Blind practice

Edited: May 23, 2018, 3:00 PM · From time to time, especially in the evenings, I have to put on my heavy practice mute. Besides the dead sound, what annoyed me most was that I could not watch the bow touch the strings. So I thought, after two years of practice, I really should be able to play without watching myself!

Closed my eyes - and was pretty surprised! Everything seems to improve, be it tone, expression, rhythm, "bow steering", but also intonation and shifting... It seems to be way easier to find the right technique rather by ears that by eyes, especially bowing. After a week of integrating this into my daily practice routine, watching the bow immediately produces a feeling like stumbling over my own feet. Only double stops and large string crossings suck, but I'm sure it's simply a matter of training. Sure this will also be fine for sight reading.

Do you practice with eyes closed? Why and what do you expect from it? And to the teachers out here, do you usually recommend this to your students? (My teachers never asked me to...)

Replies (9)

Edited: May 24, 2018, 4:44 AM · I don't practice with eyes closed, but I have had to do the next thing to it -- namely, practice in near-darkness. In the aftermath of the Alabama tornadoes of April 27, 2011, my part of the city was without power for about 103 hours -- just over 4 days. No damage in immediate area; but one twister had taken out the feed from Browns Ferry Power Plant, about 35 miles west, and that's what plunged us into darkness.

I play the evening sessions in the garage about 8 months a year, since it's warm enough for this during these months. As daylight faded on each of these 4 days, it was hard to see the shapes around me; but I was able to keep playing, thanks to the drills I'd done in my student years regarding bow control and division, string-crossing, position changes, and interval recognition. These were very productive sessions.

I find that keeping the bow on the right plane of travel is easier if I don't look directly at the fingers or watch the bow touch the strings. I especially notice the benefit of this when playing scales through multiple positions on one string.

I don't use a practice mute, although I do use foam earplugs, L/R, every time I practice or play -- dB factor: -33. These help me hear less bow-hair hiss and make the sound volume, originating about 3 inches from the ear, more tolerable to me -- as if it's coming from about 10 feet away.

May 23, 2018, 6:53 PM · I have very poor near vision, so I never look at fingerboard/bow. So I'm basically playing blind.
May 23, 2018, 7:22 PM · Of course, closing the eyes is the best way to increase the focus of our ears and to listen better. Very necessary to improve one's tone.

But even if I open the eyes, I rarely look at the violin. The best posture for me (in comfort and ease of technique) is with the back of the jaw, close to the cheek in the chinrest, and not actually the chin. That puts my gaze away of the violin (and directly to the sheet music).
See if another possible reason that you play better with your eyes closed is because that frees your posture to put the violin further to the left and away from the eyes. Just a thought.
If I use a center chinrest (berber, flesch), I can place the chin there. But for the rest side mounted, I need the jaw/cheek and that posture does not allow to look at the strings unless I pay a big torticollis the following day...

May 24, 2018, 4:21 AM · My teacher had me do this just last night.

I've been learning 3rd position. She asked me to close my eyes and then play a C major scale, to see if I had learned where 3rd position is on the fingerboard, and if I had the correct hand frame to play in tune.

I wouldn't make a regular exercise out of it, but on occasion it seems worth doing to see if you've mastered something to the point that it becomes natural.

Edited: May 24, 2018, 5:10 AM · If you play in an orchestra you'll be looking at the music in front of you and the conductor (who?). There just isn't the time to be looking at what your fingers and bow are doing, and if you feel the need to do so then more work in the practice room is indicated.
May 24, 2018, 7:45 AM · By the way, it is not considered a good idea to move the violin further to the left. A lot of teachers recommend that you have it more to the right and look down the fingerboard to the scroll and at the music which the scroll is pointing at. (Zuckermann for example is very big on this idea). You do not have to look at the bow or your left hand fingers, and I never do, although some players do watch the bow position on the string. I use the Russian bow hold and flat hairs on the strings, which seems to take care of itself.
May 24, 2018, 9:48 PM · There are many videos of soloists playing with eyes closed or nearly so at times, presumably for focus, which would include tuning out the photographer and audience perhaps. I tried playing with eyes closed not long ago, and found that I didn't sound like a soloist, just someone more aware of my own clumsiness. Also hard to read the music that way.
June 21, 2018, 9:57 PM · Closing your eyes can remove visual distraction. Don't watch your left hand. Eyes stay on the music. When playing from memory it is best to watch the point of contact of the hair on the string. Ocasionally watch the conductor :-)
June 22, 2018, 9:25 AM · The angle of the violin--whether more to the left, or more towards center, is highly dependent on the violinist's arm length.

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