Look Ma, No Hands!

It's all in your head

For a mental shift to take place, one must be open to the opportunity of change.  The one proposing this change in mindset must equally be aware that people don't like change!  It is only through logical, step-by-step, clear and demonstrative efforts that the proposer may have any chance in converting the proposee.  So, let's start.

The problem:  Playing with two hands simultaneously or with the eyes closed;
The reason:  Too much conscious thought and the belief of two hands rather than ten fingers;
The solution:  Detachment of the conscious mind from the fingers.

The problem
Playing with one hand is easier than two hands because the mind is naturally able to focus on one thing at a time.   Taking this further, that one hand can play fewer notes more easily since the mind has less to focus on than when playing notes at a faster rate.  Taking this further, the stronger fingers are given priority over the weaker ones, thus leaving the average pianist of lesser experience with only two or three usable fingers on each hand.  In addition to this, these few fingers are very commonly given absolute conscious attention, thus rendering them slaves to such limited conscious thought.

What is neglected so much is the mind and its role in playing the piano.  Despite what you may believe, have been told or read in some method, in the end, whatever you play is taking place in your mind; everything you practise is stored in your mind, in your memory (even muscle memory is stored in the mind) and everything you believe you are able to do, whether you actually can yet or not, is stored in your mind.  Your balance at the piano on your seat is controlled by your mind, your hand and arm positions are stored in your mind; everything that you do the moment you sit at the piano, including the sitting itself, is controlled by the mind.

Yet, how can such a source of power be so utterly ignored by almost every method book?  A method is merely one person's way of playing the piano based on their own experiences, but it cannot be denied that if there was one method to playing the piano, there would not be multiple courses and books, schools of thought and masterclasses!  The best method is always the Self Method.

Given that many lesser-experienced pianists have already started off on the wrong footing, believing they possess two hands rather than ten equally abled fingers, combined with the fact that many are strongly (wrongly) encouraged to follow a particular school of thought/method book, combined with the fact that the mind is greatly neglected, combined with the fact that the Self is oft times not considered, it is no surprise that playing with ones eyes closed is considered impossible by so many.

If you can truly play a piece of music, or a scale or arpeggio, with any finger or finger combination, without fault, then you can play it with your eyes closed.  If not, it means you are still relying on your eyes, thus, your conscious mind to assist you and be sure that any conscious thought results in interference with 'the source'; that undefinable power which gives anything you play that You touch.  It is for this reason that Liszt was able to play his scales and do whatever he did whilst reading books to help pass the time: total disconnection from the conscious mind with the fingers, as I shall expand upon in below.

For the above reasons, it is recommended to close the eyes and begin to develop your internal piano as soon as possible.  It must be understood and believed that whatever you can play in your mind, you can play on the piano.  If you can imagine yourself doing it, it is possible on the piano; simply try this out yourself.  You can thus train yourself very easily to practise on your internal piano when away from a physical piano and then be startled (but become used to it) at how much progress you make.

The reason
Conscious thought comes from the ego.  The ego is a collection of memories, beliefs and experiences combined with external factors.  In other words, everyone's ego is different because everybody has experienced and been influenced by different things.  Over time, from our youth, we become more aware of our beliefs and opinions and based practically everything we do and think of both ourselves and others on the programming of this unique ego.

Since every ego is different, is is logical to proclaim that 'an ego', a one perfect example of what 'an ego' is, exists.  Based on this, we can assume that 'the ego' is a non-existent 'thing', an illusion which shows itself to each of us differently.  The challenge then becomes to separate ourselves from it, but how do we do that?  I am reminded of a story which should help to answer this question and requires no further discussion: There was a hunter in a forest and a bear that he wanted to kill, but the bear could read the hunter's mind.  This meant that whenever the hunter tried to sneak up on and shoot the bear, it knew where to hide and how to dodge the bullet.  Eventually, the man tired of this impossible feat and went back to chopping wood with his axe.  Suddenly, during one of his downward strikes, the head of the axe flung off and struck the bear, killing it instantly.

Until the ego's demands have been quenched, we are subject to asking questions, doubting, worrying and all other such restrictive verbs which are detrimental to our progress as pianists.  This is why playing with your eyes closed is so difficult.  Is is not because you cannot do it, it is a combination of not believing it (self-doubt) and not believing it (lack of trust in fact).  The line between not doing it, and doing it, is so thin that you owe it to yourself to play with your eyes closed.  You will be very surprised.

Accepting the notion that you have ten fingers and not two hands of five fingers may be tough but it must be understood that this is the only way you will remove any problems regarding 'hand independence'.  Hand independence is therefore not a problem that a true pianist should have because once the false idea that two separate hands exist has been eliminated, the result is that you play using ten fingers, meaning the question "how can I improve hand independence" is rendered non-existent.

Unfortunately, every single book and piano course (apart from mine) and website instantly teaches finger numbering for each hand, setting into stone this useless, detrimental notion.  Every chapter, course book and exam, not to mention a huge percentage of teachers, will talk of 'hand independence exercises', yet again reinforcing this toxic notion.

The solution
You, as a pianist, have two options:  to play naturally (which means to the best of your unconscious ability, which is improving day after day through the repetition of positive ideals), or to play analytically (which means to the best of your conscious ability based on self-doubt, false expectations and comparisons with others, not to mention the limited ability of the conscious mind, as discussed at the beginning of this article).  Naturally, I hope you will select the first:  to play naturally.

"Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words" - F. Liszt

This means that you understand the following:  you have ten fingers which happen to be separated down the middle 5-5, but this is just as meaningless as the piano having black and white keys; they could be the colours of the rainbow from lower register to upper register, just as you could have 6 fingers on one hand and 4 on the other.  Do you see how you would still be able to play the piano perfectly well if it were rainbow coloured and you had 4 fingers on the left hand and 6 on the right?  Finger-quantity-on-hands simply doesn't mean anything.  This is the first step of the solution to the non-existent problem of 'hand independence'.
The first step of playing with your eyes closed is quite simply:  play with your eyes closed.

Second of all, understand that your ten fingers are indeed able to actually play what you require of them.  There are no muscles in the fingers so strength comes from the arm muscles.  I write this because the ego excuse "I don't play enough so my fingers are weak" is absolutely meaningless.  The actual reason your fingers cannot do what you expect of them is that your mind (where it all happens consciously and, better so, unconsciously) is programmed to believe that the naturally weaker (less used) fingers require much time to be 'strengthened'.  For this reason, you tend to shy away from doing 'exercises to make them stronger'.

What actually happens is that you simply don't use the 'weaker fingers'.  You will be surprised to learn that, after a few minutes of actually treating these 'weaker fingers' as other fingers, both physically and in your mind on your internal piano, you will find that they do indeed begin to work exactly as they should.  Welcome to the beginning of the end of your ego.

As for the eyes being closed, the second step here once you have simply started to do it, is to identify what comes naturally and what you find difficult from the outset.  Set up by closing your eyes and finding middle C naturally, of course having sat yourself in a suitably comfortable position.  Then, aim for another note.  Name it in your mind, feel where it is and simply trust that your unconscious is correctly going to place your selected finger on that note.  You will be accurate unbelievably more times than you would believe before trying this exercise.  Do this with any one of your ten fingers in any area of the piano (being sure not to limit the 'left hand' to the 'left area' or the 'right hand' to the 'right area' of the piano).  Mix and match!

Third, for 'hand independence',  use major scales and the chromatic scale to play the notes alternately using the same finger from each hand over four octaves.  In other words, start on any root of any major scale since of course you know all 12 instantly (and if you don't, do it now, immediately), and use the same finger from each hand to play each note in succession of that major scale.  Ascend and descend the F# major scale over 4 octaves, for example, using the thumb of each hand, eyes closed.  Do this a few times and then do Eb with your ring fingers alternating.  Then spend some time doing the chromatic scale using your little fingers.  A metronome is useful for this exercise, but is not the priority; try to set your own pace naturally to find your natural limit.  This will be raised the more you do this exercise.

A third idea for eyes closed exercises is to not actually close your eyes, but to focus your eyes, thus your attention, on something else entirely.  Open a book (or webpage, or read one of my blogs!) or watch a YouTube video.  Whilst doing this, play major scales in varying finger combinations.  Play songs that you 'think' you can't remember.  What you will find is that by removing the forceful, interfering nature of the ego, you will allow your unconscious mind to do its thing, and it does it best when your ego does not get involved with its negative nonsense.