How To Know The Piano Keyboard Without Looking

by Angel
(New York, NY)

Success with the new changes!! What are the best exercises for knowing the piano keyboard without looking? Can you suggest drills that will help me memorize the keyboard; that is, to know the keyboard without looking??

Thank you for any suggestions!

Maria's Answer:

Hello and thank you!

Although it may seem easy enough to memorize the touch and feel of the piano keyboard, many- many piano students struggle with the problem of looking down at their hands when reading sheet music.

First of all, let me clarify when and where you need to look at your hands:

  1. When learning a new piece section by section, you should learn both to read and focus on the score and to memorize the section by looking at your hands, but as two different exercises. As important as learning to read without looking at your hands is, it is also important not to go “overboard” to the extent that you will feel confused and uncomfortable when you have to look at your hands and the piano keyboard!

  2. When memorizing a piece (or playing by ear) you have to look at your hands. I have seen several piano students becoming so attached to the score so that they are “afraid’ to look at their hands!

  3. When playing big jumps you should look at your hands. This is the most natural thing to do. If you are still reading and learning the score, make a mark where you have that jump, so you quickly can find it again when looking back at the score.

  4. Same goes for difficult passages. You need to see your hands and fingers to determine if they are moving in the best and smoothest way. A passage that looks really difficult in the score might actually be rather easy if you see how it looks on the keys. Learn and memorize that passage, then mark it in the score so you can find it quickly again.

So when shouldn't you look at your hands?

When you read sheet music you have to be able to look straight at the score while playing. Looking down at your hands each time you need to find a new note makes it almost impossible to read the score, takes a million years, and makes you feel dizzy when bobbing your head up and down.

Apart from getting a sight-reading exercise book like: Improve Your Sight Reading and do a daily routine of sight reading practice, here are some more tips:

Here's what you can do:

1. Memorize the piano keyboard by closing your eyes (or put a blindfold!). Find the two black keys, the three black keys. Play them all over the piano. You will “see” them in your mind’s “eye”. Then find all the D’s between the two black keys, The G’s and A’s between the three black keys. Continue to learn to recognize the feel and position of each individual note.

2. Next, play the 5 finger positions you have learned; for example C to G. Tell yourself each note as you play. Change positions.

The next steps require trust.

You have to trust that you can play and look ahead and that you don’t need to see your hands while doing so!

3. Open your eyes, or take off the blindfold and repeat the exercises above while looking at the note stand in front of you. Put a nice picture there and keep looking at it while you learn to find your way at the keyboard and trust yourself.

4. Now take the score you are working on. Have someone come and hold a music book or something over your hands so you can’t see them and resist the urge to look down. Relax and tell yourself you know you don’t have to look at your hands when reading the notes.

5. As you play slowly, you will discover that you will have developed a mental image of the notes from the exercises above, and you simply don’t need to look at your hands anymore!

Remember that apart from the “blindfolded” exercises above, all the other remaining obstacles are only in your head! You need to trust that you can let your fingers "do their thing" on their own, while you read the “instructions” in the score.

Like driving a car, you have to look at the road ahead and not on your feet on the pedals or hand changing gears; however fascinating that may be! : )

Let me know how it goes!😀

Here is an interesting resource regarding this:

Comments for How To Know The Piano Keyboard Without Looking

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by: Maria

To Anonymous: Yes it works. Work in tiny parts, slowly. I know it's hard to have patience, but it really pays off! Good luck!

Help with sheet music
by: Anonymous

I could read sheet music but when it comes to play my favorite piece which is until the last moment by Y A N N I I just can't like I lose focus I cannot get my left hand working with my right hand. My right hand is working really slow and I can't not look up I always look down will this thing that you were talking about help me? Please I am 17 and I don't want to waste time searching for everything. Please help me.

Oddly, it's working
by: Dave P

Really frustrated losing my place as I hunt for the right note under my hand. Just locating a note by feel I found ineffective. Third day of trying, a mix of the above and I found my confidence rose. Quick glance to confirm I was right and the notes start to flow (v.slowly).

Thank you. Now to work on finding the note, and moving the right finger to it, rather than 'an outline' of two black or 3 black!

I wholeheartedly agree!
by: Art Matthews

This is a subject upon which I constantly speak and work with my beginner and intermediate students. I enthusiastically co-sign everything that's said in the answer. Thank you for writing about it so well!

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