Knowing where to look while playing
Sue L., California
I welcome ideas and strategies for helping students “know where to look” when playing, especially if they are playing accompaniments. Some are struggling while trying to look at their left hand and right hand while following the page. I’ve suggested practicing each hand with eyes closed, and I talk about Stevie Wonder’s ability to play without seeing. Thoughts?
Leeanne I., Australia
Going from the very simple accompaniments, the first thing I point out is that the LH does not need to move. The fingers are already all in place. Note which finger numbers are on which notes. They should be able to play these with their eyes shut. Secondly, while playing the chords, look at the page to see what chord comes next, then you can look down at your RH to move it into position to play that next chord. Important to note that this is done while playing the previous chord. I call it ‘peeking ahead’. One of my students who was struggling to play Star-spangled Banner smoothly and evenly found peeking ahead helpful. Like ‘leaving early’, I only teach ‘peeking ahead’ if students are struggling. Most figure it out for themselves.
Ian M., Indiana
You’ve hit on what I think of as a “hidden thought process”. I start teaching this with Jackson Blues and “leaving early” – you have to get across the idea that if you’re moving your RH first, that’s where you have to look, but then you immediately have to look at your LH, then back at your RH, etc.
Keeping track of where to look when is like a fractional thought process that underlies everything we do – “fractional” because it’s really part of the RH/LH thought processes, but unfamiliar enough, especially for young students, to deserve its own processing time.
So any time I perceive this to be an issue, I slow things down and say instructions out loud. In teaching Jackson Blues/leaving early, I’ll make sure they know we’re controlling the events, and I’ll have my hands right next to the student’s hands, ready to guide them to the next location. We start playing and I say “look right – IV chord – look left – IV chord – look right – I chord – look left – I chord’ etc.
Many students don’t need more than this, and “where to look” becomes a part of what they know how to do. Some students need reminders and it’s easy to go back to this micromanaged control-the-events exercise to help them.
And of course, with Accompaniment, “where to look” also includes looking at the page as well as the keyboard. I think it should be possible to incorporate the verbal instruction “look page” for when they need to know what comes next – though you could start with doing that every measure or two, but gradually lengthen the time between page looks as they become more familiar with the song.