Being in the Dark

David Motto’s Practice Tip of the Week:
Being in the Dark

Visual Information Can Be Distracting

Musicians often depend too heavily on visual information to help them play accurately. Whether it’s reading sheet music, getting a cue from another musician, or following a conductor, many instrumentalists and singers are too dependent on what they see.

Some musicians even watch their instruments in order to play. They’ve grown dependent on watching their fingers to hit the right notes.

All of this dependence on sight – and focusing on what you’re looking at – distracts you from the music itself. The real music you’re creating is pure sound. If you can re-connect to the aural properties of music without being distracted by what you see, you can have a deeper relationship with the songs you’re performing.

Try Total Darkness

One of the best ways to focus yourself on the sound you are producing is to practice in a darkened room. This is very different than playing with your eyes closed (where you know you can open them at any time) and I encourage you to turn off the lights!

I’m not recommending low-level lighting or mood lighting. Try total darkness. Make sure you cannot see your hand in front of your face.

Once you’ve grown accustomed to being in the dark, try playing some music you know well. How do you feel? Do you have any sensations you don’t normally have?

Many musicians are afraid to try this practice technique because they worry they won’t be able to play at all, that they’ll miss too many notes, or they’ll become disoriented.

But, don’t worry about those things. Actually, if they happen, it’s perfectly fine–even to be expected. It’s part of the experience of trying something new and may make you re-think how you’re playing certain notes.

Benefits of Playing in the Dark

When you play in the dark, you will learn a lot about yourself. You’ll gain new insight into both your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll be a better judge of your true comfort level with the music you’re playing.

And, there’s another bonus to this practice technique:

Without the visual distractions that can make you start thinking about something other than the music itself, your level of focus will rise to a whole new level.

By the way, this practice technique is a lot of fun for ensembles too. Now, it may not work for an entire orchestra or concert band, but chamber groups, rock bands, jazz combos, and small choirs can all benefit from making music in a darkened room.

You will have the opportunity to really, truly listen to your fellow musicians, and you will learn to trust each other as well.

Experiencing your music in a darkened setting will force you to come to terms with any weaknesses in your playing. And, better yet, it will allow you to hear yourself more completely.

To Your Musical Success!
David Motto

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3 Responses to Being in the Dark

  1. David Motto says:

    Hi Kathleen – Let me know how it goes with your ensemble playing “in the dark.” I’ve always found this a profound experience that changes everyone’s perceptions.

  2. Paul Wittenberg says:

    This is on my very near term roadmap

  3. Kathleen says:

    Precisely. This is why blind musicians have it all over the sighted. Think Rudolf Braun, Jean Langlais, Ray Charles, Andrea Bocelli, and a whole host of musicians who have the ability to hear themselves like no others.
    Time to get out my Eclipse glasses for the musical totality- very happy they will come in handy for my practice sessions. Now Instagram the whole ensemble with shades for some cool jazz!

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