Musical bonding has given Alan a purpose

It’s no secret that learning to play an instrument can be incredibly difficult.

Monday, 1st September 2014, 1:05 am
Guitar lessons with Alan Gibson and Josh Greetham

But when you’re 60 years old, have lived through three heart attacks and a stroke, and are completely blind, the going gets really tough.

Alan Gibson, of Cheddington, found an unlikely tutor to help him realise his life-long dream of playing the guitar in 18-year-old Josh Greetham.

The former Tring School pupil, who also plays three other instruments, jumped at the challenge of teaching Alan, and the two have formed an unlikely bond.

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Born with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative hereditary disease which can cause blindness by damaging the retina, Alan lost much of his sight after a near-fatal heart attack in 1998.

His vision deteriorated further after two smaller heart attacks in 2000 and 2001, and in 2010 he suffered a stroke which left him blind.

To teach Alan guitar, the biggest difficulty the pair faced was finding a way of playing the instrument without having to read any music or see where he was putting his hands.

Josh, who is soon off to study sound engineering in Oxford but hopes to continue teaching Alan when he visits home, said: “My first thought was: ‘How am I going to go about this?’ – it was never a case of ‘can I do it?’ I just had to figure out a way to make it possible.”

They discovered that by placing three “bump ups” – raised circular stickers - next to certain frets on the guitar, Alan could feel his way around.

Josh said: “Teaching Alan is interesting because, usually, my teaching format is very visual, using a book and other visual cues. With Alan it always has to be by touch, by taking his hand and putting it on the guitar. We do a lot with muscle memory because he can’t use the usual visual cues to help him understand.

“It was very much trial and error to begin with, but we have a good system now, and we’re making good progress.”

Now a year into his tuition, Alan still only has a few chords under his belt, but he is confident he will reach his goal of playing an entire song on his own.

He said: “I do get quite frustrated sometimes – I’ll do something perfectly in the morning then completely mess it up in a lesson.

“I know I can do things, and Josh knows I can do them as well. He’s much better at staying calm than me when I do make mistakes. It’s amazing that someone as young as him has so much patience.”

“It’s given me a purpose, rather than sitting doing nothing.”