Yes, you read correctly: the dark. During a recent lesson, one of my students was having trouble getting jumps in the left hand of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words: “Venetian Boat Song.” The right hand contains the melody, and gets more complex over time, and though he assumed the right hand was the trouble, it was the left hand. Trying to combine a complex melody with a jumpy left hand, no matter how repetitive it may be, can be tricky–IF you aren’t comfortable with your instrument. My solution for him: practice in the dark. Though this may seem quite silly, there are many reasons for practicing this way. I even practice in the dark from time to time. It does wonders! And if you are afraid of the dark, or haven’t yet memorized your music well enough, don’t fret–try practicing without looking at your instrument. It works almost as well as total darkness.
Look At A Professional Pianist
If you’ve ever seen a pianist perform, whether live, or on a recording, have you noticed where they are looking? It’s rarely at the keyboard. And quite often, their eyes are closed! Check out this video of pianist, Lang Lang, and watch where he’s looking. The perhaps over-dramatized facial expression is a good example to observe. Notice that he rarely looks down. He’s always looking around or closing his eyes. The takeaway here is that he doesn’t need to look at his hands, they just KNOW where to go. This is very important.
You Can Better Feel The Music and Focus
As you saw from the video of Lang Lang, once you take away this discomfort of uncertainty, and have complete confidence in what your hands are doing, you can really focus on musical expression. Playing an instrument requires a lot of different modes of thinking. If you can eliminate the need to focus on where your hands are going, you can use more of that brain power to focus on the sound, which is most important.
Practicing in the dark can be quite meditative. There is nothing to distract you–all you can do is listen to the music. Your focus will be heightened and you can put all concentration into musicality. Ask yourself how things sound, how they feel–really question the music coming out of your instrument.
Sight Reading Will Become A Breeze
Have you ever watched someone (or noticed yourself) struggling to sight read a new piece of music? Most of the time, especially with new students, you will see them constantly pausing–looking at the score, back to their hands, up to the score, back to their hands–and the vicious cycle continues.
Once you are comfortable with your instrument enough to not have to look down, sight reading will be much easier! Eliminating looking back and forth will make reading music a breeze.
It’s as easy as turning off the lights so that you cannot see your instrument! If you are horrible at this and feel that it is pointless, don’t despair or give up. It is well worth the effort. “But I can’t even hit a single note that I want!” you may say–here’s how to improve. Use your instrument as a guide. If you are playing piano, feel the black keys. Don’t play them, just brush your fingers along them until you can feel a group of two or three. Then find the correct note. (For example, a C is the note directly below a group of two black keys.) By constantly practicing feeling the notes, the gaps in time will get smaller and smaller, until you can play an entire piece of music without looking. It gets easier!
Scared of the dark or still need to see the score? You can still apply the same principles as practicing in the dark. Simply try not to look down. Feel the instrument–let it be your guide. Don’t let your eyes hinder your ears.