An Eye Opening Experience

I once had a remarkable jazz teacher who insisted I practice everything—yes, everything—with my eyes closed. When I opened my eyes at the lesson, he would shout “EYES” at me until I closed them! 

His argument (perfectly sound) went like this: When the muscles know where to go, they don’t need help from the eyes, just as a sighted person doesn’t need the prompting of a seeing-eye dog. Closing our eyes immediately makes it clear whether our muscles know where to go or not. To use the eyes to guide the muscles is, in the end, only a crutch. We may as well just throw the crutches out and learn to stand up and walk without them.

My playing improved dramatically after practicing with my eyes closed (though it first suffered a serious decline during the first week of trying this technique!). Plus, my listening deepened. With the peepers shut, the picture goes black. Nothing. And what do we do then? Begin to listen in a deeper way, and tune into our feelings. 


I should have known. After all, when I am creating at the piano, I rarely play with my eyes open. It was only when studying in the literate classical tradition and struggling to play all the notes that I forgot this intuitive understanding.


Now, I never prepare for a performance without practicing all my pieces with my eyes closed. At the performance, I usually play difficult passages with my eyes open and this makes them seem so much easier. Performing then becomes an eye-opening experience!


I now say to any serious piano student who will listen: EYES!