Music is an international language. It is hardly objectified by what you see, but instead what you hear. Music has no boundaries and language barriers, and very race appreciates different forms of music in various ways.
In this article, we will focus on some of the blind musicians and blind piano players who overcame their hardships to become one of the greats. We will look at a list of 10 outstanding piano players who found their way, despite their condition, to become famous and well-known all over the globe.
The 10 Best Blind Piano Players
There are probably hundreds of musicians that should be on the list. However, discussing them one by one could take hours, so I selected a few of the best blind musicians that may inspire you in one way or another.
Because of his popularity, most of you probably know who Stevie Wonder is. Stevie Wonder got his inspiration from another person and blind musician on the list, Ray Charles. Ever since the time he was born, Stevie Wonder was gifted with extraordinary musical skills.
He started getting famous ever since he was a kid, and people look at him as a child prodigy. He signed his first recording deal at the age of 11 because of his technique and incredible composing and piano skills.
Being born prematurely, he suffered from retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). His eyes became underdeveloped and stopped growing. This is the reason why he lost his sight at an early age.
While being a member of the church choir, he developed his skills at playing the harmonica, the drums, and the piano. He started to get recognized worldwide after signing with Motown Records, and the rest was history.
Ray Charles is probably one of the best and most famous blind piano players that would come up whenever the topic is brought up. Aside from being an excellent piano player, Ray Charles also excelled in singing and songwriting and has become an inspiration for the generation that went after him. In fact, Stevie Wonder was influenced by Ray Charles, which led him to take the mantle.
Ray Charles was not blind when he was born, but he started losing his sight at the age of 5 and ultimately lost his ability to see at the age of 7. This very talented African American piano player developed his skill back in school. He was taught classical music by his music teacher using braille.
This process is complicated for challenged people such as Ray Charles. He is not only is he learning to learn how to read notes, but he will also need to learn how to apply the notes on a piano. This feat truly makes Ray Charles one of a kind.
After developing his talents at a young age, he later became famous for his southern blues music. Some people do not know this detail about him, but Ray Charles was also a great businessman. He owned his own record label that produced his music.
He gave back to the community by initiating charities that provide scholarships for disabled children. Ray Charles was a genuinely talented and kind human being.
Being gifted with a musical talent since birth, Nobuyuki Tsuji became one of the most famous blind musicians from Asia. Unlike Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, Nobuyuki was blind since birth. It might be a lot more challenging, having no idea of what the world looks like, especially musical instruments such as the piano.
However, not being able to see the world gave him a better sense of hearing and artistic skills. His mother noticed Nobuyuki’s talent when he started to play a major scale on a toy piano when he was only 2 years old. Two years later, he began to learn to play songs on the piano without anyone teaching him.
This event shows that people can learn through hearing and emotion.
At the early age of 7, he started joining and winning piano competitions in Japan, such as the All-Japan competition for Blind Students.
Later on, he started writing and producing his own classical compositions. Even as a child, Nobuyuki has already been traveling across the globe to perform. These performances paved the way to his popularity.
Most classical musicians learned by reading notes, but since Nobuyuki Tsuji was blind, he learned everything by ear only. Being born blind was never a hindrance for him to perform flawlessly, which is really impressive.
As early as the age of 3, George Shearing started to learn piano. Because his parents saw so much potential, they enrolled him into the Linden Lodge School for the Blind, where he continued to learn piano for four years. It is cool how he joined a band of blind people and started performing at bars and pubs.
George Shearing is an example of a blind musician that plays jazz. He acquired a lot of achievements and accolades in his field of music throughout his career.
Being born from a big working-class family, it is great that his parents still gave him the attention he needed even though they were not well off. It is what paved his way to becoming a musician and composer that has over 300 original songs under his belt.
Some of his most notable performances are playing for three US presidents and the Queen of England. He truly deserves a spot on this list because of his passion and love for music.
Being blind by birth did not stop Ken Medema from becoming one of the most talented pianists and composers of his time. He is not only a great piano player, but he also excelled at playing other instruments as well.
He started playing piano at the age of 5 and started formally learning the art at the age of 8. Like Stevie Wonder, he also learned how to read notes using the braille method and later applying the notes on the piano and other instruments. Aside from playing with the use of music sheets, Ken Medema discovered his improvising talents and tried to play by ear.
He has performed in the United States, Europe, and Canada, which became a way for him to be well-known for his writing and performing his compositions.
Marcus Roberts’ father was a famous gospel singer. Suffering from glaucoma and cataracts, Roberts became completely blind at the early age of 5. One of the most surprising facts about Marcus Roberts is that he was taught to play piano by his mother, who was also blind.
His mother taught herself how to play the instrument, which became the way for Roberts to become one of the best Jazz musicians of all time. His mother did not give him the typical piano lessons, and she taught him how to use emotion and feel the notes with all of his limbs.
He always credits how his mother helped him become a better musician.
His love for music has got him to enter competitions and do solo performances at an early age. Although he learned to play other musical instruments, he was well-known for being an excellent jazz piano player.
Let’s go a little far back in time and talk about Louis Hardin, aka Moondog. Moondog was an extraordinary American musician that was not only famous for his piano playing. He also wrote poems and compositions as well.
It is also amazing how Moondog contributed to music by even inventing musical instruments. What makes Moondog different from the other blind musicians on the list is that he learned and got inspired by the sounds of the streets.
He wasn’t born blind, but at the age of 16, he lost his eyesight due to an accident. He attended multiple schools for the blind to learn the basics of music and learn to play the piano by ear.
After learning the basics, he taught himself everything he knows and read music theory through the braille method. Jazz music fans would love to listen to his upbeat compositions that were way ahead of his time.
Art Tatum was very successful in the field of jazz. Being one of the most successful blind musicians, Tatum did not really enjoy being in the spotlight. However, being as talented as he is, he did contribute a lot, especially in jazz music.
He lost his eyesight at an early age and learned how to play the piano by ear. He is an excellent musician that can play fast tunes very accurately.
Ronnie Milsap is known for being a country music performer in the United States. Because he was an excellent and versatile musician, he became one of the most influential musicians in the 1970s through the 1980s. Ronnie had a sad backstory. He has been blind since birth and abandoned by his mother. Fortunately for him, he was loved and raised by his grandparents.
He attended a school for blind children and started expressing his talents at the age of 7. Later on, he started learning music formally and became a piano player, aside from learning other instruments.
He became known for his first single, “Total Disaster” back in 1963, and the rest was history.
Coming from Spanish descent, Joaquin Rodrigo became popular in classical music. He lost his sense of sight at the age of 3, and ever since then, he used his ears and appreciated music more than he used to when he was able to see. He went to Italy to attend a school for the blind, and there, he developed skills in playing the piano and violin.
He became one of the best violin players at the age of 20. Ever since then, he started composing his own music and received awards and praise for all of his accomplishments.
Tips for Aspiring Musicians
Practice – One of the most effective ways, if not the most effective way, is to practice. Even without looking or minding what you are doing, doing a riff or line for a thousand times will develop your muscle memory.
This method will help you become a more flawless and accurate musician. Even the most gifted musicians went through hours of practice. I know it can be frustrating, but practice makes anything possible.
Becoming an accurate musician will not only help you perform better; you could also produce songs easier when you practice the part beforehand.
Listen – By listening to music all the time, you can get a lot of ideas. I’m not talking about just listening; you should listen critically, and listen to each track that makes up the song. You will learn something new every time you hear the same song on repeat.
The Importance of Learning to Play by Ear
Learning to play by ear can help you develop your ear and listening skills.
These skills are beneficial when it comes to sound design and music production.
Even if you don’t know music theory, you can become a good music producer just by knowing and feeling what sound you should use or what set of chords would sound better.
Nothing is impossible. Even if you lose your sense of sight or lose a couple of limbs (I hope not), nothing can stop you from becoming a great musician. All you need is persistence, passion, and love for music. I hope reading about the famous and successful blind musicians gave you the inspiration to write and practice playing your instrument of choice.