Joseph's story

Trying out new instruments

  • Who is in the film?

    This video features Joseph, 11 years old, who is blind and on the autism spectrum, Baluji, a professional musician and teacher who is also blind, and Adam, founder of The Amber Trust.

  • Background

    Joseph, who plays the piano and enjoys strumming on the guitar, is encountering Indian instruments for the first time. He is visiting Baluji’s house with his mother. The whole session lasts around an hour.

  • Aim

    The aim of this video is to show how a blind child can be guided to explore unfamiliar instruments.

  • What does the film cover?

    The importance of touch

    As Baluji explains, since people without sight cannot use vision to find out about the world, wherever possible, they need to use touch to find out what things are like. Although verbal descriptions are sometimes necessary, they inevitably lack the authenticity of the mental picture of an object derived first hand, through the fingertips. This film shows Joseph exploring a number of Indian instruments with which he is not familiar. Notice how Baluji gives him plenty of time and space to explore the instruments thoroughly, and to find out what they are like and how they work, offering discreet guidance from time to time. This is important, since acquiring information through touch can be a more time-consuming and painstaking process than scanning something visually, which can be done rapidly and effortlessly. Observe how Joseph gradually builds up a composite picture of the sitar and the tabla from a series of fleeting tactile experiences.

    Using language appropriately

    Baluji uses clear, unambiguous language in order to set Joseph at his ease and guide him to do things. Baluji explains what is in the room, before indicating how he would like Joseph to direct his attention. Baluji uses phrases such as ‘look at this’, showing how he and other blind people have no concerns about using everyday visual language and concepts in a non-sighted context.

    Listening and playing by ear

    Baluji plays his instruments to Joseph so he can hear what they sound like. Because Joseph has perfect pitch (which means he can tell which notes are being played without needing to be told) Joseph can often work out for himself how to reproduce the sounds that Baluji makes. Teachers working with blind children who do not have perfect pitch will need to offer more guidance as to how to find the right note (through physical demonstration or verbal description).

    Understanding how a blind child learns about new instruments

    In the film, Adam suggests that teachers new to working with a blind child prepare themselves by shutting their eyes, waiting a while, and then attempting to rediscover their own instrument through touch. Of course, the teacher will have the advantage of a visual memory of the instrument to guide them. Nonetheless, it may give some insight into a different way of thinking about the world, dominated by touch and sound.