How Blind Student Alan Wheeler learns to Play Bass Guitar Using The Bass Lab PLUS Membership 

Back in 2016 I started the Bass Lab PLUS from the seed of an idea and nothing quite prepared me for what was coming my direction.

Over the past 6 years we ‘ve helped tens of thousands of bass players start playing the best bass of their lives… but every so often a student comes along and changes your perception of what’s possible.

Every single month the eBassGuitar team and I choose a Bass Lab PLUS Legend.

This is a student who stands out because of their remarkable achievements.

This month I want to introduce you to Alan Wheeler who is our first ever blind bass student.

In this short interview Alan shares what first motivated him to play the bass, how he used the technology as a blind student, some of the challenges he faces on a daily basis, and his aspirations for his music future.

Alan also shares how he used the amazing BLP community to help ‘pick him up’ when times have got tough.

Today I want to celebrate Alan’s success as our January Bass Lab Legend.

Finding Interest in Bass Guitar

J - Hey everyone I’m super excited to announce this month’s Bass Lab PLUS Legend. Now this is someone who we feature who’s done something super special, who has brought something very unique to the table. I’m really excited to give this month’s Bass Lab PLUS Legend to Alan Wheeler who is over in San Francisco, California.Alan is very unique because to the best of my knowledge he is the first ever Bass Lab PLUS student who is blind. So Alan, well done! I’ve watched you progress now for the past year or two and I’m really blown away by what you do. I’d love to ask you to start of with, what first attracted you to playing the bass guitar. 

A - I actually love to tell this story. I have a good friend who I have known for well over 40 years. Back in 2015, I was going to visit him up in Oregon. He called me “ When you get up here, I’m going to teach you to play Bass Guitar “I kind of laughed because my experience with any kind of guitar, primarily acoustic, was to hold it upside down; by that I mean I would strum with my left hand and finger the frets with my right. I was so accustomed to doing that and thinking that was the only way I could play that I was like “ Well okay, good luck. I don’t typically hold the guitar correctly. I’m not sure this is going to work “I got up there, he put a bass on my lap and I don’t know how to explain why or how, but it just felt natural.

It was just like it was meant to be and I started off pretty quick and in fact on my YouTube channel I have some videos of the first few days after she started teaching me of me playing right away. It was less than a week after me learning the bass.

J - Fantastic! Is it something about the feel to you, the sound of it? 

A - It’s a little bit of both. One of the things that cemented it for me was a show I went to. There was a club here in San Francisco. Unfortunately the pandemic forced them to close. It was a place called Biscuits and Blues. I went to see a group there and they did a lot of Motown stuff, James Jamerson type things. The thing that blew me away, ‘ coz I was already in to bass at this point, was the stage was on the other side of the room, I was in the back of the room if you will. As the band was playing, I could feel the vibration of the bass; so much so it was making the hair on my arms stand up. I was just like “ This is an amazing instrument if it has the power to do that. This is an amazing instrument “. 

I’d already heard some amazing stuff ‘coz I had gotten into Jaco Pastorius and was starting to get into Victor Wooten a little bit. Feeling those vibrations; I felt it on my chest my stomach, the hair on my arms. Ever since then, I’ve just been in love with the bass and what you can do with it.

Discovering Ebassguitar

J - How did you discover eBassGuitar?

A - I don’t totally remember. To be perfectly honest, I think I might have stumbled across a video of yours on YouTube? But I don’t completely remember; I was taking lessons from other places at one point, but not that their bad but I feel that wouldn’t be fair. I switched over to your lessons and what you were doing and I liked your mode of teaching. I can’t explain exactly what it is about it that I like, but you made it feel comfortable to be a beginner, to be just starting. I pick up a lot easier on the concepts.

Playing By Ear

J - Fantastic! Can you tell us a little bit about your process, obviously you’re blind, how do you go about using the video content and translation it to the instrument?

A - The vast majority of it is something that’s already taught anyway which is ear training. Obviously I can’t read music notation; that doesn’t help me, but I can listen to what you’re doing or listen to a bass line in a song and figure it out. I mean sometimes I have to make the extra effort of finding or obtaining an isolated bass line so that I can clear out all the other instruments and just focus on the bass. Other than that, there are a lot of times I could just pick it up ‘coz bass is relatively prominent and it’s easy to pick-up. A vast majority of it is just ear training and playing by ear.

 J - I’m curious, because I genuinely don’t know this, how does the technology work for you? Are there buttons where they play now and it gives you a vocal version of that? How do you navigate the technology? 

Comments 3

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  1. I am genuinely astonished by Alan’s accomplishments, what an amazing feat. I am one of those bass players (maybe it’s just me) who has to study the fret board with my eyes, almost willing my fingers to the next note. I am truly humbled by Alan and if he ever gets to hear this comment, I hope he keeps it up and my very best to him.

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