G5 Doctoral dissertation (article)
Skill Development in Music Reading: the Eye-Movement Approach

List of Authors: Penttinen Marjaana
Publisher: Turun yliopisto. Annales Universitatis Turkuensis B 359
Place: Turku
Publication year: 2013
ISBN: 978-951-29-5330-1


This dissertation examined skill development in music reading by focusing on the visual processing of music notation in different music-reading tasks. Each of the three experiments of this dissertation addressed one of the three types of music reading: (i) sight-reading, i.e. reading and performing completely unknown music, (ii) rehearsed reading, during which the performer is already familiar with the music being played, and (iii) silent reading with no performance requirements. The use of the eye-tracking methodology allowed the recording of the readers’ eye movements from the time of music reading with extreme precision. Due to the lack of coherence in the smallish amount of prior studies on eye movements in music reading, the dissertation also had a heavy methodological emphasis. The present dissertation thus aimed to promote two major issues: (1) it investigated the eye-movement indicators of skill and skill development in sight-reading, rehearsed reading and silent reading, and (2) developed and tested suitable methods that can be used by future studies on the topic. 

Experiment I focused on the eye-movement behaviour of adults during their first steps of learning to read music notation. The longitudinal experiment spanned a nine-month long music-training period, during which 49 participants (university students taking part in a compulsory music course) sight-read and performed a series of simple melodies in three measurement sessions. Participants with no musical background were entitled as “novices”, whereas “amateurs” had had musical training prior to the experiment. The main issue of interest was the changes in the novices’ eye movements and performances across the measurements while the amateurs offered a point of reference for the assessment of the novices’ development. The experiment showed that the novices tended to sight-read in a more stepwise fashion than the amateurs, the latter group manifesting more back-and-forth eye movements. The novices’ skill development was reflected by the faster identification of note symbols involved in larger melodic intervals. Across the measurements, the novices also began to show sensitivity to the melodies’ metrical structure, which the amateurs demonstrated from the very beginning. The stimulus melodies consisted of quarter notes, making the effects of meter and larger melodic intervals distinguishable from effects caused by, say, different rhythmic patterns. 

Experiment II explored the eye movements of 40 experienced musicians (music education students and music performance students) during temporally controlled rehearsed reading. This cross-sectional experiment focused on the eye-movement effects of one-bar-long melodic alterations placed within a familiar melody. The synchronizing of the performance and eye-movement recordings enabled the investigation of the eye-hand span, i.e., the temporal gap between a performed note and the point of gaze. The eye-hand span was typically found to remain around one second. Music performance students demonstrated increased professing efficiency by their shorter average fixation durations as well as in the two examined eye-hand span measures: these participants used larger eye-hand spans more frequently and inspected more of the musical score during the performance of one metrical beat than students of music education. Although all participants produced performances almost indistinguishable in terms of their auditory characteristics, the altered bars indeed affected the reading of the score: the general effects of expertise in terms of the two eye- hand span measures, demonstrated by the music performance students, disappeared in the face of the melodic alterations. 

Experiment III was a longitudinal experiment designed to examine the differences between adult novice and amateur musicians’ silent reading of music notation, as well as the changes the 49 participants manifested during a nine-month long music course. From a methodological perspective, an opening to research on eye movements in music reading was the inclusion of a verbal protocol in the research design: after viewing the musical image, the readers were asked to describe what they had seen. A two-way categorization for verbal descriptions was developed in order to assess the quality of extracted musical information. More extensive musical background was related to shorter average fixation duration, more linear scanning of the musical image, and more sophisticated verbal descriptions of the music in question. No apparent effects of skill development were observed for the novice music readers alone, but all participants improved their verbal descriptions towards the last measurement. Apart from the background-related differences between groups of participants, combining verbal and eye-movement data in a cluster analysis identified three styles of silent reading. The finding demonstrated individual differences in how the freely defined silent-reading task was approached. 

This dissertation is among the first presentations of a series of experiments systematically addressing the visual processing of music notation in various types of music-reading tasks and focusing especially on the eye-movement indicators of developing music-reading skill. Overall, the experiments demonstrate that the music-reading processes are affected not only by “top-down” factors, such as musical background, but also by the “bottom-up” effects of specific features of music notation, such as pitch heights, metrical division, rhythmic patterns and unexpected melodic events. From a methodological perspective, the experiments emphasize the importance of systematic stimulus design, temporal control during performance tasks, and the development of complementary methods, for easing the interpretation of the eye-movement data. To conclude, this dissertation suggests that advances in comprehending the cognitive aspects of music reading, the nature of expertise in this musical task, and the development of educational tools can be attained through the systematic application of the eye-tracking methodology also in this specific doma

Last updated on 2019-29-01 at 14:51