Welcome to the Piano World Piano Forums Over 2.5 million posts about pianos, digital pianos, and all types of keyboard instruments
Join the World's Largest Community of Piano Lovers
It's Fun to Play the Piano ... Please Pass It On!
In the "Trouble with Triana" post, several members mentioned not relying on their eyes, or looking in the distance, or with vacant eyes when playing.
So, my question is, when you can play at this level, what are you thinking--do you still think of what notes, octaves, chords, scale passages, etc., you are playing? Or are you just listening and know where you are going so well that you don't have to think of those things anymore?
I read music without looking at my hands except large leaps, but without the sheet music there, I feel completely lost unless I look at my hands and notice the patterns of the notes, but if I can look into the distance for a few lines, I play better because I think I listen better. But, I still feel lost without the sheet music! I feel absolutely blind.
I'm sorry, I know this has been talked about a lot, but I don't think I've noticed a thread about what exactly you are thinking of when you aren't looking at anything.
As I was the one mentioning 'vacant eyes', I can only answer for myself: my finger/hand movements are totally automatic because the music has been absorbed and memorized, just like walking without having to think about putting one foot in front of the other (because of long practice). I'm only thinking of where I'm going, not of the walking itself. In piano playing, I'm concentrating on the sound I'm producing, almost unconsciously adjusting my touch and weight of each individual finger to fine-tune the sound to get exactly what I want, rather than thinking of the actual 'mechanics' of playing. I don't actually 'see' anything in particular when I look away (such that if someone was to interrupt me suddenly, I wouldn't have been able to tell him what I had been 'looking' at, because I wasn't actually looking). It's probably a bit like when you're in a noisy, crowded room and listening intently to your friend talking to you, and (your brain is) shutting out the surrounding chatter completely.
If you've never tried this before, start by memorizing a short, preferably easy, section of a piece you already know well, playing while looking at the keyboard (but with no music in front of you). Then look away from the keyboard and concentrate totally on the actual sound rather than your finger movements. With practice, you'll get away from having to divorce the mechanical movements of your fingers from the sound: they become one and you automatically make minute adjustments to get what you want from the sound.
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Thanks, bennevis, Wow, I'd love to get to that point. I guess I always thought that was "muscle memory" and that you were supposed to concentrate more on the memory of what notes and chords you're playing so you won't forget. But I never could figure out how you're supposed to know all the notes you're playing when you're playing it too fast to think about that anyway.
So, it sounds like you just do that at first, and then it becomes automatic where you can listen more and play more musically.
When I glance at the sheet music, I'm not thinking of the notes I'm playing at all--I'm just using it as a guide, sort of. I don't consciously think of the notes--my fingers just know them. So, I use it as a crutch but also because without it, my hands know generally where to go, but I eventually hit crazy notes.
I've been trying what you suggested, and I think it's working, but I need so much more practice at it. It's like a whole different set of skills from reading music. You have to get it in your head instead of relying on music to tell you.
So, I will work on the small passages like you suggest, looking at my hands first and then looking away concentrating on the sound. I think that will help because I've been basically looking at my hands as if they're supposed to tell me how to play it.
I'll try that with short passages. I think my problem is more not knowing how to play without looking at sheet music or my hands, but practicing with my eyes closed would definitely make me not look at either.
It's so hard to not look at sheet music or my hands because I never did learn the skill of memorizing. Thanks! Kathy
Loc: Manchester, UK
I mentioned in the other thread that my personal reason (others may differ) for closing my eyes is that by shutting off one sense it is easier for me to focus on the other ones, most importantly my proprioception. Ideally one should be able to play a passage whilst looking at many different things. Eyes open, eyes shut, looking at the hands, looking at the score, looking at something else, lights on, lights off, etc.
Thanks, debrucey, That is so interesting; yes, I see how that can help. So, when you focus with your eyes closed or looking at other things, what do you think of when you're playing? I imagine you're just listening and playing according to what you hear then, right?
My teacher took lessons from Ruth Slenczynska, and she says Ms. Slenczynska always said, "I know every note." But I don't see how when you perform you'd be thinking so much of the notes, so that's why I wonder what people think of when they play or perform with eyes closed or looking at anything but their hands or music.
It sounds like you have to go beyond knowing the notes to perform that way, but it's the best way to really play well since you can listen more closely to yourself.
Loc: Manchester, UK
The best way I can describe it is that I'm not thinking, I'm sensing. I just trying to maximise my external stimuli in a specific sense. I'm not thinking about harmony or anything intellectual. Just what it 'feels' like to play the piece. It's actually less about the sound for me that it might be for other people, but closing your eyes will help you focus on the sound.
Bennevis's description of walking is seems pretty good to me. Maybe another way to describe it is this....It's like picking up an object. You just kind of grab it. You don't tell your arm to move, and your hand to move, and your fingers to move. It all just sort of happens on it's own. I do look at my hands a lot, but I'm a frequent eye closer, especially on slower sections. I'm also guilty, but not as often, of "looking at the invisible music" i.e., looking up into the air.
Sometime I think about the harmony, sometimes not. I try not to be ahead of the music. It's more about just reacting to the instrument and the room.
Thanks, DanS, I'm going to work on this. I think you have to do it enough to feel secure playing that way, too. I think I worry about it too much, too, so I kind of cause myself to over think it and forget where I'm at.
It's kind of strange to play but never memorize securely at all. I've been working on it more lately, and I'm more determined to get much better at it. My current teacher was pretty surprised when I told her that I can't memorize well!
I should have learned it a long time ago, but even when I was a kid, I was the one who would forget the music in the recital, but play fine when I had the sheet music in front of me, even if I didn't look at it.
Loc: Seattle area, WA
I do a combination of all of the above. Muscle memory allows me freedom to listen closely to the music. At the same time, I am trying to concentrate on playing and projecting an understanding of long phrases. AND at the same time I am remembering specific notes, progressions or chords, dynamic and agogic changes. Sometimes I am picturing a place in the score. Sometimes I look at the keyboard and sometimes my eyes are not focused.
When it comes to memorizing, I think there's a lot of value in just blasting through a piece (or pieces) several times and letting the chips fall where they may. I'm not saying to constantly practice this way, but it helps to get a sense of the piece. It also help you fake your way through mistakes and lapses in memory.
The other side of memorizing is the small detailed practice that we all hate. For example (this works well for pieces with mostly 16th), practicing 1e&a2e&a3 then after you get that down, moving onto 2e&a3e&a4, etc. It's utterly tedious, but it's very useful. BTW, it's a good idea to do this sort of practicing when no one's around. Otherwise, they begin to despise you.
there is so much going on in one's mind and heart while playing, it's really impossible to have a recepy for how to behave in concert, I never pay attention to where I look, how I look, but thinking about it after heaving read the thread, I must say that sometimes I really look at the keys, my hands, and sometimes I just close my eyes or wander off in the distance, it all depends: just really difficult pyrotechnics make you watch, other moments can make you more aloof, but there is always this risk; loosing control, my last teacher said: don't you weep, make them weep.
Longtemps, je me suis couch� de bonne heure, but not anymore!
Thanks, dolce sfogato! This is so interesting to me. I always wondered because you see so many performers who can play with such deep emotion as if the music is coming through them.
I also wondered because I had a teacher who told me that you can't do that when you perform. She saw that I was trying to do that, and she warned me against it. She said you need to really focus on exactly what you're playing. She didn't have a performance degree, so I think that's what works for her to perform, or maybe she said it because I'm not at that point at all. But, I know that when I relax and just play, I play better.
So, if you can wander off in the distance and close your eyes, then you can play without that intense focus on exactly what you're playing, as others have said.
Do you ever hear one of your pieces when you are sleeping, and it slowly wakes you up, and you realize you're playing it in your dream, and you're remembering it and playing it so well? I have dreams like that a lot when I'm really focusing on a piece, but when I try that when I'm awake, I make mistakes! In my dreams, I play so beautifully! HAHA!
I would love to hear you perform! Thanks so much! Kathy