Being Visually-Impaired Didn’t Stop Steady Goh From Living Life On His Own Terms

To most, it’s obvi­ous how musi­cal instru­ments are meant to be played. You sit before the piano and let your fin­gers dance over the keys. You cra­dle the vio­lin between your cheek and shoul­der and slide up and down with a bow. You perch your­self on a high stool with a strapped gui­tar, a hand nail­ing the chords and the oth­er strum­ming the nylon strings.

But that’s not the case for every­one. Born com­plete­ly blind, Steady Goh didn’t know how the gui­tar was played, or how it was even held when the gen­tle waves of acoustics first met his eardrums. What­ev­er the riff that was, it must have been a doozie; it inspired him to pick up the instru­ment and seemed to have for­got­ten about his dis­abil­i­ty.

Grow­ing up in the 80’s when music cafés were a com­mon sight, Steady admired the way per­form­ers were able to sing and play the gui­tar onstage. He was con­stant­ly wowed by their abil­i­ties and aspired to be just like them.

He recalls his first expe­ri­ence with a ukulele. “I was at my grand­par­ents’ house [and there was a ukulele]. I know how I want­ed the thing to sound, but I didn’t know how to make it. So I was think­ing, ‘Wow, you strum this and, there [are] tun­ing gears… how do peo­ple man­age to strum and turn that thing so fast?’ That was – that was what I thought. So I [tuned the gui­tar strings] into the chord I want[ed] and then I strum[med]… Then, when I want­ed the next chord, I [tuned] it again. So that was how I played the gui­tar ini­tial­ly. I tuned all four strings to the sound I want[ed] and then I strum[med]. Yeah, I didn’t know that [the strings were meant to be] pressed.”

He explains that this is the rea­son why some visu­al­ly-impaired gui­tarists play the gui­tar flat on the floor, while some play it sit­ting on their laps. They run on their imag­i­na­tion. It’s the same for Steady in the way he did his chord tran­si­tions ini­tial­ly. Need­less to say, he had bro­ken many gui­tar strings before he was final­ly taught the cor­rect way to play the gui­tar back in Sec­ondary 2, when he learnt his first two chords: C and A minor. For the next five years, he played only these two chords, until he decid­ed to step up his gui­tar skills.

And so he did. He began by tak­ing up clas­si­cal gui­tar lessons, though he pre­ferred the style of pop songs. Dur­ing this time, a singer friend of his intro­duced him to coun­try music. She lent him cas­sette tapes which ver­bal­ly described the chords, skills and tech­niques need­ed to play the gui­tar, and Steady relied on these cas­sette tapes as his train­ing wheels.

The years went by. In 1997, he joined a band and start­ed per­form­ing for the first time. He par­tic­i­pat­ed in a song­writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion and made it to the finals. He got that big break he want­ed. He per­formed reg­u­lar­ly in the next decade, singing and play­ing the gui­tar in lounges for one to three times a week; he still per­forms nowa­days, albeit not as reg­u­lar­ly. Through­out his music career, he met many pro­fes­sion­al musi­cians who helped open his eyes to the art of per­form­ing.

And then, the stu­dent becomes the teacher him­self. Steady start­ed get­ting enquiries if he teach­es gui­tar. He had real­ly grown into his name thus far, from the days when he only knew two chords right up to his sure-foot­ed pub­lic per­for­mances. But fresh doubts dragged him back down to square one. Could he teach?

His first tri­al stu­dent was a friend who had some basic gui­tar knowl­edge. How­ev­er, it didn’t work out, as Steady had devel­oped no few bad habits and wrong tech­niques over the years due to his inabil­i­ty to observe the good play­ers and get visu­al feed­back.

Dur­ing the first les­son, Steady taught his friend the wrong strum­ming pat­tern. “I remem­ber that I taught him one strum­ming pat­tern, and […] after that, he checked the inter­net, told me it sound­ed okay, but my strum­ming stroke was wrong. Wrong. It’s not right. […] I quick­ly realised that if I real­ly want­ed to teach, I [couldn’t] teach like that. I have to know how to teach.”

He felt that luck found a way to his side. With the evo­lu­tion of tech­nol­o­gy, Steady had greater access to the inter­net. He took up gui­tar lessons online and began “over-cor­rect­ing” him­self, as he puts it. Not only did he fix his short­com­ings from online tuto­ri­als, Steady also bor­rowed the way the tuto­ri­als taught and described ideas.

When teach­ing stu­dents, Steady doesn’t fol­low a fixed syl­labus. He cus­tomis­es the gui­tar lessons to each of his stu­dents’ pref­er­ences. He’d first learn the songs that his stu­dents want to learn and teach them that. To him, peo­ple often give up learn­ing a musi­cal instru­ment because they lose inter­est in it – which is why Steady tries to make his lessons more inter­est­ing and flex­i­ble.

That was how Steady came to become a free­lance gui­tar instruc­tor; but in what is per­haps the more ful­fill­ing out­come, he once again found a way to beat his dis­abil­i­ty.

“The [only] thing I can’t do is, I can’t teach them how to read scores. […] I focus a lot on ear train­ing, but that doesn’t mean that read­ing scores is not impor­tant,” says Steady. He hopes that one day, his stu­dents will be able to just pull out a gui­tar and play a song by ear when they hear their favourite songs.

Apart from being a gui­tar instruc­tor, Steady is an avid run­ner. He holds a teth­er between him and his guide – the way visu­al­ly-impaired peo­ple run. Giv­en the num­ber of half-marathons he’s com­plet­ed – includ­ing the recent Camel Muar Run in Malaysia – one would nev­er expect to hear him say that “run­ning is some­thing that I hate”.

Source: Run­ning­Hour Face­book Page

Although Steady used to be very active as a child, he grad­u­al­ly became less active dur­ing his teenage years. As much as he had want­ed to take part in Phys­i­cal Edu­ca­tion class­es, he hadn’t been able to, due to safe­ty restric­tions by the teach­ers at his sec­ondary school.

He stopped exer­cis­ing alto­geth­er, until sound­ball – ten­nis for the blind – came into exis­tence in Sin­ga­pore. He then start­ed to run as a form of cross-train­ing, and even after he had stopped ten­nis, Steady con­tin­ues to forge ahead like the fight­er that he is. Par­tial­ly, though, he sees it as a form of social activ­i­ty where he gets the oppor­tu­ni­ty to bond with his friends and per­haps, rein­forces his belief that he can go about his busi­ness just like the rest of them.

Although Steady nev­er had the chance — and maybe nev­er will — to see his friends, to see a gui­tar, to see the colours the world has to offer, his visu­al dis­abil­i­ty had cer­tain­ly not stopped him from achiev­ing his aspi­ra­tions to be a gui­tarist, nor has it stopped him from accom­plish­ing great feats like com­plet­ing half-marathons. It goes to show that despite the black hole of neg­a­tiv­i­ty we so eas­i­ly suc­cumb to at the slight­est hur­dle, the pow­er of pos­i­tiv­i­ty to live life on one’s own terms is just as unlim­it­ed.

Inter­est­ed in cus­tomis­able gui­tar lessons?

Email Steady at Steadyguitar@gmail.com


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