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V.com weekend vote: Where do you look, when you are performing or playing from memory?

Laurie Niles

Written by
Published: November 28, 2014 at 6:14 PM [UTC]

Where do you direct your eyes, when you are playing from memory?

lookI started thinking about this, as I was performing for family members after Thanksgiving dinner. I feel like I'm fairly blind when I play, as in, I'm not really using my eyes. But my eyes sort of woke up in the middle of playing, and I realized I was staring at someone's shoes!

There are certainly useful ways to employ the eyes when playing, when they are not needed for looking at sheet music.

I often want my students looking at their violins when they play -- to keep an eye on their straight bow, their lefthand finger placement, etc. For myself, I'm pretty sure that I under-utilize my eyes, when it comes to playing. I've always been extremely aural and tactile about it -- how does it sound? How does it feel? Yet the eyes can greatly help in analyzing how your left hand is working, whether your bow is straight. They can help you do things like more accurately find one of those high-on-the-fingerboard notes that you have to pick out of the sky. Yet I am much likely to stare at the side of my fiddle or at the floor, not really thinking about what I'm seeing, when I'm playing.

How about you? What do you look at, when you are playing by memory?


From jean dubuisson
Posted on November 28, 2014 at 6:42 PM
I usually look nowhere particular. When playing in a string quartet I tend to look at my co-players and in orchestra of course I watch the conductor. But I actually have to remind myself to sometimes look at my fingerboard, for example when you have to do a substitution shift substituting the 4th finger by the 1st or vice versa, I find that looking at what you do improves the precision.
From Trevor Jennings
Posted on November 28, 2014 at 7:59 PM
The only times I play from memory are:

when I'm practicing, so I'll be looking especially at finger placement and bow;

when I'm playing in an Irish or English folk music session, and then I'll be looking mostly at the other musicians and almost never at my violin (sheet music is very much frowned upon on these occasions, so is never seen). Anyway, you can't play this music properly while you're reading it from the sheet;

when I'm playing for Irish set dancers or a barn dance, and then it's absolutely essential to be watching the dancers all the time.

From 65.112.10.62
Posted on November 28, 2014 at 9:33 PM
Based on advice from other blogs (I think this one came from "The Bulletproof Musician"?) I used to focus on various geometric shapes on the ground a few feet away from me while playing from memory. Recently, though -- based on the notion that it never hurts to emulate Heifetz -- I've started looking seriously at the bow and fingerboard while I play from memory, even in performance. In all the videos I've ever seen of Heifetz, he seems to be doing some serious self-examination while performing. (For a favorite moment, see the first phrase from the lyrical section of "Scherzo Tarantella"; you can feel the concentration and see him staring at the bow!)
From marjory lange
Posted on November 28, 2014 at 10:40 PM
Completely depends on whether it's a solo or with others.
From Patrick Tinney
Posted on November 29, 2014 at 8:02 AM
I selected "Actively look at fingers or bow"

I still consider myself a beginner after 3 3/4 years so when I do memorize a piece it is usually to work on bowing, occasionally fingering.

By working on bowing there is watching to see that I'm bowing straight and staying where I want to be on the string. And there is memorizing to allow playing the same exercise with different parts of the bow and with different articulations, I sometimes close my eyes during these exercises.

From Mark Roberts
Posted on November 29, 2014 at 3:35 PM
I though that most people look at the contact point where the bow touches the string.
From N.A. Mohr
Posted on November 29, 2014 at 3:40 PM
I rarely memorize anything...but when I am focused on a memorized bit I look up...but not at anything in particular...
From Margaret Mehl
Posted on November 29, 2014 at 4:47 PM
You know, Laurie, I was thinking about this in the aftermath of my recital yesterday to launch Not by Love Alone. (about the launch, see my latest blog on this site)

I played three of the four pieces from memory, a feat I haven’t attempted in over 30 years if I remember rightly. So I haven’t voted, but I think I spent some of the time in the first 2 pieces looking towards the pianist (the pieces featured tempo changes). Then it occurred to me that I might be turning my back to the audience I turned, and looked at my violin for some of the time and maybe nowhere in particular for the rest. During the last piece, which I played to a karaoke track, I kept my eyes closed a lot of the time to make sure I was all ears in the absence of visual cues. During the copious pizzicato passages I looked at my right hand to make sure I plucked the right string. Anyway, that’s what I think I did, it’s all a bit of a blur now ..

From Suebin Park
Posted on November 30, 2014 at 7:11 PM
Usually I'll either have my eyes closed, or be glancing occasionally at my instrument, accompanist/conductor/other chamber musicians and just kind of letting my gaze wander. I find glaring down my violin distracts me after awhile.
From John Rokos
Posted on December 2, 2014 at 1:09 AM
It varies - I'm a terrible fidget.

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