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How important is it to you to be able to play without looking at your hands?

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by Lunatique, Jan 15, 2020.

  1. Lunatique


    Nov 23, 2007
    Lincoln, CA
    It seems to me that musicians who can play without looking at their hands get more respect in general, because there's this feeling that they've mastered the song/instrument so much that it has become just second nature, and they just rely on muscle memory and let their bodies feel the music, have fun interacting with the band/audience, instead of getting hung up on not making mistakes. However, there are also very accomplished and respected musicians who just stare at their hands most of the time. The genre of music also is a factor, as some genres are so technically demanding that you pretty much have to pay 100% attention to your hands at all times to not make mistakes.

    How do you feel about this? Is it important to you to be able to play without looking at your hands?
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2020
    gebass6, 63Danno, dbsfgyd1 and 3 others like this.
  2. Absolutely important. I’d go so far as saying it’s bad technique to stare at your fretboard for easy songs.
  3. DirtDog


    Jun 7, 2002
    Depends. If I’m in the studio laying stuff down, not important.

    When I was gigging, playing bass and and singing lead, 100% important. And I was able to do it about 90% of time.
  4. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    I sing both backup and lead vocals while playing (and chewing gum). It's a must that I can play without looking.

    Practice a little each day in the dark. It is both excellent fretboard muscle memory traing AND ear training.
    63Danno, retslock, mikeswals and 13 others like this.
  5. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    It's not only important for showmanship. If you have to look at your hands it's an indication that you're not fully competent as a player.

    In regards to your statement "some genres are so technically demanding that you pretty much have to pay 100% attention to your hands at all times:" I challenge that statement. Orchestral and jazz players are not staring at their hands.
    She-Ra, elgecko, Bassdirty and 11 others like this.
  6. ahc


    Jul 31, 2009
    No. Virginia
    It's also important for a couple other reasons. First, you can't check out the local talent on the dance floor if you're staring at your hands. Second, you should be making eye contact with your fans. And part C, you should be aware of any flying beer bottles or bar stools heading towards the stage.
  7. Samatza


    Apr 15, 2019
    You can't be looking at your hands if you're reading charts so yes, it's very important to be able to play without having to look.

    Having said that it takes some practice to 'feel' your way around the instrument and sometimes I'll have a quick glance if I'm doing big shifts but otherwise not necessary.
    beniciaboy, 63Danno, idoker and 8 others like this.
  8. Lunatique


    Nov 23, 2007
    Lincoln, CA
    That's true. But it seems to me in genres like prog metal, fusion, math rock, instrumental rock (Animals As Leaders, Plini, CHON, Polyphia, King Crimson, Dream Theater, Periphery, Steve Vai, Snarky Puppy, etc.), the musicians are often looking at their hands.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2020
    gebass6, oZZma, Afc70 and 6 others like this.
  9. nonohmic

    nonohmic Supporting Member

    Dec 13, 2005
    ABQ, NM.
    Depends - you wanna catch that girl/guy giving you the glad eye from the crowd? Or be looking at your fingerboard?
    Poplar, BOOG and Glenn Johnson like this.
  10. pacojas

    pacojas "FYYA BUN"

    Oct 11, 2009
    recently watched video of a band i played with 30 years ago and was shocked. i hardly took my eyes off of the crowd.
    sure, i made mistakes once or twice a show, but whatever. we looked like we were having a ball and the crowd was nuts.
  11. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I am of the "Jaco Pastorius school of thought," that looking at the fingerboard is perfectly acceptable on stage at the highest levels of musical performance, and does not detract from the showmanship.

  12. /\/\3phist0

    /\/\3phist0 Life: It's sexually transmitted and always fatal Supporting Member

    Only glance at mine for position jumping.
    Learned early on too many stages are not lit well enough to rely on eyesight.
    A previous highly technical metal band I was in would rehearse with only a single candle and the glow from the tubes and amp gems !
    The candle was just enough so we would not knock each other out :) accidentally :/
    63Danno, Bassdirty, TrevorR and 6 others like this.
  13. /\/\3phist0

    /\/\3phist0 Life: It's sexually transmitted and always fatal Supporting Member

    And the view is good if you are backing up a female singer that has talent, visual stimulus can be distracting, but at least you're not staring at your hand.
    I'm very distracted by mine.
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2020
  14. tshapiro

    tshapiro Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Aug 25, 2015
    Jax Florida
    bassista6, Glenn Johnson and DJ Bebop like this.
  15. 2112


    Apr 30, 2005
    I don't look at my hands very often at all, but I don't care what others think of my musicianship or showmanship when I do. Ain't nobody in the bars that cares either as long as I keep dat groove locked down. The most important reason for me to not be looking at my hands is so I can view the "scenery" at the venue.
    63Danno, baileyboy, moreblues and 4 others like this.
  16. Element Zero

    Element Zero Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2016
    Chrisk-K, Toolmybass, Cheez and 15 others like this.
  17. Element Zero

    Element Zero Supporting Member

    Dec 14, 2016
    It’s not important to me at all. Sometimes I look, sometimes my eyes are closed, sometimes I look at the other band members, sometimes out into the crowd.
    beniciaboy, 63Danno, Giffro and 13 others like this.
  18. okcrum

    okcrum in your chest

    Oct 5, 2009
    Verde Valley, AZ
    RIP Dark Horse strings
    So far no one here has played in a band that used visual cues, evven on reading gigs.
  19. I could stare a hole in the fingerboard and it won't help my playing at all. I've never once played a certain tune and was absolutely certain that if I had not been watching my left hand / fingerboard, I'd have blown it completely. Just doesn't work that way. It's some sort of subliminal hand-holding for my insecurities . . . . .

    Best way to break yourself of ever having to look ? When I'd practice, I'd start the recording . . . . and turn off the lights. Play in a perfectly blacked-out room and you'll find your hands are a lot smarter than you thought.

    Not ready for the deep end? Then practice in front of a wide mirror where you can see the entire axe and watch your hands in the mirror, you're now looking out instead of at the neck . . . . and it's perfect for practicing all your rock and roll faces and moves if you're into that . . . . . at least until your wife walks in, catches you at that, and cracks up. Instant Ego Deflation ! !
    63Danno, Evert, dBChad and 3 others like this.
  20. Nashrakh


    Aug 16, 2008
    Hamburg, Germany
    That's a trick question, isn't it?

    (Because who would ever notice the bass player?)

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