The other day the bulb in my piano lamp blew. It was the only light I had on in the room, and because it was dark outside and I was too lazy to get up and turn the main lights on, I decided to carry on practising for a while in the pitch black. This showed me how much we all rely on the visual not only for obvious things like jumps but the eye is involved in so much of what we do, often unnecessarily and distractingly so.
Years ago I recall a moment where, in recital, I closed my eyes. This was quite unpremeditated and unconscious, and yet there was a stray thought that went through my mind as I did it that this was a bit of a risky thing to do. I think I probably wanted to eliminate all other distractions and be left with just the sound so I could feel it and shape it, and live it. I certainly remember feeling very connected to the music at the time.
While I am not suggesting you follow my example in public (I doubt I will repeat this myself), I do think practising in the dark, or with eyes closed, is a very good practice tool. The obvious benefit is an immediate sharpening of our senses of hearing and touch, and if we can manage jumps with our eyes closed, think how much easier they will be when we open them again. In some ways, switching off the lights is better because chances are you will doubtless cheat if you simply close your eyes! Another benefit is that you will also be making a small saving on your energy bill.
Some years ago I heard some wonderful piano playing from the French pianist Bernard d’Ascoli and was doubly impressed when I discovered he had been blind since birth, and had to learn all his music from braille scores. More recently, Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, also blind from birth, deeply moved and impressed me with his incredible playing at the recent Van Cliburn competition. Listen to him play Liszt’s La Campanella, an etude infamous for its treacherous right hand leaps.
For a rare insight into a musician’s practising habits, listen, from 1:20, to how blind German organist Helmut Walcha learned Bach’s Art of Fugue. This is a lesson for us all.