Changing Hand Positions Without Looking

Question: I am trying to learn how to move from octave to octave without looking at my hands. For example, I begin with both hands on the keyboard with the thumb #1 finger of both hands on middle C.

Looking at the sheet music, the right hand thumb is on the middle C, the number 5 finger on the next C one octave above middle C. The treble clef music notes have placed my fingers at this correct position on the keyboard. The next set of notes for right hand brings the right hand #1 finger (thumb) to the position of the next octave up and replaces finger #5. (so far no problem). The same change to the next octave is repeated for the 3rd octave. (still not a problem). The problem begins when I move from middle C, skip the next octave up and jump to the third octave.

How or what method of practice will get me to the 3rd C octave?

Presently I practice the process from middle C, move up to the next octave by placing my thumb, #1 finger, on the next C and replacing number 5 finger, and then again to get to the next C, one octave up I repeat the same process. This presents no problem when following this sequence. Is this the only way to practice in order to somehow learn to jump octaves.

How to achieve playing from octave to octave randomly without looking at the keyboard?

Sincerely,

– Chuck Platten Sr. (Phoenix, Arizona, USA)

Albert’s reply: The solution is very simple: Look at the keyboard! In this case, the distance is so great that I wouldn’t hesitate to look.

If you wish not to look and the passage is slow enough, you can find the correct octave by feeling the black keys, then placing fingers 1 and 5 on each C in the octave.

In either case, you should memorize the hand position of the octave on white keys to such accuracy that you can place your fingers in this position perfectly away from the keyboard. Check your accuracy by then going to the keyboard and playing the keys – without changing your finger position in any way. The hand should be “frozen,” as though it were a sculpture. The thumb should be slightly bent and you should aim for the inside corners of the keys, as if you were grasping or grabbing the keys.

You need to pay very close attention when testing yourself in this manner because you will naturally make small adjustments as your hand approaches the keyboard. It’s best to have a third person, especially a professional piano teacher, observe your fingers when you do this exercise. Once you memorize the hand position for an octave on the white keys so perfectly that you no longer need a piano, you will find it much easier to perform octave leaps.

There are only (relatively) rare instances in which it’s truly necessary to make such large leaps without being able to look. These passages invariably occur in virtuosic music and usually involve both hands leaping at the same time.

The worst such example I know is in the infamous “Quasi-Faust” movement of the Alkan Sonata:

Musicologist Hartwig Albrecht, in his excellent edition of the Grande Sonate, calculated that these leaps require a velocity of approximately 40 km/h (25 mph) from the pianist’s hands from a still position, making the acceleration greater than what astronauts experience when their rockets take off!

You can hear these leaps in an excerpt from my recording of this sonata. Such fast leaps require considerable hands separate practice, shaping the hands in slow motion with perfect precision before touching the keys, since there is no time to feel the keys before playing them. (Besides, this would negatively affect the sound.)

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