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I've been playing piano for over 13 years and mostly did this by learning the pieces by heart when studying, because when I play, I usually look at where my hands are going (especially for left handed jumps or strides). Never had any remarks about this.

I do realise now, that for sightreading and learning new pieces, this becomes an issue as you can't both look up at the sheet music while looking at the keys.

How should I practice breaking this habit? I could just force myself not to look at the keys when practicing, but I'd mostly be butchering the piece and the actual practice.

Do professional pianists not need to look at keys when doing jumps and strides?

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    Lots of practice helps develop muscle memory. After a while, even octave plus movements become second nature. No need to look at the gearstick when changing? Same idea. – Tim Apr 23 at 21:16
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    I sometimes practise in the dark. – badjohn Apr 23 at 22:44
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    It's as bad as looking at a computer keyboard when you type. – foreyez Apr 23 at 23:59
  • Can you clarify? Are you wanting to not look ever, or not look when making jumps/strides... or both? If you play music that doesn't have large leaps, do you still look at your hands all the time? – Michael Curtis Apr 24 at 15:08
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I've been playing professionally for many years and have always had to look at my hands for stride piano, though that wasn't my specialty. Nevertheless, I have a hard time believing that all but the very best stride pianists must look at their left hands pretty regularly.

That being said, when an accomplished jazz pianist I was taking lessons from several years ago challenged me to play my scales without looking, I was shocked that I kept missing my thumb tuck, no matter the scale. Turns out I had never gained a feeling in my hands for the tuck of a close note (i.e. F# -> G in G maj in RH) as opposed to that of a note away (Bb -> C in F maj RH). I was subconsciously relying on my sight to play it correctly. A few weeks of dedicated practicing resolved the problem and changed my habit, but it was unnerving nevertheless.

In your case, and for players in general, my rule-of-thumb advice is that you should be able to play without looking as long as your hands aren't changing positions drastically. I think it's always normal to look down quickly if you're moving a 5th or so without anything between.

If you are butchering your pieces, as you say, when attempting to play without looking at your hands then you need to slow it down in to the zone where you are playing correctly. (You'll probably clean up a few other things in the side!) Although this is excruciating at first, make yourself stay slow and only speed up only once you're satisfied with how you're doing. It will go by quickly in the end, and your skills and performance will improve.

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Get 1st- or 2nd-level piano music, especially stuff that doesn't require you to move your hands, and start there. If you find that you have trouble not looking down at your hands, lay a blanket over your hands when you play.

Gradually work your way up to harder and harder music with the understanding that once you get to music where your hands are moving a lot, you're going to need to glance down unless you become an expert piano player, and even then, not necessarily.

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