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What exercises are effective at improving proprioception while playing piano?

My immediate goal is to be able to play piano pieces without taking my eyes of the sheet music. (ie. avoid looking at my hands) Recently, I have been doing this exercise regularly: close my eyes, think of a random note, and try play it - using my sense of touch of the black keys to confirm that I'm hitting the correct note. Then repeat 50-odd times.

Are there better exercises for improving proprioception more quickly?

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+1 for this question. Also, once you learn a piece by heart, play that with your eyes closed - it's a very interesting experience –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 15 '13 at 20:26
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2 Answers 2

Exercices with eyes closed have strong disadvantages if you want to improve what you do with your eyes open.

The most important one, speaking of proprio-perception, is that your body and head behaves differently when your eyes are closed. You need special attention to your posture to have your head placed as it would if you were opening your eyes. As your eyes are closed you do not really know if they are looking up, down or in front of you.

So you are trying to learn a skill in a different perceptual context than the one where you will be using it, without talking of the fact that cutting your brain from all the visual information he will receive with open eyes does not train it to filter this information effortlessly and concentrate on what is important.

So if you are looking for a shortcut, this is probably not a good idea. You should aim at reinforcing, cumulative skills and you need to allow some time to your brain between acceleration or complexification of exercices.

A key to good sight-reading on piano is proprio-perception of intervals with hands and arms because most of the time you are moving from a known key with your hand to another one you try to each.

A thing you can do easily

Practice interval jumping, eyes open, between two different fingers of the same hand starting with basic seconds, thirds and octaves and then exploring all intervals from all starting point, if possible while reading a sheetmusic corresponding to that. With so many freeware or shareware basic music notation software, you can create and print these exercices. Practice very slowly and resist the temptation to accelerate one of them before having practiced it four or five different days, ideally at least a week.

When one hand alone is confident in a certain series of moves, play a slow and regular rhythmic routine with the other hand while doing the exercice on the hand you want.

Technology

As you are fond of technological devices, here is a low-tech system you can add to your piano: make a rigid and light cardboard rectangle, approximately half the width and the length of the keyboard with ways to attach it firmly to the sheetmusic support of your piano. This will work as a temporary cache of your keyboard without impeding hand movement. Adjust the size according to your situation. It will help you keep your eyes off your hand for one time.

Do not use it too long however, as one of the key skills when sight-reading efficiently is to use peripheral vision to avoid looking directly to your hands while playing.

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That's very helpful - thanks! What is the purpose of a routine for the other hand? –  Scott Smedley May 6 '11 at 6:07
    
To develop independence between the two hands. When you are more experienced, you can add rhythmic/attack features to the other hand routine or repetitive movements such as scales in octave chords. There is no end to what you can try in that respect. –  ogerard May 6 '11 at 6:12
    
What is the best way to improve my peripheral vision? With my eyes focussed on the sheet music, I can see my hands move, but I am not even close to being able to "see" which notes my fingers are on. –  Scott Smedley May 12 '11 at 4:05
    
@Scott: you will never be able to see which notes your finger are on with peripheral vision. It is not defined enough for that alone. But it can supplement proprioperception and touch and the combination will give you confidence. Developing peripheral vision allows you to have quicker, smaller eye moves without losing track of the bars you need to see (mainly the next one you are going to play), and especially helping you resist the urge to look at your hands to check. The most efficient checking is done by ear. –  ogerard May 12 '11 at 5:37
    
Ok, thanks! So just being aware of my peripheral vision will (over time) improve it? –  Scott Smedley May 13 '11 at 5:18
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You must always have a reference note. Start simple, by playing different kinds of scales in a chosen key (start with C) with your eyes closed. Practice a few times. Get this skill down in all keys.

From there, try doing arpeggios the same way. Finally, learn how your fingers fit common chord shapes in a particular key.

Before you know it, you're muscle movements will be second-nature.

Remember, however, that like all skills, it takes time. Be patient. No one can sight read perfectly without looking down occasionally.

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