What do you look at while playing?

June 30, 2007 at 07:45 PM · What do you look at while playing?

The left hand working, nowhere, eyes closed or a beautiful girl in the audience.

Replies (34)

June 30, 2007 at 08:38 PM · I just sort of stare blankly into space in the general direction of the scroll. A good friend of mine has a tendency to cast his gaze heavenward (i.e. up into the rafters), which looks wonderfully poetic but he got torn to shreds about it in a masterclass once. :-)

Does anybody else notice this same issue as I do: if you look intently at your fingers while on stage, they get nervous and start making mistakes? Never happens like that during practicing, but once I'm on stage I have to go as much on technical autopilot as possible, otherwise I'm totally doomed.

June 30, 2007 at 08:51 PM · I watch my bow contact point on the string at my level. My friends wonder why I go'round looking cross-eyed most days.

July 1, 2007 at 04:32 AM · Most of the time, I either watch the bow or close my eyes. Sometimes I turn my head slightly to the right with eyes open, as doing so often relaxes me and enables me to be more expressive.

July 1, 2007 at 04:57 AM · I actually have no idea...! I guess that means I stare blankly into space (I know I don't 'look' at anything).

I do think it helps with concentration to play with eyes closed, although strangely I've never done this during a performance.

July 1, 2007 at 06:40 AM · TV. Sometimes the neighbor chick sunbathing.

July 1, 2007 at 11:49 AM · the music

July 1, 2007 at 12:11 PM · I look at the music. Not knowing where to put my eyes is quite distracting if I try to play without music.

July 1, 2007 at 01:14 PM ·

July 1, 2007 at 04:13 PM · Today we are having a jam session here.

When it is near to my turn to play in a piece then I'll keep my eye on the lead guitar player----when he gives me the nod it's my turn to play fiddle.

When I am playing,sometimes I look at how the bowhair is crossing the strings but most of the time I look at nothing in particular.

I just hear the music,I don't really don't pay much attention to sight.

July 1, 2007 at 04:30 PM · If I am playing by heart, I stare into the ether, or close my eyes.

July 1, 2007 at 05:03 PM · The things we shouldn't look at are people's eyes or faces, as they tend to be very distracting. We should also avoid looking at the fingers too often. All agree?

July 1, 2007 at 05:19 PM · Yixi: I agree--don't look into the eyes of the people in the audience-------especially...

Well don't really look at anyone you know---a eye to eye contact could cause you to forget what your job is or lose some sounds while playing.

This could occur when you espy someone you love very much-------oh well it can be a huge distraction anyway.

Cheers !

July 1, 2007 at 05:57 PM · I have a horror story to share: I was in a small orchestra playing the music for the "Création du Monde" a ballet by Darius Milhaud. Near the end I made the mistake of watching the dance during rests. I remember listening and enjoying, and thinking: "and here comes that violin solo near the end .. oh dear, I am that violin player!"

Needless to say, the director wasn't pleased.

July 1, 2007 at 06:09 PM · I jam a lot and do a lot of improvising, so I watch the other players a lot, including making eye contact, plus little jokes and such. Otherwise, I watch my bow a lot, and occasionally play to individuals in the audience.

July 1, 2007 at 07:14 PM · I was giving a neuroscience seminar once and made the mistake of watching a guy in the 2nd row. He was a professor I was going to be meeting with after the talk. For a while he put his head down on his desk, covered with his hands. Then he had his head all the way back, and it looked like he was sleeping. No snoring, at least. He managed to rouse himself at the end, though, enough to ask a couple of intelligent questions about the talk. So I think he must have been listening. Even absorbing. Somehow. After that I've been better able to ignore the weird things people do in an audience. You never really know what's going on in there--might as well assume the best.

July 2, 2007 at 12:11 AM · If I'm playing by memory I usually alternate between looking in the general direction of my left hand and at my bow's sounding point. I also close my eyes now and then. In general I try to avoid looking at specific people in the audience — it usually makes me more nervous. Although, a couple times when I've seen special friends that I didn't expect would be there, it has encouraged me to perform better because I want my music to be a gift to them . . .

July 2, 2007 at 04:08 PM · the music. even after i've memorized the whole song. it just makes me feel..... safe. my piano teacher (piano is my second instrument after the violin) sort of hates this habit of mine. he often closes my book when i'm playing. when i'm in the middle of it!! i know he does it on purpose so that i can't re-open the book without stopping. i've memorized the songs, but still. it's really had to impovise without looking at those chords.

July 2, 2007 at 04:20 PM · When I'm not reading music my eyes are almost always closed.

However, when I was on tour with the orch-pop band "Head of Femur", playing the same one hour of music every night until it was effortless, I found that watching the audience as they became more and more energetic boosted my own energy and playing. So, in order to avoid that disconcerting eye contact thing, I took to wearing very large, Farrah Fawcett style, sunglasses over my own glasses so that I knew no one was ever looking into my eyes. By the end of the tour, these sunglasses had become a permanent part of my rock "kit".

Luckily, or not, this fashionable look has been captured forever by a photographer here:


My eyes are still probably closed!

July 2, 2007 at 04:50 PM · I usually close my eyes. There are some exceptions....a Bach fugue being one. I occasionally will look up into the rafters of where I'm playing but always up and to the left. My mom informed me after seeing me do this at a recorded audition once that she had read that looking up to the left stimulates your memory if your faultering or having a moment of insecurity in a piece. I thought that was interesting and I think she may be right because I've noticed myself do that a couple of times since and each time has been when I've gotten to a very difficult passage or when I am feeling a bit like I'm scrambling for the notes.

July 2, 2007 at 05:28 PM · I notice that I look into space but if I have to pick a few intervals out of the air I've noticed that if I look at my left hand 90% of the time I get it spot on whereas I'm otherwise at sea in a few passages.

July 2, 2007 at 07:51 PM · Whatever needs the most attention at that moment: sounding point, bow direction, a fleshy fingerpad. If it's a certain phrasing or "lose-yourself" moment, I close my eyes. I don't consciously think about any of this, though.

July 2, 2007 at 08:05 PM · why the girl...its like duh..not only guy violinist..yah know..lol

July 2, 2007 at 09:53 PM · I'm a guy so that I reported a girl for convenience.

I'm not a sexist!


July 3, 2007 at 01:58 AM · Last night we had a SAX player here,4 guitars,upright bass and a fiddle.

I was blown out of the planet by the sax player----the sax added a whole new dimension to the pieces involved in our bluesi style...

It was the first time I've heard a live sax and I was impressed.

Each instrument was integral for every piece---well,we made each instrument integral for each piece.

BUT,the SAX added a new dimension to the pieces---such deep throaty sounds thrown in with the rest of the instruments...

A great combination of instruments that sounded great together.........

So,oft I glued me eyes to the sax player and his music then,I'd try to replicate sax music to the fiddle AND it worked !!!!

Such fun it was !!!!!!!!

The Sax player AlSO played flute whistle AND low 'd' whistle AND harmonica...

He attended Berklee College of Music-----Boston........

We called him "sax dog".

July 3, 2007 at 07:46 PM · I try to find someone I know in the congregation (that's what we call the "audience" at Church) before the prelude. I usually find two or three people (girls are better) I can look at and flash smiles (that's why-- hard to do that with another guy) to every so often...and they smile back, so I guess it's okay. One particular girl I look at while I play is always giggling with her sister, though...makes me wonder if she finds it humorous that I'm looking at her while I play!

Of course, when I play something I have memorized, I have to close my eyes and turn a different direction from my stand (it has to be obvious you're not reading the music!) :)

When practicing, I'm pretty much stuck staring at the page. Anything else (no music) means I'd have to gaze toward my left hand (but not think about moving it...or I'll slip up) or walking around the room while I play...usually this happens while I'm playing by ear with a cassette or CD soundtrack-- which is one of my favorite pasttimes.

August 29, 2007 at 03:22 PM · This is more regarding teaching very very young kids. My 4 yr old uses a 1/10 size. He is told to look at the bow location when he does his bowing exercises. What I realised is that for a tiny violin (1/10), the distance from eyes to bow location is very much shorter than our minimum focal length. So it is very straining for him, he ends up blinking a lot. So what would you do if you have a student this young?

August 29, 2007 at 03:11 PM · The last time I answered this I was working intently on sounding point, now I'm working on balance. So, I'm not looking, I'm currently 'feeling' for flow in my left side.

The four year old? I'm uncomfortable with straining their eyes. Could feeling motions not be taught at this age to de-emphasize the eagle eye somewhat? But I'm forty-seven and half blind it feels.

August 29, 2007 at 03:30 PM · For the four year old it may be better to learn to feel the different halves of the bow, getting use to a forearm stroke from middle to point and then learning the swing from the upper arm in the lower half of the bow. If you and the teacher can guide that process of training the arms to know when to move so the bow travels straight, he may not need to risk hurting his eyes to see exactly where his bow is touching the string. Also, you and he could watch this in a mirror so that he doesn't have to stare through the bridge over to his bow and strings and get cross-eyed. Additionally, you could videotape him and watch together to become more observant about how the bow travels across the string and what movements cause it to go crooked and what movements cause the bow to go straight. A lot of this for a four year old is processed through imitation, "see and do". If your teacher is willing, you could videotape the lesson and the teacher's playing as reenforcement for the right visual image and sound to imitate at home.

August 29, 2007 at 04:14 PM · For the most part, I have fingering down. I'll sometimes drop my finger(s) onto the wrong string(s) when moving quickly, but I refuse to look at my left hand, because I want to force myself to get all this down strictly through muscle memory.

However, where I still have lots of trouble is in bow position. I have a terrible tendency to slide back toward the bridge, and though I can clearly hear when this happens, I often over-compensate, and before I know it, my bow is up over the fingerboard. So, I find myself watching my bow on the strings a lot.

I think, though, that when I manage to learn to keep my bow where it should be, I'll just close my eyes and try to pay more attention to what the music I'm playing makes me feel, or what I'm feeling that makes me want to play the music I do. I hope this will let me play music that'll actually be worth hearing.

Of course, if I'm playing from sheet music rather than by ear or improv, I'll look at the sheet music. I'd recommend this for anyone playing from sheet music. *grin*

August 29, 2007 at 03:55 PM · Yes, Ronald. I think the mirror is a good suggestion. Yes, he has been taught the down bow elbow-wrist, up bow wrist-elbow movement and he is doing it. He is also required not only to keep the bow straight, but also change the bow location with different strings. I will try the mirror method and see it is helps.

August 29, 2007 at 04:09 PM · Larry, make sure your middle finger is making a circle with your thumb for sounding point control--I feel ya man.

Sometimes I just tickle my thumb with my middle fingernail to make sure they are aligned and forming the circle. If you will do this and focus on your stick being angled, you will be a step towards that muscle memory you are talking about I think.

Also, in doing this, focus on your right elbow being completely fluid with zero tension, including minimizing string change motions by playing carefully through the double stops for awhile, again introducing zero tension in the raising and lowering of the elbow. Let your fluid bow motion, the bow doing the work in a seamless fluid pull and push with your circle formed as well for another angle at sounding point control: less is more....

Oliver Steiner recently published some notes on the bow's fluidity if you can find them.

August 29, 2007 at 09:54 PM · Being as that my mind often wanders I usually keep my eyes on the strings, when I'm performing a recital or something, although sometimes focusing on a point on the wall also helps me concentrate. When I'm at home I'll often close my eyes or look at my birds, I like to see their reactions to my playing.

August 29, 2007 at 10:38 PM · Dorothy DeLay used to tell her students to always look at your sounding point, i.e. where the bow meets the string, so that you know if you're getting the sound you want. At the bridge, near the fingerboard, or somewhere in between, depending on the sound you're looking for.

August 29, 2007 at 11:05 PM · I'm almost always looking at my point of contact (bow), or the intervals in my fingers (and preferably both).

Us younger players are part of a very visual generation, and the information about our physical movements provided to us at the speed of light through our eyesight is invaluable. It's much faster to see something is going to be out of tune than waiting for it to be audible!

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