Joshua Black is a 19-year-old musician with perfect pitch who happens to be blind. And he’s in good company with other talented musicians who have some form of blindness: Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bocelli.
Is this a pattern? Is it blindness that makes these people better musicians?
Joshua has no sight in his right eye and only some peripheral vision in his left eye. He plays violin, trumpet, African drums, and he sings.
“[Music] helps me overcome everyday stress; when I’m upset I go to music,” Joshua told The Guardian. “I love to sing, I hear music on the radio and make up harmonies all the time.”
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And this love of music started early in his life, says his mom.
“As a baby, he was always soothed by music, especially opera,” she said. “…By the age of two, he was singing nursery tunes to himself, beautifully, and he did a solo at nursery school when he was three. We never pushed him to do it, he was just always drawn towards music.”
To figure out this relationship between blindness and musical talent, Professor Adam Ockelford from the Institute of Education in London conducted a study.
He and his team visited the homes and schools of about 40 kids who were both visually impaired and who had been born prematurely. The researchers also talked with the parents, teachers, and music therapists.
The results showed that blind children are 4,000 times more likely to have perfect pitch naturally.
Those with perfect pitch pick up music quickly. It’s a sign of a fantastic musical future.
Why does this pattern happen?
Because when one of our senses is lessened, the others pick up the slack. Ockelford says, “The greater focus on auditory input makes the brain develop in a different way.”
And Joshua’s perfect pitch — it’s led to him being an accomplished musician at a young age.
What seems like a weakness to those of us who see with our eyes is a strength that we’re often blind to. And music is its fruition.
Fun fact: Joshua also has synesthesia.
“If I hear an A-note, in my head that’s blue,” he says. “It helps me work out who people are from the pitch of their voice.”
For more on synesthesia, check out Nacho’s story about seeing music as color.