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#2124950 - 07/29/13 06:11 PM Not looking at the keys, how?
Shadows Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/06/12
Posts: 17
So, this may sound really basic but here goes..

I've never really been taught not to look at the keys while playing piano. It's hard for me to look at the sheet music while playing with jumps. I've been playing piano for about 8-9 years.

For example:

I played Schubert's impromptu op. 90 no. 1 a few months ago, it was really easy to keep looking at the sheet music, which made the learning process better and without any reading mistakes.

Right now, I'm studying Rach's Op. 23 no. 5. It's a wonderful piece, but it has so many jumps it's almost impossible for me to look at the sheet music. I need to look at my hands while performing these jumps. Therefor, my study approach is different. I learn about 2 measures at once by heart, then I continue. This studying method isn't as good as the one above I've noticed in the past..

Is there any study I could practice in order to get this right, or are there any tips? Seems pretty pointless to not look and try to play it, because I'm always too far from the actual notes when jumping, it's horrible hahaha.

Thanks a lot!

Edited by Shadows (07/29/13 06:16 PM)

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#2124979 - 07/29/13 07:31 PM Re: Not looking at the keys, how? [Re: Shadows]
BruceD Offline

Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 20227
Loc: Victoria, BC
Not trying to sound too simplistic in what may be a complex issue for you, but :

- Keep your eyes on the music as you play.
- When a large jump occurs that requires you to look at the keyboard,
- do so for the instant required, but
- remember where you were on the score and
- direct your eyes immediately back to the score as soon as you have completed the jump.

Of course, this takes practice, and practicing this at a generally slow tempo is a good idea for most of us.

Practicing the jump itself in isolation is also a good idea, and teachers have suggested that one useful, practice technique is
- play the note before the jump
- make the move, quickly, to the next note/chord without playing it
- practice this regularly and sufficiently until you get a real feel for the exact distance your hand has to cover to complete the jump.

Then practice the jump at various speeds playing both the note/chord before and the "destination" note/chord.

Memorizing music so you can watch your hands is not recommended because it simply encourages you to watch your hands as you play. There are times in practice and in performance when that simply is not an option, and the sooner you can train yourself to watch the music, the better your playing will (should?) become.

That said, those of us who play a great deal from the score learn to look when we have to and not look when we don't need to. It's a matter of practice and training.

- - - - -
Estonia 190

#2125009 - 07/29/13 09:12 PM Re: Not looking at the keys, how? [Re: Shadows]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 24771
Loc: Oakland
If you want to learn how to find the right note without looking, there are a couple of things to remember.

One is that there is a sense that tells you where your limbs are without looking at them. You know that your hand is straight in front of you or off to the left or the right even if your eyes are shut. Like all senses, this can be improved with practice.

The other is that the shape of the keyboard gives you clues. An E is the left of two keys without a sharp between them, below a set of three sharps. So if you get close, that is an additional clue.
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#2125017 - 07/29/13 09:32 PM Re: Not looking at the keys, how? [Re: Shadows]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 22161
Loc: New York City
Every pianist who isn't blind looks st the keys sometimes.

Those with greater skill on jumps or other technical aspects where some would look at their hands don't have to look as often. Learning to look less is a matter of practice and talent.

If one cannot play a passage without looking at one's hands there are only two choices:

1. Practice until you can play it without looking
2. Look at your hands

Edited by pianoloverus (07/30/13 08:43 AM)

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#2125025 - 07/29/13 09:49 PM Re: Not looking at the keys, how? [Re: Shadows]
rada Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/07/06
Posts: 1124
Loc: pagosa springs,co
Everyone knows what peripheral vision is. [ hope I spelled that correctly]. You can see your hands with the bottom of your eyes while the main focus of the eyes is on the score. When in doubt memorize a small passage. I always have my students play with eyes closed [ at least small segments]....different sense....makes you listen and feel more....I think.


#2125168 - 07/30/13 07:17 AM Re: Not looking at the keys, how? [Re: rada]
wr Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 8826
Originally Posted By: rada
I always have my students play with eyes closed [ at least small segments]....different sense....makes you listen and feel more....I think.

That's a good idea, IMO. One of Dohnanyi's well-known set of exercises is supposed to be played with the eyes closed - it's an easy-to-memorize pattern of big chords jumping around the keyboard.

#2125184 - 07/30/13 08:39 AM Re: Not looking at the keys, how? [Re: wr]
bennevis Online   content
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 8971
For many years, when I didn't own a piano, I played anything resembling a piano in all sorts of places. Often, when I found a decent one, I'd play until dark - and beyond; and to avoid drawing attention to myself, I often didn't turn the lights on (especially in places like churches and town halls).

I found that my spatial awareness of the keyboard improved immeasurably, and often never needed to look at the keyboard, even for big fast leaps. These days, every so often, I'd keep up my 'practice' at this skill by playing on my own piano with the lights turned off.

Listen to Nobuyuki Tsujii playing Tchaik 1 and Rach 2 - I've heard note-perfect performances from him several times.
"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."

#2125272 - 07/30/13 11:48 AM Re: Not looking at the keys, how? [Re: Shadows]
TwoSnowflakes Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1974
Ugh, I have the opposite problem. I can't break my eyes from the music, and if I do, I panic that I've permanently lost my place.

The problem is that there are many situations in which you need to look down for accuracy. Not the least of which is generally looking down once you've memorized a piece.

If we could average ourselves out, we'd probably end up with one pianist in possession of the general facility of looking at either the music or the hands as the situation warrants.

#2125318 - 07/30/13 01:19 PM Re: Not looking at the keys, how? [Re: TwoSnowflakes]
BruceD Offline

Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 20227
Loc: Victoria, BC
Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes
[...] one pianist in possession of the general facility of looking at either the music or the hands as the situation warrants.

That's what we all aim for (no pun intended), and, whichever is our weakness, it can be improved with practice. The worst approach is to say : "I can't do it!" and stop practicing that particular skill. Eventually, the skill becomes more and more refined, but it needs consistent work to reach a satisfactory point.

Whether we look at the music constantly or intermittently, we need to know the physical layout of our scores quite well, so that when our eyes leave the score we know exactly where to redirect them when they need to come back to the score.

TwoSnowflakes : Put on a recording (or YouTube) of one of your works in progress, and open the score. Cover the score and at random moments while listening to the recording immediately go to where the performance is in the score. Practice this as well as practice the skill at the piano to assure that you know your own edition of the score so well that you can immediately pinpoint where you are at any given moment.

- - - - -
Estonia 190

#2125326 - 07/30/13 01:38 PM Re: Not looking at the keys, how? [Re: Shadows]
rocket88 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/06
Posts: 3769

When faced with a big jump in a piece I use a colored hi-liter to mark the place in the score.

It is easy to find that place when looking back. And in more than one instance, that somehow helped me to make the jump more accurately, and eventually be able to not look at my hands. I surmise this is because the fear factor of not being able to find my place again was eliminated by having the safety of the mark on the score.
Piano teacher and Blues and Boogie-Woogie pianist.

A Boogie-Woogie Video: https://youtu.be/UhVkxZIVe-g

#2125381 - 07/30/13 03:42 PM Re: Not looking at the keys, how? [Re: Shadows]
Shadows Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/06/12
Posts: 17
Thanks for all the replies, very helpful and appreciated!

@Rada sure, but I need my eyes focused on the mid of the keyboard in order to use my peripheral vision to get the jumps right.

@wr Thanks, think I found it; dohanyi Essential Finger Exercises Piano

Any piece(s) I could use to practice this? I don't want to end up hurting my Rachmaninoff, and it'd be too hard to start this with Rachmaninoff anyway haha.


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