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At 41, I've now got reading glasses. My eyes aren't terrible, but the glasses reduce the eye-strain for long periods of reading (mainly computer at work). But the glasses also make things appear closer.

I'm not sure what to do with piano playing, since I'm worried that glasses making things appear closer will mess up my accuracy of hitting the notes. I can still get by without glasses for short periods of playing, and sheet music is generally easier to read than text. But perhaps gradually in the next 20 years the glasses will become more necessary as the eyes naturally age.

What have others' experiences been with adjusting to wearing reading glasses when playing the piano, and their effects on the accuracy of hitting notes?

(I also play trombone, with the glasses, but that's been fine, because slide positioning seems more a feel/ear process).

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    You should be using your fingers to play the correct keys, not your eyes. Even if you look at the keys they are so large that having glasses or not shouldn't make a big difference. The one challenge I have with reading glasss while playing the piano is that drugstore glasses often have a focal point closer to my eyes than the music holder on the piano, so I sometimes have to lean forward anyway. – Todd Wilcox Sep 3 '17 at 5:45
  • @ToddWilcox - That's fine in theory but in practice, peripheral vision still plays a part in distance perception and when it's being distorted by lenses, there's definitely conflict between where the hands want to go and what the brain thinks it sees. The first time that I wore reading glasses while sitting in with a jazz band at a gig, I had a big problem with simultaneously singing, playing piano, glancing at a chart and engaging with the audience. I was "missing" stride patterns with my left hand but if I'd shut my eyes, I wouldn't have been able to read the arrangements. – Horace Morris Jul 18 at 5:19
  • @ToddWilcox - [contd] By sheer chance, the sax player had a spare pair of low magnification specs which he'd bought in a supermarket. He said to me, "Try these." I did and they were just strong enough to enable me read the charts but they weren't so powerful that they made the piano keyboard seem six inches away from where it actually was. I now carry similar specs to my gigs but they're not what I use when I'm reading and writing print. Of course, if I already know the music, I don't need glasses at all but not every gig is like that. – Horace Morris Jul 18 at 5:29
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My sight-reading improved (or rather stopped deteriorating) enormously when I admitted I needed reading glasses! But if you just need straightforward magnifing lenses, you're lucky. Your prescription will probably have been optimised for reading at about 20". Taking that as a base point, buy cheap glasses at various lower strengths. If your 'reading' prescription is +2, try +1.5 for piano playing and computer, +1 for watching TV. Maybe get a pair of +3 for close work, and for future reading - I'm afraid it's all downhill from now on!

As to your concern, don't over-think it. We all get reading glasses after 40. It doesn't destroy our piano playing. Anyway, what are you going to do about it?

  • " We all get reading glasses after 40." People's eyes "age" at different rates - I had no problem without glasses till I was well past 60. Though strangely, I needed glasses when I was a teenager but my eyesight changed to "normal" in my early 20s and I just stopped using them for the next 45 years! – user19146 Sep 3 '17 at 12:33
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    Indeed. But it's a cliché containing a lot of truth that you meet your optician when you're 40 and (for men at any rate) you meet your doctor when you're 60. Until then, you have no need of either. – Laurence Payne Sep 3 '17 at 13:13
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If by "reading glasses" you mean the glasses you can buy off the shelf in UK chemists, supermarkets, etc, with no eye test, don't go down that road.

Get a proper eye test, and explain that you don't want "reading glasses" that only work at a short distance from your eyes but you need to focus on longer distances. Measure the typical distance from your eyes to the music stand and the keyboard, so you (and the optician) aren't guessing!

FWIW, I made the mistake of asking an optician for "reading glasses" (because I didn't realize that was the wrong description of what I wanted) when I started using them a couple of years ago. The first pair were useless for anything further than about 2 feet from my eyes. After explaining what I really wanted (i.e. glasses that will focus without any apparent magnification up to about arm's length away from me, for computer work) the prescription was altered and I got a free replacement lenses.

I don't know what the system is in Australia but in the UK, NHS-standard eye tests are either quite cheap or completely free(*), depending on your age, even when done by private opticians - you don't need to wait for a medical appointment at a hospital clinic or whatever, and you don't need to see your doctor before making an appointment for the eye test. Once you have the prescription, you can buy the glasses from anywhere you want, including by mail order - you don't have to pay the opticians' inflated prices unless you really like the style of the glasses they sell.

You can also get glasses with varifocal lenses which will give you a different range of "in-focus" vision in different directions - e.g. for looking at your hands and also reading the music - though personally, when I tried them out I found there was no extra benefit to justify the higher price.

(*) There are a few restrictions - e.g. you can only get a free re-test every 2 years, unless you have been diagnosed with a disease that may potentially damage your eyesight, such as diabetes. Note, the NHS eye test and examination should pick up early warning signs of such conditions even if you don't have any other obvious symptoms - IMO that's worth having as an "insurance policy" quite apart from fixing your current vision problems!

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Playing piano with glasses can be a different experience for many people. When meeting with your optician/optometrist, it is imperative to give them a working distance to the keyboard and to your music (they will most often split the difference since these two measurements will be quite similar).

Most people adjust well and quickly to piano glasses, but if you are particularly sensitive, there are some things you can do. These lenses will have a relative magnification effect (even if the modified prescription is a minus since the lens will have more plus power relative to your distance prescription). Magnification in spectacle lenses is dictated by two main components: shape and thickness. Therefore, to minimize the effect of magnification (and therein ensure the most comfortable playing experience), the optician must manage these two factors. Higher base curves and thicker lenses increase magnification so the optician should be made aware of the goal of decreasing magnification. Using a material of higher index, aspheric/atoric curves, and specifying a knife-edge (in plus lenses) or reduced center thickness (in minus lenses) should help. It will still take a few days to adjust to the difference in magnification and base curve regardless, but this does go away.

-I am a master optician and a pianist

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I bought several pairs of cheap reading glasses, from +1 through to +2.5. Tried out each till I found one that did the job. The dots are what you should be looking at, as the keys should be found without much more than a glance occasionally.

As far as the keys looking bigger, so will your fingers and thumbs, and there shouldn't be a problem then.

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I've worn glasses and/or contacts my entire life. I'm now in what they call progressive lenses, with three different prescriptions in each lens, one for close, one for mid-range, and one for distance. I don't have a problem reading music, but, if you find difficulty with reading music with your reading prescription, then, enlisting the help of a friend or neighbor, sit at the piano at your preferred distance with the smallest printed music you have, play a bit to make sure of your distance, then freeze and have the friend or neighbor literally measure the distance from your head to the music's surface. Take that measurement to your ophthalmologist, and they can make you a second pair of glasses just for reading at that distance.

  • Actually the distance part is not required, if you have a special pair of glasses for computer screen work/music playing. This makes the mid-range area of the glasses greater, moves it upwards and reduces the stress to tilt the head backwards just to look through the correct range within the glass. – guidot Sep 4 '17 at 14:20
  • I'm a good distance away from my music stand playing flute -- about three feet -- and that distance is right between the near and middle distance lens foci. I happen to sit close enough to the piano when I play that my regular progressive lenses work fine, but my great aunt, a concert pianist, has a special set of glasses just for playing piano because, at six-four with long arms, she sits a good distance from her grand's music rack. I think it's dependent upon the individual. – DLKeur Sep 4 '17 at 19:01

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