    • Jonathan Boettcher August 1, 2014 at 10:59 am #

      Yeah, I've been thinking of experimenting with that... I'll have to pickup a GoPro and play around a bit.

  14. Gerry August 1, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Right, in-line with how the guitar is shown works simple and easy for me. Thanks.

  15. David August 1, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    When I view instructors playing on a video such as yours, I am looking with the nut to the right. This is the best way for me. I can view the finger positions quickly, and I guess both sides of my squash are interconnected, so it works for me.... however... I just picked up my guitar, and looking down, the nut is to my left. All the scales I practice, the nuts on the left, ( obviously) and it seems real easy for me to practice the scales looking down from this position. An Interesting dylemma. Send them out both ways, and see what sticks.

    • Jonathan Boettcher August 1, 2014 at 11:15 am #

      An interesting dilemma indeed! 🙂

      So far, in terms of "sticking", the poll is about 60/40 split in favor of the left view.

  16. john August 1, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    To me it is a "no-brainer", left only. Right doesn't "make sense" to me as I look down at the fretboard from above the nut is always on the left, yes I'm right handed. Never actually noticed that the image of the guitar is backward to the fretboard diagram. I still find that left is for me.

  17. David August 1, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    Have you ever been asked about lead guitar playing, individual notes to the verse chords, or closing your eyes, and playing some lead fingerings, (to see what you have to say), or see what you have left in your bag?
    Thanks for answering my post. I play in 6 piece band on Cape Cod, rhythm guitar, with some lead work woven in between, Our music director is always on me to express myself more, and he does have patience, but sometimes I keep playing in the same box, which at times sound good to me, then it seems to get a little redundant. At 60, I need to be able to quickly switch positions or work my way through the positions on the neck, then jump back to the Tonic Chord.
    i'm not getting any younger...........ha

    • Jonathan Boettcher August 1, 2014 at 11:40 am #

      Hi David, yeah I think a lot of players are looking for that.

      In terms of understanding the various scale positions and how they all fit together so that you can use them interchangeably, my Guitar Scale Patterns course addresses that issue...

      In terms of expressing yourself more, well, that's kind of the whole point of the course that I'm working on at present... 🙂

  18. Jim August 1, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    BEST video instruction I've ever seen was an instructor wearing a go-camera on his forehead, so you watched his fingering in YOUR OWN perspective in real time!

    Of course, that was right-handed. In the absence of a lefty video instructor, southpaws should just keep "mirroring" a right handed player as you show above.

  19. Glynis August 1, 2014 at 11:46 am #

    The left view is the more standard approach, and for continuing to learn to play guitar, it would seem a good idea to learn how to read the diagram in the standard manner; it would be a challenge to have to relearn how to read a diagram when confronted with the left orientation. That being said, could you offer two views of the guitar--how the instructor sees the keyboard and how the student sees the keyboard. Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in on the choices.

  20. Ron Rees August 1, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    I picked left...however I would also like to see diagrams using intervals (roman numerals) versus (alphabetical) note designations for the chords in-zync with the fingering. I'm probably dreaming right? This might be a software issue (my guess). Are you employing any special software?


    • Jonathan Boettcher August 1, 2014 at 11:54 am #

      Hi Ron, that's a good point; I know with the diagrams in our Riff Ninja courses, many are shown with both roman numerals and note designations in two diagrams on the same page.

      Using the numerals does lend itself more readily to a pattern-oriented perspective. I'll have a think on that...

      In terms of software, I wish I had some fancy software to spit these out for me, but alas, it's all manually created in Photoshop.

      • Ron Rees August 1, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

        If you're doing a lot of creating/editing/screenshot type exercises you might like this free program called "IrfanView". (http://www.irfanview.com) I've been using it for years and it's compatible with all sort of other graphics programs including some digital music programs and formats (avi,wav,mpg,mov,mid,rmi,wma,wmv.aiff, au/snd), I've created websites and played with animation...maybe this may help you.


  21. brojer August 1, 2014 at 11:57 am #

    Colored dots only work for those with inkjet printers. They can't be told apart with laser printers which more and more people are switching to.

    • Jonathan Boettcher August 1, 2014 at 11:58 am #

      But this is on video...

      • brojer August 1, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

        Yes, but many people print these diagrams to have them more handy than being at a computer screen..

        • Jonathan Boettcher August 1, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

          That's true... even on black and white though, the red dots come through a lighter shade of gray. Not perfect, but still helpful I think. I suppose I could try different shapes in addition to different colors...

          • brojer August 1, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

            Good idea. I vote for a triangle for the root note.

  22. Mike August 1, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Hey Jonathan. I've always thought the left orientation helps with memorizing the pattern more effectively as it has the same "direction of travel" and orientation of intervals as from the players perspective. Also, left handed players have told me it's not so much of an issue if it's right handed perspective (although obviously it won't be the same for everyone).

    A tip for recording videos from guitarist POV. No need to strap a camera to your head! If you can find a way to position the camera upside down, slightly above the fretboard and pointing down, you'll get the same perspective as the left orientation diagram. When the camera is upside down and pointing down at the fretboard it's the same as if it was positioned "looking over your shoulder". Hope that helps!

  23. robert poitras August 1, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    because I also teach DOBRO & PEDAL STEEL GUITAR...while facing the student (via ...video or live ...'Skype') they conceive this version of the image & retain the info much easier ...on average great job .

  24. John H. August 1, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    Left has been generally accepted since TAB became a common form of tuition. Why re - invent the wheel?

  25. chris August 1, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    def the left for me, because its the same as my fretboard when i look down to play it.Right works too in the sense that its the same as the video,however my brain then tries to convert that back to left for me to play it. Hope this helps

  26. Artie August 1, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    Until Brojer wrote about the colored dots, since I am colorblind I did not know they were colored. Now don't faint, I can be taught. I like both since I often switch hands and guitars, drives people nuts!

  27. Larry August 1, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    I've been playing guitar for over 40 years and you get used to the standard. If I was just starting out the right would be much easier to read. So why change it now and make it difficult for the ones that took the time to learn it the left way. Jonathan, just wanted you to know I like your teaching style.

  28. Paul August 1, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

    Left seems to.be the standard in the music publishing industry. If you try to re-invent the wheel, people will get confused. Just my .02

  29. Terry August 1, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    One thing I had to look closely at, between the 2 examples, is the fact that you are showing 2 different scales! In order to compare, I recommend showing either the Am Pentatonic in both, or the A major scale in both! Will be much easier to compare apples to apples!

  30. Phil August 1, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

    Right hand works well for me, as I am a left handed player, it's like looking into a mirror, no trying to do the mind games of turning upside down which is what I normally have to do, but us left type people are an easy going lot.

  31. Alex August 1, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

    I feel the scale needs to match the point of view. Whilst looking at someone else playing then right. When looking down at myself playing then left. Once you know the patterns instinctively, I find it doesn't matter which way round they are, as you don't have to look at what your fingers are doing. Great for when your playing with others as you can watch and follow what's going on. On stage I always try to get on the right of the stage so I can more easily watch what everyone else is playing.

  32. MJ Wright August 1, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    Hi JB...
    I almost feel guilty voting for the L-handed view...because I'm left handed, and I believe that we're probably the majority when it comes to Guitarists.
    It doesn't seem quite fair to the righties out there, but...so it goes, eh?
    Actually...that's the first time I ever saw a R-handed diagram, and I could quickly get used to using it.
    I just hope that the Righties out there feel the same way about the L-handed diagrams!?!?
    MJ Wright

  33. Reg August 1, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

    I just look at it like my guitar, nut to the left and looking down the strings, works for me.

  34. TIM August 1, 2014 at 11:19 pm #


  35. Gavin August 1, 2014 at 11:48 pm #

    Most of the responses favouring left view seem to be from experienced players who have tortured themselves to learn how to reverse what they see the guitarist doing so they can understand the left view. Having done that, they now prefer that all other learners should go through the same excruciating pain as they had to. In my view this has no validity and the common sense approach is the right view which mirrors what the guitarist is doing and is therefore totally intuitive for the newby, which is for whom the course should be written. The experienced players are more than capable of adjusting to the right view. Just because everyone has been doing it the wrong way for years does not mean that you should continue the fallacy. Just my two cents but I admire your thinking outside the box to make life easier for newbys for a change. The reference to left hand view matching tabs is a bit obscure to me because I have always thought that tabs are wrong anyway. Tabs a;so require the player to reverse what they are readint in order to appky them as they have thestrings reversed to the way the player views the fretboard. Think aboout it!

  36. Db August 2, 2014 at 2:58 am #

    I am a southpaw so the right view works fine as it mirrors .. and best for learning new stufff..but the problem is since english is a left to right language, the left nut charts are more natural ... unless you are familiar with a right to left writing language --- of course righties just have the same reverse problem ~~ they just dont it... guess you can't play lefty on the video so you should include a left and right nut pdf for practicing ... then a player can chose what works best!

  37. Colin August 2, 2014 at 2:59 am #

    As a beginner it's much easier for the brain to register with the orientation on the right, if only because the strings are shown as they actually are instead of reversed. In other words a beginner has enough to think about without having to remember to flip the whole thing in order to follow the sequence correctly. Of course that's just my opinion.

  38. stefan August 2, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    I think if not only the note names in the diagrams were being shown, but alternatively as kind of a help for a deeper theoretically understanding of the fingerboard as well as hints for choosing the "right" notes when improvising , the scale steps in form of the actual root and the corresponding intervals ( E, b7, b3 etc. for example-minor pentatonic ) too, would be an improvement. In general I really would like to have as a downloadable and printable pdf chart a graphic of the whole fingerboard in form of all the intervals, meaning vertically thinking root, 4,b7,b3,5,root as a starting point and then the other interval names for each fret above and below over a fingerboard which contains at least 24 frets.

  39. Jim August 2, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    I am used to, and prefer the left view for diagrams (especially diagrams "only"), but believe that when you are looking at a video, having the diagram oriented the same way as the player in the video (right view for right handed player) would make things easier to watch and correlate.

  40. Greg August 2, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

    I haven't read all the comments but, does this seem to have an effect on left versus right hand players? Just askin!

  41. Chris August 2, 2014 at 7:45 pm #

    The Left orientation is the way of the rest of the world. I'm a left handed person who plays guitar right-handely. I read ssheet music and understand the notes on most of the top of the fret board, so I was tempted to go for Left orientation. But I voted for right because actually it looks so much more self-explanatory - why do everthing as it ihas always been done? I liked the idea one of the contributors made about could you give a toggle-between option. Better still use the Left orientation and photo or film looking over the player's shoulder so the learner can see the fret-board as they would if playing?

  42. Michael August 3, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    We're taught with the left orientation. I think it is a convention and not an intuition. I am voting for the right orientation because I think it is important to think, see, and learn new ways. I don't ever want to be so 'used to' anything that I am not receptive to something new.

  43. NeilS August 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    I think it will be muchy easier for someone who is trying to learn by watching the Right orientation. I think the left orientation is more confusing to someone who is just learning and trying to follow both the fingers and the diagram. Don't most guitar players have a little "to heck with the rules" inside of them? Don't they like to go against convention? If you have to visualize the left diagram as a guitar laying on your lap then you have to visualize chord diagrams as palying a 6 string stand-up bass...........no one does that. You might want to label the small E string with a lower case "e".

  44. DB August 8, 2014 at 4:03 am #

    Right view for lefties for sure--but the video also needs to show a right handed guitarist to make it visually easy to follow --- reverse for righthanded. Otherwise the righties will be back to the same problem as the "teaching convention" -- Change your thinking you change your Learning for the better -- Software can flip a guitarist from Righty to Lefty so it should be a choice and really could not cost that much more to achieve.. It's like Jonathan does Jimi ... Go for it ...

  45. Martie August 8, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    I like the idea of having an option as proposed by Rick on the first comment. If one is watching another player doing an exercise the 'right' view will follow right along with the hand and finger movements. If I were to be trying to learn music for myself I would probably prefer the 'left' method as I looked at my instrument. Or if watching someone else on the 'right' method and then trying it for myself, I might want to option to use the 'left' method. Just a thought.

  46. David December 11, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    I think all the other books amd material I have use the use the left orientation however I think It would be easier to work with a right orientation. I often get confused when watching someone play which is left orientation from my view point. The brain must reverse it either way. I just think the right orientation makes sense for learning. As soon as the material is learned it becomes a moot point.

  47. ru32day July 1, 2015 at 10:50 pm #

    I think I've just bought the course you were writing when this was a hot topic, but I wanted to add that I think it's important that people not have to relearn habits. The left orientation is exactly the same as TAB so once you "get" it, you've "got" it for most of the stuff you'll see written out for guitar. Whereas a RH orientation will be used almost nowhere else, so people who get accustomed to that will have to reorient themselves afterwards.

    I understand your dilemma. I once did an afternoon workshop where the first half hour was taken up with participants arguing with the facilitator over which string should be referred to as the "first" string (ie closest to ceiling or closest to floor) when explaining where to put your fingers :).

    • Jonathan Boettcher July 6, 2015 at 8:51 am #

      Thanks for your perspective & story about the workshop ru32day, sounds like a lot was accomplished that day! 🙂

      It does illustrate the dilemma though, I think sooner or later someone just has to say "this is the way I'm doing it" and start moving ahead.

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