- How to learn where your hands are on the fretboard: learning positioning.
- A little about the importance of knowing music theory – especially if you’re blind or visually impaired.
- Using computer-based, DVD and CD training media and do you really need a teacher?
I’m blind and I’ve been playing guitar and bass for over 45 years. I’m actually “legally” or “statutorily” blind, I do have some vision. I know there are challenges but don’t shy away from them – you can do it.
This page is from me to you, but if you visit my blog it’s from me to you to each other and I invite you to check it out, participate and be heard. This blog is specifically for blind and visually impaired musicians and students. Share what you’ve learned, consider ideas and come up with new ones that may be a breakthrough for yourself and others. It’s also a place to ask questions or discuss problems and obstacles. So drop click in to my blog or send your ideas to my email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to learn where your hands are on the fretboard: proper hand position while playing guitar, bass guitar or perhaps any other stringed instrument
When you watch a contemporary band perform, watch them carefully: almost all guitarists and bass players are looking at their hands, at least from time to time and usually most of the time, to assure they’re playing in the correct position. If, on the other hand, you watch a symphony orchestra performance, nobody in the orchestra is looking at their hands. Why not? They can’t, they’re too busy looking at the music and paying attention to the conductor.
Let’s consider someone playing the double bass, or upright bass if you prefer. This instrument takes strength to play and a lot of skill development is involved. Like guitars and basses, it has a long neck with four cables that are amusingly called “strings.” There are no fret markers as there are on guitars and most basses so hand position has to be practiced and mastered. When you play the double bass you’re holding upright something that’s the equivalent size of a bathtub on end: you need to develop your strength and pressing the strings takes quite a bit of hand strength too. Every musical instrument in the symphony or on the stage has a physical element and a mental element. If you’re going to be good, you have to develop both.
So my first example leads to my first piece of advice: you have to train your body to move to the right position and train your ear to recognize if you’re there or not. What’s the shortcut to get this done? There is none. I’m sorry if this sounds like sad news but you have to practice, practice, practice and nothing else can shorten that. I will give you some ideas on what to practice a little further down the page. I will also offer some simple, easy to use ideas, but the only thing they’re really good for is to help you practice, practice, practice.
Hopefully, I now have you convinced that you’ll need to work, because even if you’re not convinced, you’ll still need to. Now I’m going to offer you an idea that’s simple, very inexpensive, and will help you enormously with learning where your hands are on the fretboard and it works just fine for guitar and bass. Take a look at these three handsome instruments pictured below – or if you’re totally blind write me a nasty email telling me the obvious – OK, if you’re totally blind ask a sighted person to describe it – how’s that?
The first photo is my Carvin B40 bass guitar, the second is my truly awesome Babicz Blue Flame Octane electric and the third is my simple and much beloved Tribecca Acoustic-Electric Guitar. Nice looking axes and as you can see, or as being described to you, there’s nothing unusual about them. Nothing obvious that is.
What you see (or are having described to you) on the back of the necks is masking tape. This is a bit clearer on the back of the mahogany neck of the Tribeca and Babicz Blue Flame Octane than the maple neck of the Carvin. I put small pieces of masking tape right behind the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and on the bass 12th fret markers.
As I play the instrument, my thumb can feel the tape and I know where my fingers are without looking. It’s so simple, cheap, it won’t do any damage at all to the guitar and with practice you won’t need the markers after a while. I say that but I still use them. I’ve even had normally sighted guitarists use this technique because sometimes when you’re playing in a club or hall, it’s dark, or glare is a problem and this way you can play without watching your hands. It does take a little practice to work with this, but not much. I’d also recommend it to any stringed instrument player who wants to look at his or her hands less or, even better, not at all.
If you look closely at the masking tape on the back of the neck, you’ll also notice that the tapes are numbered. I use a sharpie and put the fret number so it’s large enough for me to read as a backup system (NOTE: I write the number on the TAPE NOT THE NECK!). It’s actually very helpful for me when I put down a guitar and pick up a bass or the other way around, until I regain my sense of where my hands are on the different sized instruments.
So do you really need to know music and music theory in order to play guitar or bass? No, you don’t, but I think you’ll be incredibly limited as a musician if you don’t understand music and music theory; especially if you’re blind or visually impaired. Most learners don’t want to take the time and most music teachers, wanting and needing the work, please the customer by teaching them how to play songs, run bass lines, use amplification and distortion. You can sound impressive by learning and using finger tapping, pull-offs, hammer-ons and play within a formula and sometimes at blazing speed. It sounds impressive, but it’s the fast food approach to music and every riff and lick tends to sound like every other riff and lick. If we get stuck in this, I think what we have is a fast track to mediocrity. I’m not saying don’t learn these licks, tricks and techniques, I’m saying don’t limit yourself to that. Develop and tighten your mind too.
So if you have trouble reading music because of your vision (like I do) or can’t read it all because you’re totally blind or your vision is too impaired, you’ll need to memorize and if you improv, which is cool and fun, you’ll need to know what you’re playing and when to play it. If you don’t understand music theory, what you’ll be trying to memorize will seem like a random series of letters and symbols and will be very difficult to commit to memory. If you understand music theory, you’ll see that all music, including complex types like classical and jazz, have patterns and methods and it makes memorization much, much easier.
So how can you learn music theory? First, don’t act like it’s climbing Mount Everest in winter, you can do it. I have some instructions that are on my link pages to very good DVD and CD training programs that will guide and instruct you on music theory.
A good start is Scott Grove and his “Groovy Music Lessons” and the lesson called “The Nashville Number System.” Scott is a little wild and bombastic, but a good teacher and a very good man. I like him professionally and personally. To download his one hour DVD costs a whopping $4.00 – as in 400 cents – in very understandable terms, Scott takes you through the universe of seven notes, how to construct a scale and identify chords that will work together, what a “minor” chord is, and why certain chords in a “key” are minor. When I first viewed this video, I thought “this isn’t music theory, I understand every word he’s saying.” In truth, he says it well. Be warned, he’s off the wall.
Another excellent video training tool is Gibson ® Guitars, “Learn and Master Guitar.” The instructor Steve Krenz is skilled, likable and breaks the learning down into steps and does a very good job teaching theory. Steve is reserved and not too off-the-wall and in my opinion, a great teacher. It’s fairly high priced, but worth the money.
The person who is the Dean of DVD bass guitar education is Roy Vogt and his “Teach Me Bass Guitar.” As with the others I’ve mentioned, Roy is an accomplished musician who has a Master’s Degree in Bass Guitar. His course truly does get into what the head needs in order to solidly play the coolest instrument on stage, the bass guitar. You can check out all of them by going to our links page.
I really value Berklee College and they have regular classes on campus as well as a whole array of online programs ranging from certification programs in bass, guitar, songwriting, music production among others to fully accredited degree in various fields of music.
Now a final word on learning guitar, bass or any musical instrument using DVD’s, CD’s, or the computer – they are great tools for learning and they will help you develop skill, learn techniques and understand music but they will not take the place of individual instruction. Now the marketing folks representing these fine products will likely disagree with me and that’s their job. In order to increase the value of the product and sometimes justify the price they compare it to the cost of music lessons. In fact, I think it can save you lots of time and money by making your learning faster, more efficient and more effective. But it doesn’t take the place of a skilled teacher.
These are wonderful tools with some limitations. First, they can show you techniques, tricks and theory but they can’t offer constructive feedback on how well you’re using it or if you need to make adjustments. A music teacher can do that. A teacher can also make sure you understand and can apply the theory you’ve learned, the DVD can just present it to you. A note to add to this thought is that “Teach Me Bass Guitar” and “Learn & Master Guitar” do have forums and responsive advice and some incredible web based presentations to add to the value, but they still can’t watch you. Scott Grove always answers his email and will customize lessons; he still can’t watch or listen to you play. My advice is that if you’re serious about learning and if you can afford it, use both the DVD / CD / Computer Based training and an instructor.
Another great suggestion is to get involved in my new blog and forum specifically geared toward the blind or visually impaired musician or student. Post questions, ideas and get feedback, motivation and inspiration. Click on the link below and check it out – even better, get involved.
To go to my Blog for Visually Impaired and Blind Musicians (VIBM) Click Here
So do you have any thoughts? Ideas? Know something that worked well for a visually impaired or blind musician or learner? Do you have an unproven idea but worthy of consideration? I’d love to hear about it and post it. Head over to my blog or send an email to email@example.com or bring it up on my Blog VIBM and I’ll be happy to add your ideas. Be heard.