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Blindness and bass

Discussion in 'Bass Humor & Gig Stories [BG]' started by Chicory Blue, Oct 8, 2017.

  1. Chicory Blue

    Chicory Blue Secretly Queen of the Moon Supporting Member

    Hey guys. Story time?

    It's been a little hard to post here lately for a few reasons. Prominent among them was the growing feeling that I waste too much time talking about art and devote far too little to making it, as well as the fear that I was growing too used to portraying the character of who I wanted to be as a musician rather than actively being that musician.

    These, however, ultimately proved less of a deterrent from posting than the fact that it is incredibly difficult to use an internet forum while blindfolded.

    Yeah, this is a weird one.

    It began with an ordinary day in the life, browsing internet ads for strange instruments instead of playing my existing ones. To hasten a long beginning to an otherwise brief story, my hunt for a shamisen soon turned up some fascinating information about the archetypal Edo-era shamisen player: japanese, female, and blind.

    Goze - Wikipedia

    It wasn't really surprising, the notion that the visually impaired would find themselves suited for musicianship. America's not without its own fine crop of blind bluesmen, after all. There's that whole, "your other senses grow stronger" aspect, of course, but then, there's something else in play, too. It's way harder to waste time, say, idly reading about blind musicians, if one is without sight. If I were blind, I reasoned, I'd probably find playing an instrument to be much more interesting in the absence of my usual time-wasting vices.

    So, I decided to try it.

    I spent most of this last week blindfolded, save for while I was at work or otherwise on the road. Actually procuring said blindfold was too embarrassing a process to recount here, but suffice it to say there are surprisingly few vendors of dedicated sight restriction devices and science knows no shame. The lace is surprisingly comfortable, though.

    My hypothesis was that being unable to see would both improve my muscle memory and finger independence and enhance my focus on musicianship as a whole, and the results were surprisingly unsurprising.

    By the end of the first day, I already felt more in touch with my fretboard than ever before. I've long focused on shapes to understand scales and patterns, and that didn't change, but I found myself able to more easily transcend the little boxes I was familiar with and travel up and down the fretboard without my eyes confounding the picture. Playing scales up and down a single string, formerly a weakness of mine due to its less blatant geometry, began to make perfect sense. I started employing my pinky more regularly and using a more economical style rather than haphazardly jumping around as much, which helped me keep my head on straight about where I was and not get lost so much.

    Moreover, my interest in playing in general grew significantly. I unplugged my headphones and let my sound really fill my room, bathing in the warm, rumbly lows. I was less inclined to fill my boredom in the usual ways- video games and webcomics were obviously not an option, TV was half as interesting, and venturing to and from the kitchen was just enough of a hassle that I even found myself snacking less.

    I'm taking a short break from it now, if only to report my findings, and because I missed you guys and because being blind is super lonely, but it's something I aim to continue for a while. Focusing has always been hard, and learning has been hard as a result, and if this helps me sit still long enough to put in some *real* practice instead of just periodic noodling and park bench busking, then I'm down.

    So... yeah. No super hearwarming experience this time, but it seemed like an exercise worth sharing. The absence of vision does a lot of good for one's musical development.

    Anyway, that's where I've been, mostly, and will be a while longer.

    ... I'll share a better story as soon as I've got one, I promise.

  2. I sometimes go outside & play in the dark, during Summer, but songs that I know intimately.

    You can make a blindfold out of a handkerchief or a bandana.

    I'm with you, RE: do it, and stop talking about it
    mpdd, McG and Chicory Blue like this.
  3. Chicory Blue

    Chicory Blue Secretly Queen of the Moon Supporting Member

    I know, and my dwelling is pretty much lousy with bandanas, handkerchiefs, scarves, sashes, and other miscellanous fabrics, but I wanted professional-level blindness and comfort out of the box for this project. It felt more practical for a long-term project than tying my own each day.

    McG likes this.
  4. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    you could close your eyes... :)
    ba55i5t and DavC like this.
  5. Chicory Blue

    Chicory Blue Secretly Queen of the Moon Supporting Member


    Just closing my eyes means I'll still notice light sources, which feels like cheating. Also that method depends on my ability to consciously keep my eyes closed despite constant instincts to look at things, so covering my eyes is actually much easier.

    ... I feel like we're getting a little hung up on my choice of blindfold.

    Grumpynuts likes this.
  6. 1st Bass

    1st Bass

    May 26, 2005
    Forest Grove, OR
    Nope. But I frequently close my eyes when I play, so it seemed an option.
    I do think that practicing blind is good for refining muscle memory, and, on fretless instruments, intonation. When I arrive at an open string and it sounds wrong, I know I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, so to speak.
  7. What do you see when you turn out the lights?

    "I can't tell you, but I know it's mine!" ;)
    GregC, 12BitSlab and RSBBass like this.
  8. McG

    McG Goat Hill Gamblers

    Oct 6, 2010
    Costa Mesa, CA
    Very interesting. I will have to try that. I'm the same as you in visualizing geometric patterns formed by scales. Besides opening the mind musically, playing without sight would be good training to keep from looking at the fretboard so much.

    There's a store near me that has a nice selection of blindfolds. Of course the embarrassment factor could come into play for some, but that's a topic for another thread ;)
  9. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    This was a fairly common method used when learning to field strip and reassemble a weapon, but that was back in the stone age.
  10. BassCliff


    May 17, 2012
    So. Cal.

    Interesting exercise. Thanks for sharing. I wear a sleep mask at night because the early morning light wakes me up. (Maybe I need thicker curtains.) I should practice with it so that I get used to looking at my fretboard less.

    Thank you for your indulgence,

  11. Joebarnes


    Oct 4, 2011
    Surrey, BC
    An interesting idea to develop fretboard knowledge and comfort. I may try it at some point, perhaps it will improve my ear as well, which could sure use it, lol. It reminds me of a period of time when I was still learning bass and I wanted my fingers to operate more independently of each other, mainly on my fretting hand, so I could use 4 fingers to play quicker. To force myself to use my ring and pinky fingers, I taped together various other fingers. At the end of a couple weeks, it worked and I could use all 4 fingers to pluck, and keep everything similar volumes in tempo. I'm nowhere at the speed with 4 fingers as I used to, but the skill came in handy at a gig about a month or so ago where I developed blisters on my index and middle fingers. Played the final set with my ring and pinky. Nobody noticed any difference (which is a good thing in my mind)
  12. Cowboy in Latvia

    Cowboy in Latvia

    Mar 1, 2015
    All silliness aside. One of the greatest set of musicians I have known was a trio of brothers who all suffered from the same congenital blindness problem that manifested at puberty. They played at a level that I only hope I could reach.
  13. BassFishingInAmerica


    Jul 24, 2014
    I once tried other forms of abstinence and deprivation. It didn't turn out well.
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2017
  14. RichardW


    Feb 25, 2016
    near Philly
    I practice sometimes with my eyes closed for the same reason: to improve muscle memory.

    I've also found that singing with my eyes closed at gigs really helps with the simultaneous playing. Not sure why that is.
  15. Morrighan

    Morrighan La Contessa Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2015
    Isle of Everywhere
    Absence of physical sight had no effect on the Reverend Gary Davis. For a good while there he was the "go-to" guy for guitar lessons.

    My personal preference is for what goes by the Samadhi Tank (that's a brand, but widely used to mean the same thing, like Kleenex). The tank is lightproof, soundproof, temperature controlled (exactly skin temperature) and contains 26 cm (10 inches) of water and 320 kg (700 pounds) of Epsom salts. Logged enough hours in the tank for my own inner planes pilot's license.
  16. Reedt2000

    Reedt2000 Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2017
    Central New Jersey
    Here is a video of a friend of mine playing bass. He is 100% vision impaired and he's a great bassist. He has some of the best tone of any player I know. He plays a standard p bass but I've heard him play other basses and it's not the bass, it's all him.

  17. farace

    farace Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2016
    Connecticut USA
    I used to just shut the lights off. (I lived alone and had no neighbors, so playing in the middle of the night was never an issue.) Granted, there was always some bit of light, whether it was the glow of the stereo, or a bit of the porch light leaking around the blinds, but I should get back to that. As soon as I have a place to play that isn't so cluttered that tripping over something is inevitable. :meh:

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