Music sight-reading expertise, visually disrupted score and eye movements

Keywords: eye movement, eye tracking, saccades, reading, fixation duration, music sight reading, sight reading expertise, music cognition


Previous studies have shown that performance at a defined level of music sight reading for pianists (6th Grade) is predictive of eye movement patterns (Waters, 1998) and that such patterns resemble those of text reading experts (Furneaux & Land, 1999; Sloboda, 1974; Truitt, 1997; Wolf, 1976). However, little is known about how expertise might affect eye movement patterns when the score has been visually disrupted using notational features that are unexpected or outside conventional presentation.

The current project examined the effect of altering features of the music score on eye movement patterns of expert and non-expert music sight readers. Participants sight read specifically composed musical excerpts, which were then re-presented with the bar-lines removed, altered inter-note spacing and unpredictable beaming directions. Fixation and saccade characteristics were measured and compared between the two performances. It was expected that expert music sight readers would be most affected when the score was disrupted as they would be less capable of grouping notes into familiar, single units for efficient visual processing. 

Expert sight readers performed significantly faster than non-experts in both conditions: p<0.0001. Saccadic latency increased significantly for experts in the disrupted condition: p=0.0259, while non-experts increased slightly, not reaching significance. This suggests that the disruption of visual expectation was sufficient to cause a lengthening of saccade programming in the experts - an indication of interference with the chunking process. The resultant EM patterns for the non-experts demonstrated heightened non-expert behaviours: increased fixations of shorter duration. 

Author Biography

Patricia Arthur, School of Optometry and Vision Science University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Degrees in Optometry and Music.

PhD recently sumitted in eye movements and music sight reading expertise.

How to Cite
Arthur, P., Blom, D., & Khuu, S. (2016). Music sight-reading expertise, visually disrupted score and eye movements. Journal of Eye Movement Research, 9(7).