Sight-reading of violinists: eye movements anticipate the musical flow

Wurtz, Pascal ; Mueri, René ; Wiesendanger, Mario

In: Experimental Brain Research, 2009, vol. 194, no. 3, p. 445-450

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    When sight-reading a piece of music the eyes constantly scan the score slightly ahead of music execution. This separation between reading and acting is commonly termed eye-hand span and can be expressed in two ways: as anticipation in notes or in time. Previous research, predominantly in piano players, found skill-dependent differences of eye-hand span. To date no study has explored visual anticipation in violinists. The present study investigated how structural properties of a piece of music affect the eye-hand span in a group of violinists. To this end eye movements and bow reversals were recorded synchronously while musicians sight-read a piece of music. The results suggest that structural differences of the score are reflected in the eye-hand span in a way similar to skill level. Specifically, the piece with higher complexity was associated with lower anticipation in notes, longer fixation duration and a tendency for more regressive fixations. Anticipation in time, however, remained the same (~1s) independently of the score played but was correlated with playing tempo. We conclude that the eye-hand span is not only influenced by the experience of the musician, but also by the structure of the score to be played