Looking at Hands While Playing
Nancy N., New Hampshire
A new adult student with a small amount of previous experience told me that it’s hard for her to watch her hands because she took a beginning piano class in college with a teacher who insisted that students never look at their hands and would stick a ruler under their chin to push it up.!!! She quit that class, but later took some traditional lessons with another teacher who also emphasized not looking at hands, only the music. I was taught traditionally, but my mother was my teacher and she never made a big deal about never looking at hands. I’m curious; those of you who’ve had traditional experience: were you taught that looking at hands was strictly forbidden?
Megan F., Nebraska
I honestly don’t remember any discussion about it at all. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but if it did, it wasn’t a big issue.
Dianna E., Minnesota
Nope. Never heard that. I had four different traditional teachers.
Mark M., New York
This cuts to the heart of Playing-Based vs. Reading-Based. If it’s hard because of what she’s used to, you can have lots of compassion for that, and she can have lots of self-compassion for that, and in the end this is simply the nature of the challenge for her. It is what it is, and she should be patient with herself as she gets used to this new thing. This new thing that will, in the end, feel far more natural. Nobody would keep their eye on the instruction manual while they were learning to use a chainsaw. It’s no different here. 🙂 You can tell her that methods that expect students to keep their eye on the page are as misguided as someone who would suggest that about a chainsaw 🙂
Ruth P., North Carolina
When I play by memory, I look at my hands. When I ‘read’ notation, I look primarily at the music but glance at my hands when need be. Kinda like when you drive you glance occasionally at the speedometer or something else on the dash and then your eyes return to the road. If you don’t spend a good deal of time looking at the notation, you can lose your place. In my mind these are two different things.
Anna J., Canada
I had traditional teachers growing up and whether it was ‘required’ or simply a necessity of trying to read while I was playing, I certainly came away with the expectation that one shouldn’t look at their hands when playing. As Mark suggests, I’d say this is fundamental to the distinction between playing-based and reading-based. I think it also speaks to why I could never play anything without music traditionally…I had literally no idea what my hands were up to! When I learned to look at my hands and pay attention to them I found I had a wealth of more information to draw on to remember my music.
Megan F., Nebraska
Anna J., your comment made me think about how when I had to memorize music as a traditionally-trained student, I pictured the sheet music in my head as I was playing. Now, when I play music I’ve learned in a playing-based manner, it’s of course a completely different situation, so much more natural and connected to the instrument.
Emily C., California
Lol, I was told to look at my hands when I’m playing from memory though, because I didn’t know I was soley relying on my muscle memory 😅
Otherwise, nothing else when learning traditionally
Scott J., Australia
My exact answer to this student would be ” This is great news anything we find hard means we are learning lets tackle this before we tackle anything else” ” lets take what is in the basics video five fingers over five white notes just the right hand and lets look at our hand and we will play 5 times up and down and now with the left and always remember its what we find difficult and over coming that difficulty that helps us grow as a musician” . I normally find this approach with students opens up their minds to my lesson . I am also aware that any student that has tried multiple teachers sets off a red flag for me i don’t want to sound heartless because we all have had bad experiences but to say looking down is difficult sounds more like a student seeing if they can claim territory and seeing if you will let her
Nancy N., New Hampshire
Thanks Scott, this is a great response to students commenting that something’s “hard for me”! I hear this often from newer students. I think often it’s because their expectations are off, and they haven’t grasped “long term”. Fortunately, this woman is a retired teacher, and she knows the struggle is part of it, and accepts that she’s learning a new way of learning.
Kori S., Kansas
During my time taking traditional lessons, I was never corrected for looking at my hands—the expectation during my undergrad was to memorize everything. During that time in my life, I did not know how to manage memory and music (still working on it LOL 😅) I ended up being terrified and married to the page, much like the safety net analogy mentioned earlier. After teaching Simply Music now for a little over a year, my memory has improved greatly with music—especially with my own literature I work on. I didn’t think it would affect my own playing—I was on a very long musical plateau before teaching this method. It’s been a HUGE game changer for students I teach and my own musicianship.
I’m sorry your student had to endure that experience 😔
Julia B., California
One of my biggest epiphanies when i started teaching Simply Music: In all my years of tradition lessons, my relationship was always with my “book”. When I stopped playing regularly, I kept one book that had about 5 pieces I could still play. I would tell my mom “Don’t ever throw away that book!”. With Simply Music, the relationship is with the instrument. That was so beautiful to me – that is how it should be. You and your best friend making beautiful music together!
Maggie R., Utah
I took traditionally and my teacher never did that. I think that you are going to look at your hands for quite a long time. It wasn’t until I really learned the notes on the page that I didn’t need to always look at the keys. I still look at them when I’m learning a new song. This is a very natural. Mostly looking at them for the playing based way and then after they learn the song and look at the notes, they will go from looking at the fingers to looking at the notes a little more, but its back and forth.
Original discussion started September 5, 2023