Not looking at keys : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I am an adult piano student for seven years. I find that looking at keys while trying to read music obviously makes it difficult to play flowingly or up to tempo. However, if I don't look at the keys when I have to move more than an octave; I am afraid I will hit the wrong note. Can you give some advice or guidlines as to how much one should or should not look at keys while reading the music. Also what about when the piece has been memorized? Should I look at keys more or same?

-- JOHN FLEMING (, January 10, 2002


First of all, the more you play songs with big "jumps" in them, the more your muscle memory will develop. However, it does seem to take a little longer for the larger muscles in my arms (the ones that make the big lateral movements) to develop muscle memory than the smaller muscles in my hands and forearms. It can be VERY frustrating to try to tame those muscles (as I recently learned), however it can be most helpful when sight-reading in the future.

Personally, I memorize most of my pieces because it makes them more managable. I can concentrate more on making music than on where I'm at on the page. It also allows me that occasional peek to see where my hand is going. As far as looking at the keys goes, my philosophy is simple: Would I rather look at the keys to help me focus, or would I rather look at the audience and make myself a nervous wreck? Good luck!

-- Andrew (, January 10, 2002.

John, One of the most effective ways of training your body to find the right keys is to know the sound you want to play before you actually play it. I have found over years of teaching that those who learn to sing large or difficult intervals before actually playing them, or who can sing a melody before playing it, develop an uncanny accuracy without looking at the keys. Once someone sings the notes aloud, then he can sing those notes in his imagination. Eventually his body learns automatically to find whatever notes he is singing "inside." It amounts to playing by ear, actually (it is definitely not playing by eye). But it is amazing how well your body can find a tone on the keyboard when it is prompted by a tone sung or heard inside - much more successful than trying to find the key that corresponds with a particular line or space on the staff.

-- Alan (, January 12, 2002.

You're totally right that looking at the keyboard can make sight reading difficult. I kind of disagree with the other two answers in the way that they seem to say "play a piece five hundred time and have it in your inner ear and your muscle memory will develop." I think the key to finding notes on the keyboard without looking are the black keys and the relationship to preceeding notes. Try to get a note by feeling the surrounding black notes with your fingers. Let's say for example that you need to jump to an F with the fifth finger of the left hand. Get the position by placing your fingers 4-3-2 on the three balck keys. Develop your own relationships to black keys. Another way could look like this: Your fifth finger of the left hand is on a C and the next note should be the fifth finger on the C on octave below. Substitute the fifth finger of the first C with the thumb (while holding the key or after the release) and then you only have to play an octave instead of jumping. Eventually this process will be unconscious and then I think you're on the way to the "muscle memory." Hope this helps.

-- Christian Bohnenstengel (, January 23, 2002.

Thanks to the different suggestions. They all have merit. I really like the "touching black keys" technique.

-- JOHN FLEMING (, January 24, 2002.

I appreciated John's question, as well as the various answers received. I do try to use a combination of muscle memory as well as feel of the black keys, but after years and years of playing, I certainly can't keep my eyes on the page of music 100% of the time. I would like to hear more in response to John's question about "how much one should or should not look at the keys?" Are some pianists so skilled that they truly *never* have to look down at the keys while reading? I think I do a pretty good job of not looking down, but I've wondered if it's a realistic goal to never look at the keys. My piano teacher used to say "Why do you think concert pianists memorize their music? So they can look at the keys!" Thoughts?

-- michelle (, February 02, 2002.

My contribution stems from playing in various circumstances that call for different ways I use the music as I play. When I play solo piano I prefer to memorize because I desire to get inside the music. I can choose to play looking at keys or not as the music dictates. When I accompany a musical I use peripheral vision alot. I am seeing the music, the stage and the keybed sometimes one at a time, sometimes all at once. I am aware that I have many different impressions of the music inside of me. I have a visual picture of the score. I have a tactal sense of the keyboard. I have a visual picture of the keyboard and of course I have an aural idea of the music. All are working concurrently. When I am fully consciously aware while I am playing I am aware of all of these things at the moment. During practice I develop all of these perspectives as I learn a piece and I go towards one as needed.

OK, its hard to describe.

Try this game. Right Hand play a low C, then push off the C and let your body move your arm in an arc to a high C. Just go there. It will..... every time if you let it.

Now when you are practicing an interval larger than an octave, play the first note and then .... snap.... to the next note but do not actually play it. Notice where you actually ended up. Just let that be. Do it again... did it get closer? farther away? OK do it until you get to the note(s). Then when you have correctly snapped to the notes play them. This technique is called prepare/play. I forget who coined the term. forgive me. I then do the same exercise with my eyes closed. I see the keyboard and feel the motion. its sort of like going up stairs in the dark. Your body just knows how high the stairs are.


-- Ellen Johansen (, February 02, 2002.

get in your practice room turn off the lights and play it will be some mistakes at the begining but eventually will help. my phone number after 9pm california time or weekends any time 562-537-2137

-- (, October 27, 2004.

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