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#2037534 - 02/22/13 02:01 PM Playing without looking at hands
jaredm2012 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/01/12
Posts: 31
Loc: Alabama
I have an extremely hard time looking at my music when I play. Is there any good way to practice this, or any tips or ideas y'all have? I try to not look, but of course I end up looking.

They aren't particularly difficult pieces, so I don't think I really need to look much. And I don't stare at my hands the entire time, but for some reason when I look at the music while I'm playing I fumble all over it.

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#2037536 - 02/22/13 02:13 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2335
Loc: Virginia, USA
For me it's a waste of time trying - though my teacher does recommend it for some specific pieces. The key for sight reading is to be able to get back to the correct spot after the few times you actually need to look down.

But of course it's possible if you want to learn how and there are a couple of books with specific exercises. Super Sight-Reading Secrets is one; Lorina Havill's "You can Sight Read" is another.
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#2037549 - 02/22/13 02:32 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
Whizbang Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/12
Posts: 657
A big part of it is that it takes time to learn the distances... It's not easily shortcuttable.

Some food for thought:

* often you're just playing a fingering pattern from a static hand position at the keyboard. Identify sections in the piece where this is the case and make sure you don't look down during those short sections

* the more treacherous part of playing is when you have to change hand positions. But pianists have a set of techniques that cope with common position changes; learn how you hand needs to move for going through standard scales and arpeggios. From there, you can notate in your score where those standard techniques apply and then strive not to look at your hands in those sections as well.

* the keyboard has a texture. When playing, try to use tactile feedback to understand where you are. While those just starting the piano tend to like keys like F, C, and G due to the small numbers of flats or sharps in the key signature, keys like Ab (with four flats) can be much more secure under the hand because the chords and scale have much more "texture". It's harder to get lost tactilely. The key of C in comparison is kind of a sheet of glass.

* try playing some scales with your eyes closed. Arpeggios, too. Even some pieces you've memorized!

* most skilled pianists look at the keyboard now and again, particularly when large jumps are required. So if you look now and again, it is not something to fret unduly over. It's just that you want to minimize looking since you can easily lose your place in the score.
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#2037561 - 02/22/13 03:12 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
justpin Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/25/12
Posts: 504
Loc: Holmes Chapel
It is something which comes with practice and time. A bit like sight reading.

If you look through my posts, about a year ago I was always looking at my hands. I tried forcing by closing my eyes. But it just stressed me out. So I hand watched glancing back and forth to the sheet music. Which caused me to lose my place sometimes.

Today except for large multi octave jumps I rarely look at my hands I keep them in my peripheral vision, but don't look or watch.

I am not sure when it clicked but I just KNOW some how where notes happen to be in relation to the current note. It wasn't conscious.

I'd note I practice scales and arpeggios, and a number of finger drills daily, I do these without looking either and maybe this trained my muscle memory on how wide the key gaps are.... I play a second piano with slightly wider keys and mash it badly!

I've been playing a year btw

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#2037568 - 02/22/13 03:20 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
Derulux Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5067
Loc: Philadelphia
My biggest advice if you want to learn how not to look at your hands is, not to look at your hands. Will you make mistakes? Yes. Of course. Just remember that your practice sessions are not the final product. They're practice--and you won't get anything out of practice sessions if you don't actually practice what you need to practice.

That said, do you absolutely have to play without looking at your hands? No. But the more familiar you are with the keyboard, the better off you'll be. And body mapping is a lot easier if you don't look.
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#2037583 - 02/22/13 03:54 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: justpin]
newbert Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/02/13
Posts: 266
Loc: Upstate New York, USA
Originally Posted By: justpin
...I'd note I practice scales and arpeggios, and a number of finger drills daily, I do these without looking either and maybe this trained my muscle memory on how wide the key gaps are.... I play a second piano with slightly wider keys and mash it badly!

I've been playing a year btw


I've asked myself the same question that the OP is posing, and your advice makes sense to me.

Could you share some of the finger drills you refer to?

Thanks!
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#2037606 - 02/22/13 04:40 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
malkin Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2206
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
At home I can keep my hands in my peripheral gaze when looking at the music, or I can do a quick check down to the keyboard, but at my lesson the desk is in a slightly different position, and I lose my place frequently.
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#2037638 - 02/22/13 05:32 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
Okanagan Musician Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/20/13
Posts: 25
Loc: British Columbia, Canada
The idea when practicing is to purposely make the piece harder than it actually is - which is why blindfolded practice is actually a good idea (once the piece is at least partially memorized).

When you are performing you are allowed of course to look down here and there; if you can play cleanly without looking it stands to reason that it will seem even easier to do it later when you are allowed to look.
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#2037780 - 02/23/13 12:13 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
Nikolas Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 4995
Loc: Europe
In certain instances, I've blind folded my students, in order to get them to NOT look at the keyboard constantly. It wasn't a matter of leaning the piece, but a matter of gaining trust and self confidence that they CAN do it
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#2037781 - 02/23/13 12:26 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3158
If you have learned a piece by looking at your hands, then looking at the score as you play will be a different set of visual cues for the same music, and will likely throw you off.

Try learning a new piece by NOT looking at your hands (much), and then your visual cues will be looking at the music.

Visual cues are very much a part of learning a piece, which is why beginners can often play the first line of the score, but not the second line, even though they are exactly the same, except that they are on a different position on the page, and thus "look" different.

I have seen that occur many times. Visual cues = very much a part of learning a piece.
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#2037814 - 02/23/13 03:49 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
peterws Online   content
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Registered: 07/21/12
Posts: 3146
Loc: Northern England.
I`ve always found this hard to do. I need to start just doin` it, cos I can`t memorise everything. Never could, so I learned to play round my mistakes which isn`t brill, is it?
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#2037827 - 02/23/13 05:42 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
Saranoya Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 474
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
I would echo what others have said: practice this by doing it! Close your eyes, put on a blindfold, whatever it takes.

Right now I play most of the pieces I have memorized with my eyes closed when at home. As someone already mentioned, this makes practice harder, so it boosts my confidence when I'm at my lesson and I can actually look. I can play most of the Moonlight Sonata, both the first movement and the second one up to where I'm at, with my eyes closed. Because of this, I find I can now more easily play broken chords and octaves (both of which feature heavily in Moonlight 1) in other pieces I haven't yet memorized, too.

I can only suppose that practicing scales and arpeggios, specifically, (especially with eyes closed) would make this even easier.
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#2037908 - 02/23/13 11:01 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
FarmGirl Offline

Silver Supporter until Jan 02 2013


Registered: 09/14/10
Posts: 1801
Loc: Scottsdale, AZ
I am currently working on it. Or rather, having made to do so by my teacher. The F minor variations I'm working on now is what we are experimenting this with. I can learn a new Bach music without looking at my hand most of the time because there aren't so many leaps of notes. But it's hard to learn classical piece without looking. Especially the piece is not easy. She told me that it would cut time to learn a new piece and greatly benefit my sight reading skills. I can see her point. Like sight reading, I have to learn to play the piece in a selected time with correct dynamics and articulation. I see the benefit and determine to stick to it even if it takes a year to learn this piece this way.
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#2037927 - 02/23/13 11:42 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
scorpio Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/30/12
Posts: 466
Loc: Connecticut, USA
This is an interesting topic. Since day one, which is really only a few weeks, I hardly if ever look at my hands. Well I should clarify, I don't look at my hands after an initial run through with a new piece. Once I get the interval for the piece (and since I am new I am not yet flying around the keyboard) I only look at the sheet music (and only do that until its just about memorized). Then I will only look down if something does not sound right. I could be doing this completely wrong. Maybe I should be looking at my hands more, or even less.
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    #2038009 - 02/23/13 02:16 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
    rlinkt Offline
    Full Member

    Registered: 07/08/12
    Posts: 292
    Loc: CA
    I don't play piano but I do play guitar. Not looking at the fretboard was an acquired habit, and really took some discipline to stop looking at the fretboard. I do not remember how long it took to make it a habit of not looking at the fretboard, but I remember it was a struggle for a while.

    Also, now that I don't much any more, I have lost that comfort zone, and tend to look at the fretboard when the fretting hand needs to move significantly.

    Here is my suggestion: Start with memorized pieces, and keep your eyes closed while playing. Once you are comfortable with that, only then start looking at notation while playing. Good luck!


    Edited by rlinkt (02/23/13 02:35 PM)

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    #2038082 - 02/23/13 04:50 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
    dmd Offline
    1000 Post Club Member

    Registered: 04/15/09
    Posts: 1688
    Loc: Pennsylvania
    I look at the notation for things I have not memorized. If I have it memorized, I look the keyboard. If I am playing a piece and looking at the music I will occasionally look at the keyboard in an area which is difficult for me to manage without looking at the keyboard. However, it must never result in losing my place nor affect the flow of the music. Sometimes I will memorize a passage where I need to look at the keyboard so I have time to get back to the notation. The only reason I look at the notation, at all, is because that frees me from having to memorize it.
    I would prefer to never look at the notation but that requires memorization of everything. I do not care to do that.
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    #2038235 - 02/24/13 12:18 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
    jaredm2012 Offline
    Full Member

    Registered: 10/01/12
    Posts: 31
    Loc: Alabama
    Thanks for all the replies! I will try blindfolding or something similar, because then I have no choice! When I just try to close my eyes or not look, I always end up cheating =)

    I think my biggest problem is not necessarily that I look at my hands a lot while I play, but rather as I am looking at music while I play I get lost so easily. I can look around the room or talk to someone or whatever and play much more smoothly than if I'm actually looking at the score. Obviously, this can cause some issues. It is like processing the music and what my fingers are doing at the same time is too much. Never had this problem before on other instruments, but the other instruments I've played you never had to move your hands or fingers to other positions/buttons.

    Now there's some pieces where I can look at the score the entire time, barely glancing at the keyboard (Prelude in C from WTC), but those are pieces where hand position rarely changes and the same pattern is played over and over.

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    #2038340 - 02/24/13 09:05 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: newbert]
    justpin Offline
    500 Post Club Member

    Registered: 03/25/12
    Posts: 504
    Loc: Holmes Chapel
    Its mostly scales all the major and minor ones three octaves.

    Also I have a couple of Hanon drills where you play all 5 fingers but stretch the thumb and small finger to take a full step and you vary where the stretch takes place.

    Also a lot of arpeggios.

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    #2038375 - 02/24/13 10:32 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
    FarmGirl Offline

    Silver Supporter until Jan 02 2013


    Registered: 09/14/10
    Posts: 1801
    Loc: Scottsdale, AZ
    This is how i was taught to play by the feel of the keys when i was younger. I did not develop it beyond this level but I wish I had done so. Hopefully it's useful to someone here.

    The first step is to learn how a whole step, half step, major & minor 3rd, perfect 5th, octave, etc feel like on the piano without looking. It's a good idea to know how those intervals sound like. Try learning this all over the key board. You can feel the difference between C and F by feeling the number of black keys next to them (on the right), 2 and 3 respectively. When it's done, try doing this with a score, reading and associating the intervals with the feel of the keys.
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    #2038507 - 02/24/13 03:28 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
    JohnSprung Offline
    1000 Post Club Member

    Registered: 08/02/11
    Posts: 1047
    Loc: Reseda, California
    This is an athletic rather than an intellectual challenge. We have an internal sense of muscle tension that sends information to the brain, which figures our where our arms, hands, and fingers are. So, learning to play -- or type as I'm doing now -- without looking is just a matter of practice to train this neuromotor function. BTW, this is also what lets you use the pedals and gear shift on your car without looking.

    As suggested, start with scales. Then pick a pair of chords, say C and G, and just go back and forth between them. You can look at first, but after a while let your eyes drift away. When you get good at one pair of chords without looking, try another, and wider jumps. The more you do the easier it'll get. Do a Google search on Stride Piano and you'll find videos of players who are really good at this, doing jumps of a couple octaves consistently for a whole piece.

    If you don't already have one, this is the kind of thing that you might do on an inexpensive digital keyboard with headphones. It helps to keep peace in the family, and if you also have an acoustic piano, it helps you learn to adapt to different keyboard instruments.


    Edited by JohnSprung (02/24/13 03:34 PM)
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    #2038538 - 02/24/13 04:25 PM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
    justpin Offline
    500 Post Club Member

    Registered: 03/25/12
    Posts: 504
    Loc: Holmes Chapel
    I dunno about that, there is still sound. People think I am taking a shower by the noise the keys make.

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    #2038819 - 02/25/13 04:15 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: justpin]
    JohnSprung Offline
    1000 Post Club Member

    Registered: 08/02/11
    Posts: 1047
    Loc: Reseda, California
    If they give you a hard time, just run some water in the shower to cover the sound of the keys..... ;-)
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    #2038821 - 02/25/13 04:24 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: JohnSprung]
    justpin Offline
    500 Post Club Member

    Registered: 03/25/12
    Posts: 504
    Loc: Holmes Chapel
    Nah right now its OK.

    Its just in my last house they could hear it faintly through the walls and wondered why I was taking so many showers, like I was an obsessive compulsive or was running a knocking shop or something.

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    #2038849 - 02/25/13 06:01 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: jaredm2012]
    Michael_99 Offline
    500 Post Club Member

    Registered: 07/28/12
    Posts: 935
    Loc: Canada Alberta
    """...I have an extremely hard time looking at my music when I play. Is there any good way to practice this, or

    any tips or ideas y'all have? I try to not look, but of course I end up looking. They aren't particularly difficult
    pieces, so I don't think I really need to look much. And I don't stare at my hands the entire time, but for some
    reason when I look at the music while I'm playing I fumble all over it.
    """...

    Two things happened. I became interested in "jumps' and "leaps" as mentioned on the forum from time to time so I did a search and found all sorts of stuff about looking and not looking and how to build your ability to do leaps and jumps. I am a beginner so I am light years away from doing leaps and jumps as a beginner. But I find I would look occasionally when I had to play a series of notes 6 notes between the two hands. I immediately stopped looking my hands and could do it. If I found that I would freak out over the measure, it signalled to me that I had to slow down enough that I had time to execute the measure so that my brain and my fingers would calmly play the measure in a controlled, correctly played measure. I have realized that when I read music, I actually read the measure looking at the treble clef and then bass clef or in the reverse order as my brain likes and play them one after the other because you can't read two things at the same time. So what I have learned is that as I read and play music I do it faster and with greater skill or accuracy. So knowing that I understand what is happening. Your brain really can't do two things at once, it does or processes one thing then the other. Of course, as you play faster and faster from 1 mm to 5 mm from 80 mm to 100 mm you are processing quicker and quicker. And of course, at 200 mm you are processing at lightening speed. At 200 mm is when you are looking at the pianists hands and they are a blur you know it is at 200 or faster. So the rule is if you using a machine, a typewiter, computer, adding machine, a piano, if you look at your fingers it slows you down because you are not allowing your brain to do it automatically which the brain is capable of doing.

    The fix is: when you look, if you read and play the measure again, obviously much more slowly, you will be able to play it correctly without looking. So it is you who has to decide what you want to do. You can set and keep the standard. In case you don't know, when doing leaps and jumps, it is all about practice, and positioning yourself in front of middle C so your body is in the same position everytime so the reach for the jump or leap is done correctly. Practce makes perfect as we all know as piano players. So to me, looking means I am playing the measure too fast. It is that simple. And I can actually watch my brain try to process the series of notes over the six fingers of the two hands and if it is done slowly there no urge to look but too fast for the brain and either the brain makes me look at the hands or I can't explain what makes me or us to look at your hands - but we do!


    Edited by Michael_99 (02/25/13 06:14 AM)

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    #2038868 - 02/25/13 06:43 AM Re: Playing without looking at hands [Re: JohnSprung]
    Derulux Online   content
    5000 Post Club Member

    Registered: 06/06/05
    Posts: 5067
    Loc: Philadelphia
    Originally Posted By: JohnSprung
    If they give you a hard time, just run some water in the shower to cover the sound of the keys..... ;-)

    Or, if you live in an apt complex with a shared hot water heater, you can get passive-aggressive on them and repeatedly flush a toilet when they're in the shower.. wink
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