Robert Estrin - piano expert

Should You Look at Your Hands When You Play Piano?

Have you ever asked yourself this question while playing the piano?

In this video, Robert shares his insights about one of the most common doubts pianists may have during their music playing.

Released on September 24, 2014

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin here at livingpianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com with a great question today from a viewer: "Should you look at your hands when you play the piano?" I've heard a lot from people out there. Students, some teachers tell them, "You must never look at your hands." Others tell them, "You must always look at your hands." So what is the truth about this? Well, the answer is not so simple, and I'm going to explain to you situations in which one or the other is appropriate.

All right, there are two distinctly different types of piano playing in classical music: solo playing and chamber music. And why these are so different is that the general accepted system of playing the piano solo is to play from memory. And when playing chamber music, generally one looks at the score. Now why is this, first of all? Well, in solo playing, there are oftentimes big leaps that you absolutely have to look at your hands. It's very, very difficult not to look at your hands in order to negotiate leaps and things like that. Also, the hassle of page turning. You would have to have a page turner to play for anyone at any time because there's no way to negotiate the pages very easily when you're playing.

What about chamber music? Why is that different? There is a fundamental difference when playing with other musicians in that the piano part contains the complete score. So if you're playing a piano trio, you've got the cello and the violin part in your score, and it's very important that you see everything that's going on. So when you're playing from the music from the score, in the case of chamber music, it's imperative that you keep your eyes on your music. Now if there's a particularly difficult section with a lot of leaps, you might memorize certain sections of it. But generally, you play while looking at the score. And you'll learn how to use your hands without having to look at them, just as some sensational blind pianists can do all the time. It might seem impossible at first. But if you practice this way, you'll discover that you can negotiate leaps even without looking at your hand. Just a peripheral vision is enough.

Now what about with solo playing? Well, if you have the music memorized, I see no benefit to looking away from your hands. Why not look at your hands? As long as you got the score memorized, what better place to look than the keyboard? And it can be definitely easier to negotiate big leaps when you're looking at what you're doing. It helps all around, getting a sense of what your hands are doing and how they're working. So my suggestion is be aware of what you're doing. If you are playing memorized music, why not look at your hands? Are you going to look around the room? Where else are you going to look? It's the most obvious place in the world to look. On the other hand, when playing chamber music, you must keep your eyes focused on that score, because otherwise you're not going to be able to play the music unless you have it all memorized, which is not generally the custom.

This is a great question. I hope this is helpful. If any of you have other reflections or opinions about this, I welcome them. You're welcome to comment on it. Once again, I'm Robert at livingpianos.com. Here also at virtualsheetmusic.com. Thanks for joining us.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Alison on May 12, 2017 @4:25 pm PST
I loved your video, but when I clicked on the screen it rated it with only 1 star! It won't let me change it. So sorry!
maria jos�é on September 29, 2014 @6:18 pm PST
hi Mr.Robert i like very much your music´s advise.I´m 86 years old and i play the piano every day.I´m not a a member but i buy the concert op 73 of Beethoven from sheet {my friend buy it for me]AND I´M PLAYING IT.very.very beautiful.
Gloria on September 28, 2014 @11:27 am PST
Is so nice of you to do this, I find it always helpful.
Thank you.
Richard Blocher on September 24, 2014 @11:05 am PST
Robert, Do you know, if anyone makes a reader of sheet music, which can be placed on the Piano, and it can turn pages on the screen with one finger? I have download sheet music from the web, before, and would like to use something like a electronic reader. Is this Possible? I really do appreciate your advice.
reply
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on September 24, 2014 @5:12 pm PST
Hello Richard and thank you for your question to Robert. I am going to anticipate Robert's reply... you must have probably missed our own music reader for iPad or iPhone

http://www.virtualsheetmusic.com/ipad/

You can find it for free on the App Store. Just search for "Virtual Sheet Music". Please, let me know if that's what you were looking for.Thank you again!
Robert - host, on September 25, 2014 @11:17 am PST
I use the reader all the time and it's great! You can turn the pages either with a pedal or by simply tilting your head. You have to try it!
Richard Blocher on September 25, 2014 @12:56 pm PST
Thank you for sharing this information with me, I did miss this issue,and it is very helpful, to me. I appreciate your information, I am always looking for ways for me to improve my playing.
Respectfully,
Richard Blocher
Geri on September 24, 2014 @6:51 am PST
Good video, Robert. My additional thought: In chamber music, one often needs to have eye contact and/or observe the other musicians' body language, in order to synchronize and play together. So we develop another art: looking away from the music and getting back to the right spot ;-).
reply
Robert - host, on September 24, 2014 @11:50 am PST
It is an amazing thing that we can seemingly be focused on several things at once when playing music - but that's essentially what happens. You must be so familiar with the music that you can shift areas of focus while maintaining continuity.
Dave Kurkowski * VSM MEMBER * on September 24, 2014 @6:35 am PST
Very helpful. Thanks
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