There's a classic trope of the blind blues player. Anyone looking for immediate Mississippi Delta-cred just had to prefix their name with “Blind” to become instantly legit. Putting aside this caricature, there’s obviously something to the phenomenon of losing a sense and enhancing the others. Considering the musical genius of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles you can’t help but wonder if they didn't gain something else when they lost their sight.
Guitarists who do have their vision often struggle with not using it. The image of the intensely-hunched guitarist is almost as cliché as the aforementioned blues-man. While I can’t imagine anyone willingly losing their, it’s worth considering temporarily giving it up.
I am (apparently like many others) an insomniac. There are few nights it don’t wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning. Oftentimes I have music running in my head. Some of it is even pretty good. But in my desire not to feel like a zombie in the morning I usually try to forget it and fall back asleep (note: I usually fail at this).
The other night I had another spell like that and a pretty nifty little chord-progression popped into my head. Rather than try to ignore it, I decided to get up and figure it out. I. snuck into my studio in the dark and fumbled around for the Strat. Then I sat down on the floor in total darkness and found that chord progression.
What surprised me was how quickly I found it. Not only did I get the chords right, but I even nailed the key. I can’t help but think that the temporary loss of my eyesight gave my other senses a chance to stretch out. My ears were definitely more sensitive and my fretting hand knew exactly which position I was at just by the feel of the neck. It was rather magical.
In my premium lesson The Human-Guitar Interface, I talked about the need to break the habit of always looking at your fingers while playing. Not only do you look cooler with your head up (sorry shoe-gazers) but it gives a much better chance of communicating with your audience and band-mates. But I think I undersold the value of relying solely on your sense of touch and hearing. Once developed, it’s a pretty powerful skill.
So here’s a little experiment for you to try. Find some time to yourself, grab your guitar and put yourself in the darkest room you have. Imagine something to play—it can be anything—and figure out how to play just using your senses of touch and hearing. You may stumble a lot at first, but after as little as fifteen minutes of this you’ll probably develop a whole new relationship with your instrument.