It's a common question, and one that has many different answers... "Should I look down at my hands while playing piano / learning a new piece?"
Many online articles will tell you why you should or shouldn't look down at your hands while playing piano, but none that I have come across will tell you HOW to look at your hands when playing piano.
First, let's get a little context about what is desirable and what is not when playing piano.
How To Break The Habit Of Looking Down At Your Hands Too Much
When learning a piece, especially if you are a beginner, you don't want to be reliant on having to look down at your hands in order to find keys on the keyboard. This slows down your learning enormously, makes it difficult to keep track of where you are up to in the sheet music and can even make you dizzy due to your head bobbing up and down all the time.
If you are in the habit of looking at your hands a lot of the time, a simple technique to break this habit is to place an A4 size book or piece of cardboard over your hands so you can't look at them. This forces you to look at the sheet music while helping you to feel where the keys are through proprioception, the “sixth sense” in which the brain knows where the body is in space.
Once you have used this technique for a while, you are now no longer reliant on the 'crutch' of needing to look down at your hands while playing piano.
Using The Sheet Music As A Crutch Isn't Great Either
But what if you instead become chained to looking at the sheet music?
Some people simply cannot play anything (even if they have been playing piano for many years) without having the sheet music in front of them. This is psychological crutch just as dysfunctional as needing to look down at your hands excessively.
When performing advanced pieces, the reality is that you are often playing so fast that you do not have time to look at the sheet music. So you really ought to regularly practice playing pieces you have learned without looking at the music at all.
And even when playing a piece from memory, you can only focus on one part of the keyboard at a time. So you are still going to need the skill of proprioception to some extent, as you won't always be able to look at everything both your hands are playing at any given point in time (nor should you need to).
How To Look Down At Your Hands Correctly While Playing Piano
The point of the above comments is simply that it's fine to look at the sheet music, but try not to depend on it always being there. And it's also fine to look at your hands, but try not to do it excessively. An occasional glance down is perfectly fine.
However... often when students / musicians look down at their hands, even briefly, when they next look up at the sheet music, they struggle to find where they are currently up to in the piece. And there is a very simple and effective technique that really helps with this.
Whether typing at your computer (as I am currently doing right now) or playing the piano, if you need to glance down at your hands, the trick is to NOT MOVE YOUR HEAD!
Looking At Your Hands The Correct Way
Try this now... Keep your head perfectly still as you look straight ahead at the screen / sheet music.
Now, without moving your head, look down your nose at your hands. Only your eyes should move — nothing else.
Then when you look back up at the sheet music, continue to keep your head perfectly still. Only your eyes should move as you look back up.
Looking At Your Hands The Wrong Way
To see how effective this simple 'correct' technique is, now trying doing it the wrong way.
As you look down at your hands, lower your head. Then, as you look back up at the screen / sheet music, raise your head to the starting position. Doing it this way (incorrectly), what you'll find when you look back up at the sheet music is you'll typically experience a brief moment of disorientation, i.e. it will take you a moment or two to find where you were up to in the sheet music— and that moment or two is all it takes for things to fall in a heap.
A Tip That Will Save You Time And Money
This tip alone on how to look down at your hands correctly while playing piano will boost your learning efficiency enormously and save months if not years off the time it will otherwise take you to go from beginner to pro.
For a student of traditional piano lessons, that's a saving of hundreds, if not thousands of dollars!
So if someone you know is currently taking piano lessons, share this tip with them.
And if you or your family would like to start your own piano lessons journey, I warmly invite you to take our Online Piano Lessons 14 Day Free Trial.
Musiah is the world's first and only Artificially Intelligent Virtual Piano Teacher bringing you by far the most effective and fun piano lessons available anywhere online, so you have definitely come to the right place.
If you have any questions about Musiah’s piano lessons, please feel free to contact me directly, or alternatively, please comment below.
Thanks for reading.
Til next time,
Brendan Hogan L.Mus.A, A.Mus.A.
Piano Teacher & Musiah Inventor