Some players look down at their hands constantly, others keep their eyes on the music. But imagine not being able to use your eyes at all while playing the piano!
Yair Zoran kindly agreed to share some of his experience as a blind pianist with us on Pianoways.
Yair's home is filled with books. Looking inside them felt a little awkward at first since they contain only blank bumpy pages. Over the piano there are many shelves with his Braille music books and on the desk he has a computer with Braille display- an invention that had a great impact on his life in general.
Pianoways: Yair, you became blind at the age of 7 as a result of an accident. When did you start playing the piano and why did you choose this instrument?
Yair: It was my parents who decided that piano should be part of my education. I started learning piano at the age of 11. The teacher would come to my home and although I could read Literary Braille, I was reluctant to make the effort of learning the music Braille. For 8 years I learned the piano pieces by imitating my teachers, but then I heard the Beethoven moonlight sonata on the radio one day and that was it. I ordered the Braille music from the UK and learned the whole sonata. Since then Braille was my way of learning music.
P: Did all your teachers know how to read Braille?
Y: No, there was no need for that. After I learned to read Braille I would prepare the pieces at home and we would work on them in the lessons.
P: How do you manage to move your hands on the keyboard and land on the right keys?
Y: I just feel where I am. Apparently, if you lose one of your senses at an early age, the brain center that controlled the lost sense will compensate the loss by taking over the control for a different sense. This happens in addition to the already existing center in the brain for the other sense, so the other sense is a lot more developed . If you lose your vision at an early age your auditory or spatial senses could be a lot stronger than in people with regular eye sight.
When I grew up the Hungarian blind pianist Imre Ungar was a source of inspiration for me. He proved it was possible to do it.
My teacher at the music academy demanded that all his students play everything memorized anyway, so I was like everyone else in that. It may even have been easier for me to memorize the pieces because I was so used to it.
P: Do you also use recordings to help you learn a new piece?
Y: Since I can play from the Braille I have no need to learn from recordings. By reading the Braille notation I am free to explore the piece my own way and am not influenced by other people's interpretations.
P: How does music Braille actually work?
Y: Braille has 63 combinations of 6 dots that are used as letters in different languages and music notation. Literary Braille was invented by Louis Braille, who later went on to develop the music Braille.
Braille paper is quite thick and Braille code takes up a lot more space than print, so Braille books and music books require many more pages than print. The Braille bible fits into 20 volumes for instance.
There are two basic Braille notation approaches. The English system has one bar for the right hand, followed by one bar for the left hand horizontally, on the same line. The American and German systems have longer sections for each hand. I prefer the English method.
P: Can you read the Braille with both hands?
Y: I can only read with my right hand.
P: So how do you learn the piece?
Y: I read the bar I am learning with my Right hand while playing with the left hand. Then I read the right hand while playing the left hand by memory and then I play both hands together.
P: How are chords written?
Y: One of the notes of the chord is written with its exact place on the keyboard. The rest of the notes are indicated as intervals. One chord could take up a whole line of notation.
P: Learning piano pieces this way seems extremely demanding, it takes so much determination and dedication to do this! Thank you for playing for me. If you can learn Brahms Intermezzi, Chopin Nocturnes, Bach Partitas and Schubert Sonatas without using your eyes, it makes it seem so easy for anyone who has their eye sight! Thank you Yair for sharing this with us and all the best!
Here are a few links to YouTube videos of classical blind pianists:
-Luo Xin (from 2.30)
Pianoways on Facebook
-Where to look when you play
- Playing by Memory
- Ways to Memorize a Piano Piece