Written by Laurie Niles
Published: November 28, 2014 at 6:14 PM [UTC]
I 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?
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.
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.
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 ..
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