I have one little piano student who gets extremely frustrated. Her eyes are glued to her page – desperate to not miss a single detail. Then her hands accidentally migrate up a step or two and the resulting mistake causes facial contortions of extreme frustration. She hasn’t yet learned how to have “dual vision” when playing… and, because this student is also my daughter, we spent the weekend working on this skill in an attempt to relieve this frustration.
Teaching Piano Students to See Their Music AND Their Hands
When you or I play we have an amazing ability. Our peripheral vision is truly astounding when you think of it. We can read music while keeping an eye on the keyboard. Not only that, but our eyes can dart back and forth when needed; never losing our place on the music.
This ability is something that some piano kids pick up on without any explanation at all – they just do it. For others (like my daughter) it’s all or nothing… eyes only on the music or eyes on her hands.
For your budding pianist to truly develop fluency when playing from music, it’s important to teach this skill. Ensure that your piano students are quite comfortable with their music before trying these activities to eliminate other struggles (and using these activities will really help them to practice efficiently to get to this point quickly).
4 Ways to Teach Dual Vision to Piano Students
I like to teach using games or fun imagery for almost anything. These ways of passing on information create strong visual memories and are sure to last longer than having someone repeatedly tell you “eyes on your music ” or “check your hands”.
1. Sneaky Mouse
Grab yourself a small figurine from your dollar store (it doesn’t have to be a mouse, I used to use a ladybug). The game goes like this: As your student plays you sneak a mouse onto the piano either above or below their hand position. As they play the need to name the key the mouse is sitting on. It’s not a rush, and they can take as much time as they need to to answer… but the rule is they can’t stop playing and their tempo cannot change. This teaches the ability to split your vision side-to-side while playing which then strengthens the ability to do so in the “up and down” arena too.
2. Measure Madness
Using a highlighter, make a random selection of measures brightly colored. These are your “Mad Measures”. When your student encounters one of these colored measures they need to switch their visual focus to their hands. While watching hands while playing is not a habit we want to encourage, we do want to encourage the back and forth ability. After the colored measure is over, their eyes shift back to to their music and so on.
This activity is done away from the piano. Have your student sit sideways on the bench and use double-sided tape to tape something to your studio wall for them to focus on. As she stares at her focus point, you place objects just under her line of vision. She needs to say what the object is, while maintaining their focal point. Ramp up the fun factor by placing silly objects for them to name. Kids love this one as it’s almost like magic to them that they can still see while their eyes are otherwise engaged!
4. Where’s the D?
As your piano student plays through their piece cover their hands with a piece of paper and ask “Where’s D?”. If they haven’t been looking back and forth (and if their keyboard awareness is still developing) they’re going to want to look… but it’s too late… the paper is there! Students learn quickly that they need to keep an eye on where D is (or whatever note you choose – change it up so it’s not always the same one) as they play just in case that paper comes back! This encourages that back and forth ability as they anticipate your question.
Developing Skills Takes Time
For some kids, this is a totally foreign concept. Keep in mind that developing skills take time; your student may need several months of help learning this skill before they easily breeze through a piece with half an eye on their hands and the other half on their page. Students who struggle with other areas of their playing will often abandon this skill in the interest of devoting all of their attention to what causes the most struggle. And that’s okay – allow them the time to develop in other areas. Piano requires so much coordination from so many parts of your body. It’s no wonder that we pianists are so brilliant 😉