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#2049546 - 03/17/13 08:28 AM Experience teaching blind students?  
Joined: Jan 2013
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Saranoya Online content
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Saranoya  Online Content
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Brussels, Belgium
Hi everyone,

I have a bit of a strange question. I pondered asking blind piano students themselves, but I don't know where to go look for blind piano students, so I'm trying the next best thing: talking to people who may have taught a blind student at some point.

The reason I'm looking for people like that is because I want to learn to play the piano without looking at my hands *at all*. I know this is a common desire among piano students, which is only logical, since most people probably like to keep their eyes on the score as much as possible when they're playing. But my reason for not wanting to look is a little different: I have regular bouts of temporary loss of vision, perhaps best described as similar to ocular migraines in terms of symptoms and duration, but caused by an innate brain abnormality that has been kicking up more trouble than usual, of late. And, though I hate to admit it, stress (such as the stress experienced during a recital performance) seems to be a trigger, or at least a contributing factor. Which means that if I want to perform a piece at a live recital, I have to be able to play it entirely without looking.

I know that people who are entirely blind can and do learn to play, and some of them have been, are, or will be excellent pianists. What I'm wondering is: how do these people learn to make jumps that are substantially bigger than one octave, or where, for reasons other than mere distance, the previous hand position cannot easily serve as a reliable point of reference for the new position?

The best I can come up with right now is that they probably just practice the heck out of a piece until muscle memory takes care of everything, including the big jumps. But there has to be a better way, right?

Does anyone here have any ideas?

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#2049590 - 03/17/13 10:27 AM Re: Experience teaching blind students? [Re: Saranoya]  
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ten left thumbs Offline
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ten left thumbs  Offline
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Originally Posted by Saranoya

What I'm wondering is: how do these people learn to make jumps that are substantially bigger than one octave, or where, for reasons other than mere distance, the previous hand position cannot easily serve as a reliable point of reference for the new position?


Sorry, but I think probably the answer is 'without looking, but with lots of practice'. The blind pianist will have lots of other non-piano experience of judging distances without looking, and they are unlikely to have a regular job, so may in fact have lots of time to practice.

good luck!

#2049981 - 03/17/13 11:34 PM Re: Experience teaching blind students? [Re: ten left thumbs]  
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DanS Offline
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DanS  Offline
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Originally Posted by ten left thumbs
The blind pianist will have lots of other non-piano experience of judging distances without looking
That was my first thought as well.

#2050038 - 03/18/13 03:14 AM Re: Experience teaching blind students? [Re: Saranoya]  
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Peter K. Mose Offline
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Peter K. Mose  Offline
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Why not just start practicing with a blindfold, or in a darkened room, and report back to us? There's no magic, but you'll learn a great deal about the physicality of playing the piano.

#2050052 - 03/18/13 04:08 AM Re: Experience teaching blind students? [Re: Saranoya]  
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Saranoya Online content
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Saranoya  Online Content
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Brussels, Belgium
I already do practice with my eyes closed, Peter. So far, I've chosen all of my recital pieces based on the fact that I could play them without looking. Now, I'm preparing for the March 29 recital at my music school, with two pieces I haven't figured out how to play with my eyes closed, yet.

In one, it's just one particular jump (from 5 on G to 3 on the F# from the octave below it in the right hand, and from 5 on G to 2 on the D from the octave above it in the left). In the other, there are at least five jumps I can't do without looking, and probably more when I'm nervous.

So I was looking for ideas on how to tackle those, other than 'just do it', which is where I am right now. But I guess there is no magic bullet here. There rarely is. Thanks anyway smile.


Plodding through piano music at a frustratingly slow pace since 9/2012.

Standard disclaimer: I teach many things. Piano is not one of them.
#2050111 - 03/18/13 08:16 AM Re: Experience teaching blind students? [Re: Saranoya]  
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TimR Offline
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Originally Posted by Saranoya
So I was looking for ideas on how to tackle those, other than 'just do it', which is where I am right now. But I guess there is no magic bullet here. There rarely is. Thanks anyway smile.


I don't know if this works for piano leaps or not. It may not apply, because you get some auditory feedback with piano that's not available in sports.

But when I was learning to juggle, which was particularly difficult for me due to some brain related coordination issues, I followed a pattern recommended by some of the pro's.

In juggling, the catch is trivial, it's merely secondary to the precise throw, which has to be done without looking. So to learn the precise throw, you throw............catch.........freeze...........relax and feel body position..........s.l.o.w.l.y move your catching hand to where it should have been.

Not sure that's clear. Your right hand must throw the ball so that it lands on a point in space where you're going to put your left hand. But in the beginning, your throw will always be left, right, forward, or back of that spot. At first it may be inches off, then less and less. Your left hand is going to move away from that spot to catch the ball. It's irresistable. But at the instant of catch, you freeze. You deliberately relax so that your body positioning feedback works. Then you very slowly move your left hand back to the spot it should have been. Feel that spot. Then repeat the throw. It sounds like it would take a long time, and it does. But it saves time in the long run.

I heard Sergei Ignatov speak once. (head juggler with Moscow Circus) He said all of us could learn up to a point, but beyond that breakpoint only inborn talent could take you further. That point? 8 balls. Most of us sell ourselves short.


gotta go practice
#2050202 - 03/18/13 11:58 AM Re: Experience teaching blind students? [Re: Saranoya]  
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pianopaws Offline
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pianopaws  Offline
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I taught a couple of visually impaired students many years ago, and we used the black keys as reference points to help with jumps and even finding initial starting places.

So, for example, if you are moving your right hand up to an F sharp, you would feel across the black keys as you moved up until you felt the next group of 3 black keys, the lowest of which would be F sharp. Or, if you are moving the left hand to a D, you would feel across the black keys until you found the group of 2, then place your finger between that group on the white key D. Eventually with practice these movements became automatic and helped the students become more secure with moving around the piano.

I hope this helps! Best of luck to you as you prepare for your recital!


M.M., Piano performance and pedagogy
Member, MTNA and NCMTA
#2050226 - 03/18/13 12:31 PM Re: Experience teaching blind students? [Re: pianopaws]  
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Scott Hamlin Offline
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Scott Hamlin  Offline
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REMINDS OF THIS OLD CLUNKER:

A blind man walks into a store with his seeing eye dog. All of a sudden, he picks up the leash and begins swinging the dog over his head. The manager runs up to the man and asks, "What are you doing?!!" The blind man replies, "Just looking around."

#2050257 - 03/18/13 01:46 PM Re: Experience teaching blind students? [Re: pianopaws]  
Joined: Jan 2013
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Saranoya Online content
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Saranoya  Online Content
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Brussels, Belgium
Originally Posted by pianopaws
I hope this helps! Best of luck to you as you prepare for your recital!


It does help a lot! Thanks!

I tried applying the 'feel for the black keys' tactic in my practice tonight, and it's slow-going right now, but I get how it could become a very effective tool with some conscious training.


Plodding through piano music at a frustratingly slow pace since 9/2012.

Standard disclaimer: I teach many things. Piano is not one of them.
#2051007 - 03/19/13 05:39 PM Re: Experience teaching blind students? [Re: ten left thumbs]  
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AndyJ Offline
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AndyJ  Offline
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Near Dayton, Ohio USA
Originally Posted by ten left thumbs
Originally Posted by Saranoya

What I'm wondering is: how do these people learn to make jumps that are substantially bigger than one octave, or where, for reasons other than mere distance, the previous hand position cannot easily serve as a reliable point of reference for the new position?


Sorry, but I think probably the answer is 'without looking, but with lots of practice'. The blind pianist will have lots of other non-piano experience of judging distances without looking, and they are unlikely to have a regular job, so may in fact have lots of time to practice.

good luck!

My father is a scientist specializing in the brain. He told me once that the part called the visual cortex should really be called the spatial cortex: it converts the real world into a mental image whether it's working from visual or other inputs. In blind people with intact brains, the "visual" cortex remains active. It just works without visual inputs.

My point is that everybody builds a mental spatial map of things; for pianists, one of those things is the piano keyboard. People who can't see develop the same kind of map, but they connect with it through their remaining senses.

I usually play non-classical music with my eyes either on the lead sheet, on my left hand (a crutch to help keep track of the chords), or gazing somewhere in space -- but once while I was practicing with a little reggae group, my friend who'd organized it complained that I was reading the newspaper I'd left on the keyboard. I had to admit the newspaper could wait till we were done with the song.

Coming back to the OP, my experience is that the keyboard becomes internalized with time. I'm sure playing blindfolded would help you rely less on your treacherous vision. You could also try doing a lot of sight-reading every day (low-vision times excepted, of course). You can't watch your hands while you're reading music, so that would reinforce your autokinesthetic sense of the keyboard.

Good luck,

Andy


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