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Ok so lately I have been wanting to play music from some of my favorite shows. When I play something that isn't mainstream it can be kinda hard to find sheet music on a website so I find a video that links it. I tend to look/listen at people actually playing the song to get a real-world piano sound to help me get a sense of what it should sound like, I know that sounds weird.

One thing that I have noticed, in the videos where people show their hands when playing and face, is that the player looks directly at their hands whilst playing the song (or piece depending on if it's an intro or not).

I think they may have either memorized the sheet music or played by ear, but still, I am being taught to try not to look at my hands. Am I being taught wrong or am I just confused? If so, can you explain what I am missing?

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    Regardless of whether or not it's "bad" to look at your hands while playing, it can be very helpful to practice playing without looking at your hands at all, either by closing your eyes or making yourself look at something up above the piano. – Bob says reinstate Monica Oct 7 '20 at 9:29
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    I do it by turning the lights off.First task: find the piano. – badjohn Oct 7 '20 at 12:09
  • If you want to improve your ability to play without looking, practice scales and arpeggios. – Caleb Oct 7 '20 at 18:22
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    I think it's worth keeping in mind that not all videos on Youtube show good technique, and not all sheet music found on a website is well transcribed. – ojs Oct 9 '20 at 9:54
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The way I was taught was also to avoid looking at my hands; however, in some cases, it makes sense to look at my hands instead of somewhere else. In my opinion, at least from the teachers I've had, the point is to avoid reliance on looking at your keyboard. Relying on manually positioning based on sight slows you down compared to having the muscle memory for certain things like common scales, chords, etc. It's similar to typing on a computer keyboard.

It is also impossible to sight-read or even play music you haven't memorized if you are reliant on looking at your keys, since you obviously can't look at the score and the keyboard simultaneously, and jumping between the two means you're more likely to miss something on the score or miss a note, possibly both.

I personally think striking your own balance is really the most important part. As long as you are able to play most things off of your muscle memory and you can find intervals, chords, and steps without needing to check your keyboard, I'd say you're doing fine. I usually don't need to look at my keyboard, but some of the songs I play have a lot of pretty decent jumps (couple of octaves) and so I'll often look at my keyboard to make sure I'm hitting them right.

TL;DR: there's no objectively "right" way to do it; I think it's pretty reasonable to assert that you have to be able to play without relying on your sight always, which is probably what most teachers are encouraging, but I don't think it's productive to subscribe to the idea that you should never at all look at your hands.

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    It's similar to touch typing, but far more complex. With touch typing, the two hands don't need to move laterally, although the fingers occasionally need to.Playing piano, they all need to move considerably more. – Tim Oct 7 '20 at 7:01
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Depends what you're doing! When sight-reading, looking at hands/fingers/keyboard is usually not a good idea, as there's a tendency to lose one's place on the sheet.

When one knows a piece fairly well, particularly when it's, for example, a jumpy bass pattern, it makes sense to look at what's happening on the keys, at least until some form of 'muscle memory' kicks in.

When performing to an audience, it's good to be able to look at that audience at least from time to time or even the conductor - by then, there should be no need to check the dots, or keep looking at the keyboard.

If your teacher is adamant that one path is followed - do ask the question why, and expect a reasoned answer.

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  • My teacher and some friends and family with experience in music said that it's good to not keep your eyes glued to the keyboard because for some things I won't be able to pay attention to the keyboard because I will be reading music or I will be looking at someone. They said that you can glance at the keyboard just using your eyes just don't keep your eyes stuck to the keyboard. Did they give me a good reason? – Fly- Googly Eyes Oct 7 '20 at 16:31
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    The answer to that lies in the first paragraph. – Tim Oct 7 '20 at 16:34
  • oh I see, I apologize for my ignorance in this. – Fly- Googly Eyes Oct 7 '20 at 16:38
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Firstly, is it necessary to look at your hands?

Well, not if these blind pianists are anything to go by. 5 Famous Blind Piano Players You Should Know

Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Art Tatum, George Shearing, Nobuyuki Tsujii.

Here is a video of Nobuyuki Tsujii playing Chopin - Etude Op. 10 No. 12 ‘Revolutionary’

Secondly, do highly skilled pianists look at their hands?

Yes. Can they play without looking? Here is Sophie Druml trying to play blindfold. She makes quite a few mistakes but remarkably the fast passage seems to be more accurate - at least initially. Chopin: Etude Op. 25 No. 11 Blindfold It's easy to imagine that, with practice, she could play blindfold perfectly.


So who does play without looking?

Very often, it's singers. They know the importance of looking at the audience or into the camera in order to get the words across. Here's Elton John looking into the camera while playing. Sorry seems to be the hardest word

And here's Billy Joel My Life (Official Video)


Answer

Is it wrong to look at your hands? No.

Is it useful to be able to play without looking? Yes.

When should you play without looking? When singing for an audience or when sight-reading (although even then it's okay to look down for the difficult bits.)

If you want to have fun, try asking your teacher to play something difficult with a blindfold!!! Props to them if they can do it.

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    To a certain extend, you need to play large parts of sufficiently difficult pieces without looking, even when you are looking: Stuff is happening so fast right and left that it's impossible to have your eyes on both hands. It definitely helps when you have at least one hand trained to play what it needs to play without any visual control. – cmaster - reinstate monica Oct 7 '20 at 14:33
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Look at your hands to aim during a leap. Otherwise, prefer feel to eyesight. The spacing of the black keys tells your fingers how to refine their aim. If you're staying within four or five octaves and not playing something designed to show off your virtuosity, you should rarely need to glance at your hands.

Historically, the piano's keyboard grew higher and lower, unlike other keyboard instruments. In the classical tradition, organists play from sheet music. But unlike organists (and oboists and ophicleidists), pianists are expected to play from memory, because especially in the late Romantic repertoire their hands are so mobile that their eyes are needed for aiming.

The composers of that period knew this. Leaps are common, but a set of simultaneous leaps in both hands is surpassingly rare, fiendish to learn, and devastatingly effective when mastered.

Organists are also encouraged to not look at their feet, to play by feel. But because they don't play barefoot, their sense of touch is diminished. Videos of even top organists betray the occasional glance downward. But just a glance, not a stare.


The videos you've seen may "cheat," particularly for a pianist who's also singing. For dramatic effect the video track might temporarily switch to something that was video-recorded afterwards to match the final audio recording, like "lip sync." Suspect that, especially if the view changes to one that emphasizes the face and hides detailed finger movement.

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Some teachers emphasize not looking at your hands as a way of reinforcing playing sheet music at sight. However, this varies amongst teachers: some encourage hand-looking, some are neutral, some are against.

However, outside of learning to sight-read, one plays however it works best for that individual. I look at my hands and the keyboard a great deal, because the visual cues are helpful to me in "seeing" chords or other patterns, or in gauging distances.

Sometimes I look at the music, sometimes my hands, sometimes off into space, and sometimes close my eyes altogether.

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    'However it works best for that individual' is rather hard to judge, especially when you are at a beginner or intermediate level. Many players (myself included) are not aware of what it is about their technique that is holding them back. – Ian Goldby Oct 7 '20 at 7:28
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I'm self taught on piano, so I'm just using experience and intuition here, but I would say it's good to look at your hands so long as you've very intentional about it.

If you're learning a tricky section, learning with each hand independently, you obviously can't rely on sight for both hands. So making decisions bar by bar about where your eyes should be, based on your strengths and weaknesses is part of the practise.

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You need to learn both: looking and not looking. "Looking" comes naturally, so your teacher is focusing on the latter.

In real life you will use a mixture of both, and for challenging pieces you might have to develop a strategy, like: "I need to look at my right hand in this bar, then take a glimpse at the left one in that bar".

Generally:

  • for bigger jumps and when both hands change position - looking works well,
  • for quick runs that relay on finger position - you play by the feel,
  • for stride, hand is quicker than the eye... but sometimes I need to look at one "side" (just the bass note or just the chord)
  • for improvisation and cantilena pieces (I mean like Chopin's nocturnes)- looking at the hand playing the melody helps me focus.
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Depends also a bit on why and how the video is made.

In any professionally made video, you simply do whatever the director tells you. You get shot in various different ways, from various different angles, looking in various different direction with different expression etc. And in the end they just cut it together, in whatever the director feels looks best.

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