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#2169492 - 10/21/13 12:48 PM Sight Reading - Look at your hands?
pianokeys135 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/12/08
Posts: 184
Loc: Greater NYC Area
I was wondering if people have different opinions on whether you should look at your hands or the keys when sight reading or when reading music in general. It seems that some teachers and players think that you should always resist the temptation to look at your hands, others think that you should just try to limit it as much as you can, and maybe some people think that you should do whatever you are comfortable with.

Thoughts?

Thanks!
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pianokeys135
amateur piano player

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#2169499 - 10/21/13 01:08 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
bellamusica Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/07/10
Posts: 369
I basically never look at my hands while sightreading, other than for extra big jumps. Once I start memorizing a piece I look at my hands more to look for things I can do to improve my technique.

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#2169515 - 10/21/13 01:32 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: bellamusica]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4777
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Originally Posted By: bellamusica
I basically never look at my hands while sightreading, other than for extra big jumps. Once I start memorizing a piece I look at my hands more to look for things I can do to improve my technique.
You said exactly what I would have said.
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#2169518 - 10/21/13 01:42 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13759
Loc: Iowa City, IA
There's no "correct" amount, and obviously it's important to glance down now and then. But I would say that the vast majority of people who have trouble reading look down far more than they need.
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#2169521 - 10/21/13 01:51 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: Kreisler]
pianokeys135 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/12/08
Posts: 184
Loc: Greater NYC Area
Thanks for the comments. I'm coming from a background of playing more jazz than classical, but I'm trying to focus on classical now and I have a habit of looking at my hands too much. I'm trying to not look at them when reading now, but it's a bit frustrating because I know I can play better if I look down more!

I'm wondering what techniques people use to orient themselves without looking?

Here are a few options I can think of - These are things I've found myself doing while trying not to look at the keys and still find my way to the upcoming notes.

-- Feeling around for the groups of three and two black keys (C#D# and F#G#A#) or the groups two white keys (CE and BC) to orient myself.

-- Using peripheral vision while focusing on the music to get a sense of where my hands are on the keyboard.

-- Thinking of where the last note that I played with a particular hand was and what the interval to the next note is.
_________________________
pianokeys135
amateur piano player

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#2169537 - 10/21/13 02:24 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13759
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Part of it is having really good fingering habits. If you can naturally feel different intervals under the hand, then you should be in good shape.

Your jazz background may or may not help you with this. If you practiced intervallic patterns on different scales and stay close to the keys like some jazz players do, you're in luck. If your fingering habits are more haphazard and you treat the piano more percussively, then you might have to make some changes.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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#2169548 - 10/21/13 02:38 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
BruceD Offline
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Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17830
Loc: Victoria, BC
Originally Posted By: pianokeys135
I was wondering if people have different opinions on whether you should look at your hands or the keys when sight reading or when reading music in general.[...]Thoughts?
Thanks!


Not to appear too flippant : Doesn't the idea of sight-reading preclude looking at the keys? If you are concentrating on reproducing the score while at the same time reading ahead of what you are playing so you are ready for what comes up, looking at the keys would seem to be an impediment to fluent playing.

This applies equally, I think, to playing a learned or known work from the score. I have seen players who "know" a score put the score on the music desk and then, looking at the hands, start playing. When they get "stuck" because they haven't memorized what they are playing, then they must stop, try to find their place in the score and then continue, still looking at the hands. This is an extreme example, but it does show that fluent playing requires less looking at the hands and more looking at the score.

That said, of course there may be times when a quick glance at the keyboard for the execution of a large leap with accuracy might be required, but, by and large, most good sight readers learn the "geography" of the keyboard well enough that they (almost) never have to look at the keys.

As Kreisler points out, being secure in the "feel" of certain intervals without visual support and keeping ones hands close to the keys are also very helpful in improving ones sight-reading skills.

Because sight-reading is a skill, it can be improved with practice.

Becoming a good sight-reader, I believe, entails being able to play from a score with only very rare glimpses at the keyboard. That should be a goal if one hopes to become a good sight-reader.

Regards,
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#2169557 - 10/21/13 02:49 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
pianokeys135 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/12/08
Posts: 184
Loc: Greater NYC Area
When I don't have to change my hand position much I'm usually ok. With intervals, smaller ones are easier for me than larger ones. I have a hard time especially with skips larger than an octave.

I guess you're right Bruce. I suppose how much you want to free yourself from looking at the keyboard depends on how good of a sight reader you want to be.

How important is being a great sight reader or (non-sight) reader, though? I mean, don't people usually look at the keyboard during a performance or when they have a piece memorized? Do you think that you can be a good performer without having really great reading skills? Just thinking out loud, maybe people have different views on this.
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pianokeys135
amateur piano player

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#2169566 - 10/21/13 03:02 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
MarkH Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/16/08
Posts: 853
Loc: Seattle, WA
Originally Posted By: pianokeys135

I'm wondering what techniques people use to orient themselves without looking?

Here are a few options I can think of - These are things I've found myself doing while trying not to look at the keys and still find my way to the upcoming notes.

-- Feeling around for the groups of three and two black keys (C#D# and F#G#A#) or the groups two white keys (CE and BC) to orient myself.

-- Using peripheral vision while focusing on the music to get a sense of where my hands are on the keyboard.

-- Thinking of where the last note that I played with a particular hand was and what the interval to the next note is.


I use the same approach as Bellamusica and Gooddog. I don't think that your ideas of feeling around or using peripheral vision would generally be good (though I do use peripheral vision for big jumps sometimes). Your third approach is much better (and is along the lines of what Kreisler is saying I think).

Also important is to imagine the sound of the jump aurally. Because it is very important when sightreading to keep going without pause, you will need to recognize when the note you jumped to was a missed note, and in which direction you missed, so you can get back on track for the next notes without looking down or stopping. I think it's actually very important to practice sight singing to develop these kinds of skills. When reading new music, I think there's a big difference between having a rough image in your mind of what the next musical gestures will sound like before you touch the next key vs. being good at aiming for the right key but not knowing what it will actually sound like until you play it. Get a sight-singing book, and try actually practicing by singing out solfege. It seems like a huge, silly effort at first, but it is really helpful in developing general musicality.

I remember being where you are about a decade ago with respect to looking at my hands when reading music. I was taking an accompanying class in music school, and our professor spent a whole class illustrating our shortcomings to each of us and giving us suggestions for improvement (with a friendly demeanor). The approach I took after that was to set a relatively rigid limit for when I allowed myself to look down. For example, "This week, I'll allow myself to look down for fourths and larger, but I will have to take a stab at anything smaller without looking at all." Every so often, expand your rule to a larger interval. This will also allow you to focus on the feel and sound of particular intervals.

[edited to add] FYI, as Bruce is suggesting, this is not only important in sight reading, but in playing music that isn't fully memorized also. I've performed the full English Suite in my signature several times in recent months, and as far as I'm aware, I don't look at my hands at all (except for the odd large jump every page or so). I don't now, nor will I likely ever have it comfortably memorized, and as such, my eyes have a stranglehold on the sheet music!


Edited by MarkH (10/21/13 03:11 PM)
_________________________
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#2169582 - 10/21/13 03:35 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13759
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Originally Posted By: pianokeys135
Do you think that you can be a good performer without having really great reading skills?


Yes, there are people with poor reading skills who are excellent performers.

However, not being a good reader can severely limit one's career since it takes you out of consideration for almost all collaborative gigs, including most academic positions.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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#2169619 - 10/21/13 04:29 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
bellamusica Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/07/10
Posts: 369
One of the best things that ever happened to me as far as sightreading is concerned was when I became rehearsal pianist for a choir. The reason why it helped so much is because I was forced to keep up with what was going on around me. I couldn't stop and fix each mistake (a tendency I had had previously.) I also had to switch back and forth between reading the accompaniments (could be written for piano, or orchestral reductions) and reading the vocal parts, which were generally written in open score which gave me fits for the first few months. The biggest challenges for me in reading the vocal parts were/are highly contrapuntal pieces, and places where the tenor and bass are so far apart from each other that my hand can't reach both simultaneously.

Another problem I have noticed when sightreading is that I'm so focused on looking at the music that my eyes start to get dry because I find myself trying not to blink for fear I'll miss something! :haha:

A good way to start practicing some sightreading could be to find a hymnal and read through with a metronome. There isn't a lot of jumping around in hymns so you won't be as tempted to look at your hands, and the part writing will give you a feel for a whole lot of different intervals, as well as being aware of multiple different lines of music at once. My suggestion of using a metronome is to try and mimic a situation where you have to keep up with the tempo instead of stopping in the middle.

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#2169655 - 10/21/13 05:23 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4823
In classical music, there are usually many familiar patterns of notes, including arpeggios and chords.

If you look at a chord on the page, can you automatically make the shape of your hand and then find that on placing that hand on the keyboard at the right position, you are playing that exact chord? And similarly, for a pattern of notes that don't require you to shift your hand? It's all down to familiarity with the geography, the layout of the keyboard, the spatial awareness.

In the end, the more you play and practise at sight-reading, the more familiar you get with the layout of it and the more you can play without looking at your hands. Maybe ragtime music would be more familiar in its figuration to you, in which case, why not get a volume of Joplin rags and sight-read through it, slowly. It also requires you to make small jumps (especially in LH) but not as much as in, say, Chopin waltzes.

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#2169660 - 10/21/13 05:31 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4777
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Originally Posted By: pianokeys135
Here are a few options I can think of - These are things I've found myself doing while trying not to look at the keys and still find my way to the upcoming notes.

-- Feeling around for the groups of three and two black keys (C#D# and F#G#A#) or the groups two white keys (CE and BC) to orient myself.

There is rarely enough time to feel around for notes.

Quote:
-- Using peripheral vision while focusing on the music to get a sense of where my hands are on the keyboard.

That won't work when the leaps are large or you are leaping with both hands in opposite directions.

Quote:
-- Thinking of where the last note that I played with a particular hand was and what the interval to the next note is.


This last one might help. It really boils down to learning the geography of the piano. It's the same skill used when touch typing. Repetition teaches you where to go without looking. It's just on a larger scale. Practice the leap without looking, over, and over, and over and over and over and.... until you can do it flawlessly.
_________________________
Best regards,

Deborah

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#2169786 - 10/21/13 10:14 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
Michael_99 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/12
Posts: 935
Loc: Canada Alberta
pianokeys135, I have read your post, here:

Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands?

Thanks for the comments. I'm coming from a background of playing more jazz than classical, but I'm trying to focus on classical now and I have a habit of looking at my hands too much. I'm trying to not look at them when reading now, but it's a bit frustrating because I know I can play better if I look down more!

I'm wondering what techniques people use to orient themselves without looking?

Here are a few options I can think of - These are things I've found myself doing while trying not to look at the keys and still find my way to the upcoming notes.

-- Feeling around for the groups of three and two black keys (C#D# and F#G#A#) or the groups two white keys (CE and BC) to orient myself.

-- Using peripheral vision while focusing on the music to get a sense of where my hands are on the keyboard.

-- Thinking of where the last note that I played with a particular hand was and what the interval to the next note is.

__________

I am a beginner of 2 years so you will be guided by what others have to say.

When I started out playing I knew it was a good idea to not look at your hands and so I didn't and I still don't. When I had to play a piece where it said I had to reach my pinky finger over from a G to an F, I didn't like that and I certainly wanted to look and I did look a few times because I like to play slowly without making mistakes but I realized that blind people play so I should just relax and that is what I do, I relax and feel the crack between the G and K keys and then gradually I don't have to feel for the crack because my brain knows how far to let my finger go in a stretch and usually I do it right and if I don't - I know soon enough because I hear a wrong note and I used to freak out hearing a wrong note but now I just coolly improvise the error in some way to give me experience of working through mistakes because in my lifetime I will continue to make them no matter how careful I am.

Now I don't think I will ever understand what sight reading is because all I do is look at the music and not at my hands - unless it is a leap or a jump or a new hand position but I have yet to experience a jump and a leap and so I just play the music. For my hand position change they so far are not that far way and I just move my hand and hopefully do it right. I know the names of the notes and where they are on the piano on the staff and 10 leger lines/spaces above and below the treble and bass clef - and in that range I have no surpises but just play slowly so I don't know what sight reading is but everybody talks about it.

I don't play from memory yet but look at the music and if I ever to play from memory, I won't look at my hands but will stare into space.

I know where I am on the keyboard I guess because I know what I have played, so that is where my hands and fingers are.

I only play scales reading the notes and saying the names of the notes as I play them else I will fool my brain to thinking I know what notes I am playing because I can hear the sound of the notes - so to keep me honest that I am playing and reading the notes of the scales I always say the names of the notes as I play them forwards and backwards and there is a good reason for that because I can easily have my brain draw a blank not knowing the names going backwards.

You mention Feeling around for the groups of three and two black keys (C#D# and F#G#A#) or the groups two white keys (CE and BC) to orient myself.

And I have read that you can find chords that way but I don't play chord type music just beginner classical music - but I used to play a sax and played beginner jazz and I would like to do that on the piano but I am not sure how I will handle chords in that fashion

The only thing I can say is that finding a chord by the black and white keys says to me the person is looking for the keys not by name but by location where as me as a piano player only know the names of the notes beneath my fingers at all times to be played so my brain make my fingers under those notes to be played and nothing about location - even though they are the same and are related they are looked at differently as two different ways of playing the piano.


cheers,

3B21HAN


Edited by Michael_99 (10/21/13 10:16 PM)

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#2169793 - 10/21/13 10:40 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
Orange Soda King Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/25/09
Posts: 6070
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky, United S...
Originally Posted By: pianokeys135
I was wondering if people have different opinions on whether you should look at your hands or the keys when sight reading or when reading music in general. It seems that some teachers and players think that you should always resist the temptation to look at your hands, others think that you should just try to limit it as much as you can, and maybe some people think that you should do whatever you are comfortable with.

Thoughts?

Thanks!


For me, the less I have to look at my hands, the better. And a big part of this is because the less I look at the score (because of having to look at my hands), the less music I can process at the moment.

And for me, the amount of looking at my hands varies depending on the piano writing. Are there more leaps, more awkward passages that require very meticulous fingerings, or chords larger than my hand span, or things like that? Those are all factors.

But if you are able to look at your hands as rarely as possible, that's optimal. You can process more music and you can look ahead more.

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#2169915 - 10/22/13 08:04 AM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
Morodiene Offline
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Registered: 04/06/07
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Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
I think first of all, that in order to become a good sight reader, one must encounter a lot of the music in the genre and particular style within that genre they are sight reading. I was a decent sight reader of hymns, but that hardly helped for playing orchestral reductions of opera accompaniments. Once I played more of these, I got better at sight reading them. This is because it's more about recognizing the patterns than reading.

So if you have issues with making large leaps without looking, it is because perhaps you haven't played enough music with large leaps in them to get the feel. I think looking at hands it more for reassurance than for actually finding where to put one's hands.
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#2170051 - 10/22/13 12:45 PM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
pianokeys135 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/12/08
Posts: 184
Loc: Greater NYC Area
Thanks for the comments everyone.

Morodiene - You make some good points. Reading pieces from the genre that you are interested in seems like a good approach. I've been finding myself recognizing patterns more - things like decending 4ths and broken chords in inversion, etc.

I think maybe part of my problem is just that I'm out of practice...I used to do more reading music, and it's starting to come back to me the more I work with it. Seems like the skill fades a bit if you don't keep up w/ it.
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pianokeys135
amateur piano player

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#2170990 - 10/24/13 01:43 AM Re: Sight Reading - Look at your hands? [Re: pianokeys135]
jeffreyjones Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/31/10
Posts: 2290
Loc: San Jose, CA
I also look down at them only for a jump or hand-crossing. Well, I wouldn't say that I look down at my hands, but sort of in their direction so that I have the keys I'm going to hit in my peripheral vision. I do it this way because often, I have to keep the director's hand in my view as well, and even look up at her while I'm sight-reading to follow a fermata or ritardando. (Not easy!)

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