Piano Technique: Proprioception & Visualization

Proprioception Defined

Let’s do an experiment. Close your eyes and set your hands in your lap. Next, with your eyes still closed, lift your left hand and touch your left index finger to the tip of your nose. Then lift your right hand and stick the tip of your right pinky into your left ear. Unless you are intoxicated or have a genuine neurological disorder, you will discover that you can do this to some degree of precision.

We accomplish such tasks using something called Proprioception (not to be confused with the sense of touch). Proprioception is a two-stage process: 1) Sensory neurons that are distributed throughout our bodies respond to expansions and contractions and movements of our moveable body parts: muscles, tendons, and joints. 2) This sensory information is sent to our brains where it is decoded and integrated and transformed into a sense of where our body parts are located with respect to each other and how they are moving in time and space. We use this crucial feedback in order to make adjustments to our movements when we walk, eat, drive, dance, and play piano.

The Role of Visualization

In a nutshell, Proprioception is the integration of feelings that enable us to visualize the positions and motions of our body parts in time and space. Visualization is not the same thing as the sense of vision (seeing with our eyes). To visualize something (an object or event) is to imagine it purely in your mind's eye, with your eyes closed. When playing the piano, visualization is infinitely more powerful than vision alone for at least three reasons:

Implications for Playing Piano

When it comes to playing the piano, it is not enough know where your body parts are located. You must also know where the piano is – specifically where the keys are. Thus, one component of piano mastery is to map the visio-spatial layout of the piano keys into your mind's eye so that the keyboard becomes an extension of one’s own body. Here are a few tidbits to keep in mind:

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