The effect of practice and musical structure on pianists’ eye-hand span and visual monitoring

Keywords: eye-hand span, sight-reading, glances at the keyboard, working memory, musical expertise, eye-tracking, music reading, eye movement, individual differences


This study examines short-term improvement of music performances and oculomotor behaviour during four successive executions of a brief musical piece composed by Bartók, “Slovak Boys’ Dance”. Pianists (n=22) were allowed to practice for two minutes between each trial. Eye-tracking data were collected as well as MIDI information from pianists’ performances. Cognitive skills were assessed by a spatial memory test and a reading span test. Principal component analysis (PCA) enabled us to distinguish two axes, one associated with anticipation and the other with dependence/independence on written code. The effect of musical structure, determined by the emergence of different sections in the score, was observed in all the dependent variables selected from the PCA; we also observed the effect of practice on the number of fixations, the number of glances at the keyboard (GAK) and the awareness span. Pianist expertise was associated with fewer fixations and GAK, better anticipation capacities and more effective strategies for visual monitoring of motor movements. The significant correlations observed between the reading span test and GAK duration highlight the challenge of working memory involvement during music reading. 

Author Biography

Michel André Cara, Music Institute (IMUS), Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso, Chile.
Department of Pedagogy Associate Professor
How to Cite
Cara, M. A. (2023). The effect of practice and musical structure on pianists’ eye-hand span and visual monitoring. Journal of Eye Movement Research, 16(2).

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