Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to play the piano with your mind

Can you actually play a piano with your mind? Yes, you can!

In this video, Robert gives you a way to "play mentally" a piece of music and prepare for a performance or an exam, all by just using your mind.

Released on July 10, 2013

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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, I'm Robert Estrin with and Today's question, Derrick asks, "How do you play the piano with your mind? Is it possible?" Well, it actually is. In fact, playing mentally is one of the best practice techniques there is. I'm going to explain all about it in this presentation for you.

Well, actually mental practice is all practice. Practicing really is a mental activity. You may think of it as a physical activity, and indeed there is a physiological component to practicing. But most practicing, the primary thing you're doing is training your mind, is a learning process. In fact, did you know that in brain scans they can not tell the difference when somebody is playing an instrument or thinking about playing an instrument? The brain is doing exactly the same thing.

I had an experience years ago. I came down with mononucleosis when I was in college. I had a concert that I was engaged to play, a solo recital. And I was still quite weak, but I really wanted to play this program. I could only practice maybe an hour and a half a day, two hours tops. And my program was about an hour and a half of music. So that really is not a lot of time at all to practice. Well, what did I do? I took all my scores in bed with me and I practiced mentally. And you know what? It was the best concert I've ever played up to that point by far, which really surprised me because I spent a fraction of the amount of time at the piano than I had for the previous recital I played less than a year before.

So, what is this all about? Well, the fact of the matter is you must learn your music one way or another. And I would recommend learning your music at the instrument, because why not? You need to get technique and you want to develop your fingers. Or if you play a wind instrument, you want to develop your embouchure, or your bow. So, obviously, practicing at your instrument is very important. It's vital, necessary in all kinds of ways.

However, once you've learned your music and if you have your music memorized, playing it away from the piano or if you have another instrument playing it away from it, and imagine playing it, you are free to hear exactly the music as you hear it, as you want to hear it. And you would imagine playing it with all the detail. This is extremely challenging to do. You'll find the things that you can play from memory you might not really know thoroughly. A lot of it is tactile memory, which you can't depend upon completely. So it makes you quantify everything in a very precise way.

I will tell you this. Try a piece. Try to play through it mentally. Work through it far as you can get. And when you can't go any further, reference the score. Go back, and try to pass that point until you can play successfully through the whole piece. When you do this you will have that piece mastered to an extent that you've never had any other piece learned before if you've never done this technique. In fact, before recitals I have music going on through my head all the time. And there's particularly hard sections that I'll go through again and again until I can finally get through it mentally. Some very challenging complex sections with lots of key changes in a row sometimes are very difficult. It's particularly when there are leaps because the fingers can remember where to go, but sometimes the leaps, you'll have to know where you're leaping. You have to know that in your head.

So, there's no greater way to practice than practice mentally. All practicing is mental practicing. You, too, can play in your mind. Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on June 15, 2016 @1:13 pm PST
Ok, I know how to imagine hearing the music notes in my mind, I do that everyday. But how far does one need to go ? Do we need to visualize mentally the fingerings ? Do you actually move fingers and hands when "playing" mentally ? Or is it just hearing and naming the notes correctly ?
I do not doubt the method, I just want to understand it better. When I was a sports swimmer, I used to practice sport swimming mentally in my bed after practice before going to sleep, and "swim" a 100 m freestyle in about the same time as it would really take me. And, yes, it drives performance up, if of course you also have enough physical swim training on the side. But it really helps focus on proper technique and breathing afterwards.
Robert Estrin on June 15, 2016 @1:52 pm PST
Yes, you should imagine playing and hearing the music in complete detail. At first you may find it necessary to move your fingers in order to mentally play your music. Eventually you may be able to conceptualize your performance without the aid of finger motion.
sue * VSM MEMBER * on September 8, 2013 @11:43 am PST
Hi Robert, thank you for all the tips. I enjoy viewing your videos, and have received much useful information. When I have a question, I search your videos. Thank you for sharing your musical knowledge, and talent with other. Sue Fuller
Emma * VSM MEMBER * on September 4, 2013 @8:41 am PST
Wow! thank you so much for this. Now I know why I haven't really memorized my pieces. I did read once that Pablo Casals made his students write down their music from memory,more calling every note and dynamic. Quite a challenge.
Helena boggia on August 29, 2013 @12:19 pm PST
Nice one Robert...I will...must...try that. Thank you
Zuhair Bakdoud on August 24, 2013 @12:55 am PST
Please, continue with teaching the PRINCIPLES of piano technique!
Robert - host, on August 26, 2013 @11:23 am PST
Many technique videos are in the works!
Toya Harvey on July 11, 2013 @8:34 am PST
Yes it does help. Some pieces are harder to think through than others. Studying the music away from the piano is good also. As you study you may not realize you are visually programming your mind (subconsciously). I'm waiting for your video on improvisation! For someone without perfect pitch, this could really make a difference during a memory slip. Thanks again for these interesting videos!
Robert - host, on July 13, 2013 @10:08 pm PST
Here is a video I produced on how to improvise on the piano:
olympia * VSM MEMBER * on July 10, 2013 @4:55 pm PST
it helps a lot and very interesting
Kathryn A Bowman * VSM MEMBER * on July 10, 2013 @1:31 pm PST
I know this is true. Today I was playing a difficult passage from memory and I was letting my fingers do the remembering. Then my fingers got messed up, and I didn't know what to play next. If my brain had been playing it, in stead of my fingers, I would not have gotten bogged down! Great tip, Robert!
Roque E. Avila * VSM MEMBER * on July 10, 2013 @1:14 pm PST
Your lecture has something to do with playing the piano with your mind after memorizing the piece,.My question is this: How do you read a piece at first sight while you are away from your instrument? Will you use do, re, mi, etc. or c,d,e,f,g,a,b,c? Thank you so much.
Robert Rubino on July 10, 2013 @11:04 am PST
Robert--I can memorize some tunes and some--I cant especially flkats and sharps lol im great in key of F and Efklat--and lately ive been transposing some songs ( 1/2 tone higher)?? im also self taught --cant seem to take any lessons--no patience and I do things MY WAY-- Cant read bass either ?? only lead sheets--any sugestions?
Robert Estrin - host, on July 10, 2013 @7:49 pm PST
As long as you are enjoying yourself, no worries! However, if you ever want to explore music in more depth, if you can find the right teacher, it can open up new worlds for you.

You can look forward to some videos on music theory right here which may be of help to you.
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