Relax, Nothing is under control.
One of the first things I do with beginning students, once they’ve learned the names of the notes and how to find them, is have them close their eyes and find notes on command. Even five- and six-year-olds have no trouble. They love it – it makes them feel superhuman.
The eyes should be a tool, not a crutch. The fingers have eyes of their own – learn to use them.
From around the age of ten, I loved playing from memory late at night in low light, often simply the glow coming from the fireplace. The combination of mood-lighting and the sensation of not needing my eyes directly to experience the music liberated me and brought me in immediate contact with the music. The less light the better.
As an Undergrad, I would often practice in the dark in the closets that are commonly called practice rooms. Vast expanses of space surrounded me as if I had entered Narnia’s Wardrobe. The only disadvantage was the constant interruption of students opening the door thinking they had found a free room…
For some odd reason, it took me until my early twenties to make the final plunge – closing my eyes. There’s something disarming and discomforting at first when you close your eyes and begin playing, even if you’re by yourself. The piano suddenly feels foreign, and BIG. You’re gripped with fear, but of what? Do you fear being attacked or hurting yourself? It’s much more banal than that – you simply fear moving outside of your personal comfort zone and making mistakes. You’re afraid of losing face in front of yourself. They say it’s the people closest to you – your friends and family - who often make you most nervous and self-conscious – but sometimes it’s your own self that you fear.
Once you realize that, you’ll see how silly you’ve been. Close your eyes again comfortably and begin playing, making plenty of mistakes along the way. Take joy in your imperfection! Quicker than you expect, the mistakes will become significantly fewer and your fingers will start to experience the keys with new immediacy and intimacy. Your fingers, hands, arms – your whole body – will start to talk to you, sending you constant signals about how they feel. They’ll teach you about yourself, about how you should move to regain your animal instincts. You have to experience it to know what I mean…
And your ears will start to hear with pristine clarity and sensitivity, like you hear things at dawn, before they’ve been corrupted by the white noise, and not so white noise, of the modern world. You’ll hear things you’ve never heard before because your ears weren’t open to them.
You’ll begin feeling truly sensitive to sound, and the emotional experience will be much deeper and fulfilling.
Because your outer vision isn’t interfering, sending you constant needless, meaningless signals, your inner vision takes over and the imagination you possessed as a toddler and still possess begins to talk to you. Don’t be ashamed to talk back with your fingers and heart. You may begin having visions, flights of imagination. The music may start becoming programmatic…
When you open your eyes again and play, you’ll find that all of these experiences have become a part of you and inform your physical approach to playing and your interpretation. Return to darkness as often as you like for intimate revelations.
You’ll also discover that your eyes aren’t staring anymore. As they’re only needed occasionally for high attacks or leaps, they relax and simply go along for the ride. This is the open-eyed state closest to actually closing your eyes.
Try this with our Prelude or any piece you have memorized. Don’t be discouraged the first time. It takes a few times through before you start feeling comfortable again.