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Thread: Looking at your hands while playing -- opinions?

  1. #51
    Playing on the porch
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    Default Re: Looking at your hands while playing -- opinions?

    I never look at my hands, either of them. I happen to be totally blind, not one who is trying some new technique. Even so, I find it quite pleasant and rather liberating.

    Back when I started violin at the age of 8, I had excellent vision, but I have to agree with some of the observations I have read in this thread that folks who have played the violin have already had to make the transition to less dependency on their eyes and more on their ears, as well as their hand position, which is more of a tactile skill.

    I rarely played violin once I grew up, but decided, on a challenge, many decades after I had lost my vision, to pick up my violins and play again at the age of 61. The challenge was the promise of a stage duet in a year with an incredible violinist that I had met at a wine gala. It was the perfect excuse to find a great local teacher and rebuild my skill on the violin. And, that professional violinist and I did end up playing our duet in front of a very large audience. Admittedly, he was quite the professional and I was still very much an amateur. But, I was hooked.

    However, I did find the violin, at times, more of a physical challenge than I would prefer. My right shoulder, my bow arm, was not as flexible as in my youth. And, the required twist of the left hand to reach around the neck would get less comfortable than I liked. And, frankly, I play violin best when standing and I wanted to sit. Still, I loved the violin and loved making music again. So, I mentioned to my violin teacher that what I really would like was an instrument that I could tune like a violin and play more like a guitar. She suggested that I might like the mandolin. I doubt that she thought I would take that suggestion so seriously. I had heard of a mandolin, but not being a Blue Grass kind of guy, I thought the mandolin was something you might carry around at a Renaissance Festival. I had no idea there were courses of strings, but knowing it was roughly the size of a violin, tuned the same as my chosen instrument and was something I could play sitting down, I headed over to a Big Box music store to try one out.

    The store showroom was packed with young adolescent kids, mostly boys, all trying to impress each other with a cacophony of loud something.
    I was handed a $500 mandolin, which was tuned to approximately G, D, A and E and I was handed an old guitar pick. I sat down on a stool and in less than 30 seconds, I was playing Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." I certainly did not play it perfectly, but I was able to play it very well understanding that this was the first time I had ever touched a mandolin.

    I did not purchase that initial instrument. I started the hunt for more info, regularly visited the Mandolin Cafe as a guest, and began to build some confidence that I could buy a good starter mandolin. I ended up purchasing a new Eastman MD 515. I have since outfitted this F style mandolin with Thomastik Infeld M154 strings and settled on the CT-55 as my pick of choice. The Eastman is a very good instrument, and it makes me happy, although I must confess to thinking of something even better in the future. I am a normal mandolinist now.

    Since I was teaching myself how to play the mandolin, I was making a lot of mistakes, especially with my picking hand. I had no idea on how to best hold my hand and actually consistently pick the right strings, in the right order and direction. I tended to anchor my pinky against the top of the body as a reference point.

    I treated finger positioning on the fret board almost exactly as I would play the violin. That worked extremely well. The distancing between where fingers need to land had to be stretched out a tiny bit, but I got used to that very quickly.

    What I have learned over the last four and a half years is that the mandolin is a very friendly instrument that works extremely well for a person with no vision. Granted, I can no longer read printed music, but I have a very good ear and have little problem finding the right notes once I have heard something played a number of times. I've also found that I am building expertise I didn't have on the violin. For instance, I use the little finger on my left hand much more than I used to on my violins. The forgiving nature of a fretted instrument means that it is much easier to land the pinky in the right place. I have also found it easy to quickly shift position .

    Although I generally play only for an audience of one, I do play a large variety of music for a couple of hours every day. I like many classical pieces, many written with the violin in mind, and I love to play the melodies from the popular music from roughly between 1964 to 1979. I like a lot of rock, pop, country, funk and folk. Those were the years when I listened to radio all the time. I play almost no chords, but I do incorporate double stops, as I did on the violin.

    I like having zero dependence on the visuals of playing. I concentrate on my sound, whether I need to slightly adjust a finger that has landed in not quite the right place, and as my playing has matured, I depend solely on muscle memory to pick the correct strings, at the right time, with the best angle of attack, all tactile skills. I no longer anchor the pinky. I give the pick the same kind of attention I would give the bow, trying to stay aware of tilt, speed and force.

    So, I think developing your dependence on sound and touch, rather than so much with vision, can really free you to do even more with this spectacular instrument.
    2017 Eastman MD515 mandolin
    1928 Roth (Amati) violin
    1907 Foltz (Strad) violin

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  3. #52
    Registered User John Bertotti's Avatar
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    Oct 2002

    Default Re: Looking at your hands while playing -- opinions?

    I was told that if I learned without looking at the strings then when I couldn’t look at the strings it would never be a problem. So I generally don’t look at the strings.
    Last edited by John Bertotti; Sep-04-2021 at 6:37pm.
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  4. #53

    Default Re: Looking at your hands while playing -- opinions?

    Yes, I always look at my hands/strings.

  5. #54
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Jun 2005
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    Default Re: Looking at your hands while playing -- opinions?

    I look at the fretboard, mainly because I have to look at something that does not divert my attention, and to aim for the longer doublestop jumps (can't do without on the OM).
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  6. #55
    Registered User Dave Hicks's Avatar
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    Dec 2002
    Northeastern Indiana

    Default Re: Looking at your hands while playing -- opinions?

    If I'm singing, or playing backup in an "easy" key (e.g. G, C, D) I don't look, but playing a solo or jumping several frets, I have to keep an eye on the frets. (Sometimes they move around on you if you don't keep a good eye out.)


  7. #56
    Mando-Afflicted lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Jan 2014
    So Cal
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    Default Re: Looking at your hands while playing -- opinions?

    I find that a familiar fiddle tunes can be played without looking, but anytime I want to fret the 7th and 8th frets, which happens often, I need to glance occasionally to be sure I am placing that fourth finger at the right pitch. Many of the greats watch their fingers on the fretboard and I don't think there is anything right or wrong on this front.
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