Should you be playing piano without looking at your hands? What are “piano hands”?
If you’re an adult who had piano lessons as a child, chances are your teacher was very strict about telling you to NOT look at your hands. It turns out that in most instances, it’s really okay for a piano player to look at their hands while playing piano. In fact, there are times when it is important for a piano student, and even for professional performers, to look at their hands while they play.
The reasoning behind keeping students from looking at their hands while playing piano is to teach sight reading and to help develop a direct connection between the mind and the fingers. While these are important skills that should be worked on, it’s not necessary to keep a piano student from looking at their hands all the time.
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Piano hands: How to put your hands on a piano
One of the times when you want a piano student to look at their hands on the piano is when they are working to develop their technique, or “piano posture.” While a teacher’s guidance can certainly help with this, a teacher can’t be with a piano student every time they play. A student who is new to the piano will need to watch their own hands and fingers to make sure that they play correctly and don’t develop bad habits.
What is good piano posture? When playing piano, fingers should be curved and relaxed. The palm should be at the right height above the keyboard so that the fingers can curve down to rest gently on the keys. The thumb should be straight, relaxed, and also resting on the keys. When a finger presses down, it should curve out, not buckle in. If a piano student looks at their hands they’ll be able to see if their fingers and thumb are in the correct position. Learn more about good piano posture with these tips.
What do people mean when they say “piano hands?”
Have you heard people mention “piano hands”? Piano hands are hands that have been trained to play with good piano posture. “Piano hands” are so used to playing piano that they naturally take up the correct hand position at a keyboard. Time spent practicing has made the fingers strong and quick. A player with piano hands can control the speed of their fingers to get beautiful variations in volume and articulation as they play. Experienced pianists don’t need to watch their hands to make sure they’re holding their fingers in the right position, but they will still need to look at their hands whenever they make large movements up or down the keyboard.
When should you look at your hands while playing piano?
There are certain times when a pianist should definitely look at their hands while playing. One of these times is when they are doing finger power exercises. These kinds of exercises are a great time to practice good piano posture. Students should be watching to make sure their fingers are curved and relaxed, and their hands and wrists are correctly aligned.
Another time that pianists should feel free to look at their hands is when they are playing a song they’ve memorized, especially one that requires them to change hand positions. If you watch any advanced piano player, you will see them looking at their hands as they perform. An expert pianist will use sight, sound, and touch in perfect synergy to create a great performance.
Is it ever bad to look at the keys when playing piano?
There is only one instance in which piano players should avoid looking at the piano. This is when a piano player is sight reading. While sight reading, a pianist doesn’t have much time to look down at their hands. They need to keep their eyes on the upcoming notes. An occasional glance at the keyboard when their hands change position is the only time they should look away from the sheet music.
Tips for playing piano without looking
While a young piano player is first learning to sight-read, rather than scolding them if they glance down, put a book or a piece of paper over their hands so that they can’t see them, even if they do look down. This will help them develop the habit of watching the music and using their ears to hear if they are playing the right notes.
For older students, not looking at the keys while sight reading is simply a matter of remembering to focus on the page. If they find they can’t stop themselves from looking down all the time, they should try sight reading a simpler piece. Remember, piano students don’t always have to sight read songs they’ve never heard before. In fact, if a piano student is already familiar with the tune they’re sight reading, their ears will tell them if they’ve hit the right notes. They won’t need to look down and see while playing piano.
Another good exercise for a piano student is to try playing a song with their eyes closed. This is also a way to check how well a piece is memorized. While it’s common to see professional pianists watch their hands as they play, some of them will also close their eyes at times so they can better concentrate on the sound of the music.
Piano players can look at their hands when they need to
When playing finger exercises, working on piano posture, or whenever hands change position on the keyboard, it’s important for a piano student to be free to look down at their hands. While sight reading, they’ll play more fluently if they focus on the written music and use their ears instead of glancing down to make sure they’re hitting the right notes. As piano students progress and gain confidence, they’ll naturally be more comfortable playing piano without looking at their hands, but looking at their hands or at the keyboard doesn’t ever need to be discouraged when playing repertoire, memorized pieces, improvising, or playing by ear.