New Eyes

"Your eyes deceive you, don't use them"-Star Wars

Something I remember as a child was my attempts to try things I saw on television, all good things thankfully. Like when I first got into wrestling and still thought it was real, I started working out profusely and got really big and muscular in a fairly short amount of time. It was really awesome knowing that I could actually have certain things I saw help me in real life, not just physically but mentally. A show like "Avatar the Last Airbender" has so many adult themes/coming of age themes, and I found it helpful for me to see kids go through what I was going through at that age, even though they were fictional. Long story short, any medium can be inspiring in the real world and I keep my eyes open for anything that helps. 

Star Wars has always been one of those series where people could quote scenes or even the entire movie verbatim. My dad loved the series and we would watch it often enough that I became obsessed myself, and every time I'd watch it, I would find something that I didn't notice before. The above quote is one of those things. As a percussionist, hand eye coordination is a big part of what we do, especially on keyboard instruments (pianists are in the same boat as well). Because of this, our reliance on our eyes for where things are in relation to where we are is something we develop very early on in our development. However, once we generally know where things are, do we really need to look anymore? The energy we spend on looking at the A natural, and then aiming for it, takes away from the reaction time. If we know where the A is, why look? Honestly, it's a comfort thing I think. 

Take snare drum for instance. It's only in one spot. Why look at it? Your sticks aren't gonna go over the edge. If anything, looking at the drum made me more nervous because I was trying to make sure things were exactly in one place and that I hit the drum correctly, instead of just dropping the sticks and using my sense of touch. They say, when one sense is gone, all the others are heightened, so I thought to myself, can I use that to my advantage? If Beethoven can make more beautiful music after he's lost his hearing, what can I do if I stop looking at what I'm playing? The obvious progression therefore was to practice in total darkness. At DePaul, there were a couple rooms where if you turned the lights out, it was pitch black. So I turned the lights out, and a couple things happened. 

The first thing is the feeling of darkness. Cold and spacious. Everything feels like it's farther than it really is, but also it feels like nothing is around, vacant and just chilly. A scale feels really contained when played like that, the space is magnified extremely (or minimized). The other thing was that I still had my eyes open, so I was looking at darkness. When you have your eyes closed you may still have a sense of light on the outside of the lids, or maybe not, but your not looking at what is dark because it's basically caused by your closed eyes, and you can open them whenever you want. But knowing that you are staring at darkness and can't "open your eyes" is a really weird feeling. A lot of trust has to come into play here. The fact that the floor is there. When you feel a door handle, you question it. Is this the correct door. Sense of direction, which way is which. Everything you know becomes questioned. 

There I stood by the light switch, and I knew that the xylophone was in the opposite direction, about five feet away. Ok, so I make an exact U-Turn, and walk like five steps forward. I tried that, and bumped my calf on a chair, luckily it was the soft part. Then I hit a music stand trying to move the chair. Finally I found the xylophone and realized I didn't know where my stick bag was. More hilarity ensued of course, but I did get to play a scale eventually. And It Sucked. C-major is so hard without a point of reference to look at, but I learned a lot from it. My left hand loves to travel too far in the direction it is going. My right hand tends to ignore where the left is, so if my intention is to play CDE, my left will play C and my right will play C, because it doesn't know what my left is doing,  or where to go in relation to it. Sooo many doubled notes. After about 10 minutes, I could play a C-major scale going up well and kind of going down. When I turned the lights back on, I could play both ways without a second thought.

My whole philosophy about technique is to be able to do something harder than the thing you have to do. So, if I can play an excerpt blindfolded, it'll be way easier when I can actually see. I don't play blindfolded as often now, but man, when I did, my playing really improved, and my sense of where things were on instruments was enhanced as well. I say give it a try. Even if you don't actually look at your instrument, see how you feel when playing in total darkness. All you have is your sense of touch and hearing, and really those are the senses that we really need to focus on as musicians. Our eyes may tell us where things are generally, but really our sense of touch tells us exactly where things are, and our hearing if it's right. I'm sure intonation would be pretty poor if we just used our eyes to locate a note. Even if we know exactly where a note is one day, things change all the time and we have to react quickly, not look for the next exact position with our eyes. In any case, this quote gave me another practice tool that really helped me, and if nothing else, gave me something to challenge myself with for a very long time.