Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hand-Eye Impairment

I had a conversation about piano playing with one of the other guys in my house recently. I had been practicing on my keyboard and he admitted that he used to take lessons himself. As most people do, he downplayed his current ability, but I found it interesting that he did this by saying that he used to always memorize pieces so that he could look at his hands (and therefore never really picked up sight-reading).

I've always hated memorizing music and am actually quite dependent on having a piece of paper in front of me. This is frustrating when I'm near someone else's piano (or my own, without music) and someone asks me to play something. Most piano players would just start playing some song they learned when they were ten, but I really don't remember what I've played before. Perhaps more importantly, having to read the music off a page all the time means I have to spend a lot of effort concentrating on reading that could be better used on technique, or artistry, or listening to what I'm playing instead of just playing it.

So with the goal of memorizing some pieces and with the earlier conversation in mind, I tried playing some pieces while looking at my hands instead of the page. It turns out, I really can't do it. In fact, I am far less capable of playing the piano while looking at my hands then I am when I look away entirely or close my eyes. It seems that looking at my hands move prevents me from being able to use them normally, like my brain's not able to cope with the strange new visual feedback that comes from actually watching what I'm doing.

I find this interesting, as it took many long years of conditioning not to look at my hands while playing and it would appear that that conditioning goes pretty deep. Now to go and work on undoing that work...

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