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Bass guitar for the deaf (no joke)

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by bassteban, Sep 23, 2004.

  1. Excuse me if this is the wrong area for this; I'm a rookie.

    I have a friend whose deaf (not totally, some hearing in the very low range) 14 yr old son wants to play bass. Does anyone out there have any experience teaching bass to someone with no or very limited hearing? I've been advised, and considered, sitting on the speaker, EA's rumble seat, etc, so I'm looking for actual experience(s), but any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks!
  2. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    I think it is 100% imperative, crucial, critical, amazingly important to consult with a professional teacher for the hearing impaired, to read articles written on the subject, (check the local libraries periodicals, as opposed to the unreliable web content), and to supremely educate yourself.

    Without the proper education on your part, it will make things more difficult on yourself and the student.
  3. Jazzin'

    Jazzin' ...Bluesin' and Funkin'

    the child will have to be really good at theory, and will have to trust his theory, plus will have to watch the drummer constantly to see the beat. but wont be able to see what hes doing if hes watching the drummer, so thats really hard for a rookie.
  4. Only


    Sep 8, 2002
    Warrensburg, MO
    There's someone on here, I think it's warwickben, who used to have almost no hearing in either ear. I'd ask him.
  5. Oysterman


    Mar 30, 2000
    I saw a TV show once featuring a hearing impaired percussionist (I say "hearing impaired" because she hates the word "deaf"), Evelyn Glennie, who could play the vibraphone like nobody's business. Truly fascinating experience hearing her play, knowing she herself couldn't hear much of what she was doing.

    Maybe her site can be of any use?
  6. coffee-sipper


    Jul 10, 2003
    Raleigh NC
    I am partially deaf. I have trouble hearing my wife... I mean higher pitched sounds. I struggled with the guitar for years (as well as woodwinds in highschool) before switching to bass - it was a god send - not only can I hear it better but I can "feel" the bass much better as well. I tend not to even mention my hearing loss as it is in one ear and it elicits lots of questions - anyway - I use an experienced teacher who is very patient. Additionally, I use a bass that is very resonant and play sitting with the bass against my body as much as possible.

    Strangely, I share the same birthday with Beethoven who was also a hearing impaired musician.
  7. That's funny, because my birthday happens to fall on the same day that Beethoven died, so many years ago.

    As for deaf bass players, I remember a few years ago I saw a short documentary spot about a Japanese gentleman who was blind and played bass in a band where they catered to the sense-impaired in various ways - the singer also used sign language, balloons were handed out to help the audience feel the music better, etc.

    I'm not sure how that helps, but I thought it was interesting.
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    That's right - I've seen her play and also there have been 2 or 3 documentaries on UK TV about her.

    So I remember one where she was explaining how she was profoundly deaf, but could "feel" musical" notes in her body - so she explained how she felt the different pitches in different places in her body.

    I think she mentioned how this facility was not uncommon amongst percussionists, as often they would tune instruments like Timpani "by feel" during a performance! So you have the situation where the music is going on, but you need to change the pitch, without actually making a sound that would interrupt or disturb others.

    I think with bass, that often I feel notes more than hear them - especially at big gigs with poor foldback!! ;)
    But I'm sure it woudl be possible to develop this facility- as Evelyn Glennie has done, to make a career in music.

    In fact it could be an advantage for playing in some bands where you wouldn't want to hear the noise that was being made out front!! ;)
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    The relevant part from that website :

    " Hearing is basically a specialized form of touch. Sound is simply vibrating air which the ear picks up and converts to electrical signals, which are then interpreted by the brain. The sense of hearing is not the only sense that can do this, touch can do this too. If you are standing by the road and a large truck goes by, do you hear or feel the vibration? The answer is both. With very low frequency vibration the ear starts becoming inefficient and the rest of the body's sense of touch starts to take over. For some reason we tend to make a distinction between hearing a sound and feeling a vibration, in reality they are the same thing. It is interesting to note that in the Italian language this distinction does not exist. The verb 'sentire' means to hear and the same verb in the reflexive form 'sentirsi' means to feel. Deafness does not mean that you can't hear, only that there is something wrong with the ears. Even someone who is totally deaf can still hear/feel sounds.

    If we can all feel low frequency vibrations why can't we feel higher vibrations? It is my belief that we can, it's just that as the frequency gets higher and our ears become more efficient they drown out the more subtle sense of 'feeling' the vibrations. Evelyn spent a lot of time when she was young (with the help of Ron Forbes her percussion teacher at school) refining her ability to detect vibrations. She would stand with her hands against the classroom wall while Ron played notes on the timpani (timpani produce a lot of vibrations). Eventually Evelyn managed to distinguish the rough pitch of notes by associating where on her body she felt the sound with the sense of perfect pitch she had before losing her hearing. The low sounds she feels mainly in her legs and feet and high sounds might be particular places on her face, neck and chest.

    It is worth pointing out at this stage that Evelyn is not totally deaf, she is profoundly deaf. Profound deafness covers a wide range of symptoms, although it is commonly taken to mean that the quality of the sound heard is not sufficient to be able to understand the spoken word from sound alone. With no other sound interfering, Evelyn can usually hear someone speaking although she cannot understand them without the additional input of lip-reading. In Evelyn's case the amount of volume is reduced compared with normal hearing but more importantly the quality of the sound is very poor. For instance when a phone rings Evelyn hears a kind of crackle. However, it is a distinctive type of crackle that Evelyn associates with a phone so she knows when the phone rings. This is basically the same as how normally hearing people detect a phone, the phone has a distinctive type of ring which we associate with a phone. Evelyn and I can in fact communicate over the phone. Evelyn does most of the talking but we have a few words which I can communicate by hitting the transmitter with a pen, Evelyn hears this as clicks. We have a code that depends on the number of hits or the rhythm that I can use to communicate a handful of words.

    So far we have the hearing of sounds and the feeling of vibrations. There is one other element to the equation, sight. We can also see items move and vibrate. If Evelyn sees a drum head or cymbal vibrate or even sees the leaves of a tree moving in the wind then subconsciously her brain creates a corresponding sound. A common and ill informed question from interviewers is 'How can you be a musician when you can't hear what you are doing?' The answer is of course that Evelyn couldn't be a musician if she were not able to hear. Another often asked question is 'How do you hear what you are playing?' The logical answer to this is; how does anyone hear?. An electrical signal is generated in the ear and various bits of other information from our other senses all get sent to the brain which then processes the data to create a sound picture. The various processes involved in hearing a sound are very complex but we all do it subconsciously so we group all these processes together and call it simply listening. The same is true for Evelyn, some of the processes or original information may be different but to hear sound all she does is to listen. Evelyn has no more idea of how she hears than you or I. "

  10. Hi bassteban,

    I feel I may be able to give you some advice here as I was born into a family with a history of genetically passed on deafness. My mother was deaf and her father was deaf also.

    I am profoundly, but not totally deaf. I only hear about 25% of what a normal person would hear and I've had to wear hearing aids all my life. They are of limited help though and I have to rely heavily on lip reading and can't use telephones without extreme difficulty.

    Despite this limitation, I've played electric bass for 33 years and play regularly to audiences of up to 500 people. I have a gig coming up soon where they are expecting about 4000 people to come. I'm mentioning this only to give some credence to my playing ability.
    I am also able to read and write notated music and although I don't do it for a living, I enjoy it so much that it has become a consuming passion for me. I think a big part of the reason for that is that music is a language, and it's a much simpler language than speech for someone who is deaf to comprehend, making it just so much more enjoyable. So, it doesn't surprise me at all that your friend's son wants to learn bass!

    It seems to me, that the vast majority of people I've met with hearing loss suffer from a deficiency in the upper range of their hearing. If your friend's boy is among this group, then he's like me and one of the lucky ones.
    Meaning, bass and drum sounds are affected very little by this type of deafness. This kind of hearing loss mostly affects the intelligability of speech and the ability to discern the sounds of certains instruments. Most noteably, drum cymbals, some lead guitars and female singers and lots of other instruments in the category that falls to the upper range of hearing.

    With the boy being 14, I would imagine he would be reasonably skilled at lip reading by now, so I don't see why he wouldn't be able to learn form a normal bass instructor.
    He may prefer to study from books or PC tutorial programs though.
    One big advantage to using a PC is that he can wear headphones and use the computer's sound mixer to boost the frequencies that make it easier for him to hear what's going on. ( I do this with the WMP graphic eq to help me isolate the bass when I'm transcribing songs from CD's and it's a boon.)

    When he's playing, get his bass amp up off the ground on something so that it's near ear level, this helps a lot. Also, if he wears hearing aids, get him to take one off when he's playing as they don't reproduce the fundamentals of bass guitar. He won't be able to balance his volume properly against whatever he's playing along with otherwise. Get him to leave the other hearing aid on, it'll help him to hear whatever else is going on. This is what I do and I find it works well for me.

    Sorry this was so long but I hope it helps. :bassist:
  11. Thanks, everyone- especially coffeesipper & bassmaniac; you are who I was looking for. I'm 99% self-taught (deluded?), so I will recommend a real instructor, as opposed to me. I did let the prospective student toy with my bass & amp today- he dug it! Thanks again for the encouragement- I'll keep you all posted (no pun, intended or otherwise).
  12. How's the boy getting on bassteban? Did he continue with the bass? Just wondering if you have any updates.

    BTW, hrere's a few pics of that gig I mentioned. Went better than expected and about 5000 people came :)