Analyses of gaze in music tasks : score reading and observations of instrumental performance

Date

2019-09-24

Authors

Hicken, Laura Kathryn

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Abstract

The optimal allocation of attention is a central feature of expert music teachers’ capacity to create meaningful change in student performances. Experts consistently identify the most important components of relevant behavior, and then direct learners’ attention in ways that bring about productive changes in thinking and motor control. In this dissertation, the eye movements of music teachers with varied levels of experience and expertise were analyzed in two different contexts: music score-reading, and observation of human motor behavior in music and nonmusic settings. In one experiment, faculty, graduate-, and undergraduate-level conductors read excerpts from one familiar and one unfamiliar instrumental music score while listening to a metronome set to the tempo of the musical pulse in each piece and again while listening to audio recordings of the music. Expert score reading was characterized by frequent musically relevant (informative) fixations that were timed consistently ahead of the ongoing music. Experts also fixated more lines the music texture than did nonexperts, perhaps an indication of their internal perception of the entirety of the excerpts they read. Less experienced participants fixated many more irrelevant targets and often fixated behind the ongoing music in time. Less experienced participants also tended to follow individual lines in the score, especially in the unfamiliar excerpt, and this narrow visual focus may be an indication of limitations in their ability to hear or imagine all components of the music simultaneously. In a second experiment, artist-faculty, graduate-, and undergraduate-level flute players observed six video recordings of individual performers playing flute, clarinet, and saxophone, and three recordings of individuals juggling, batting a baseball, and dancing ballet. Experts’ mean fixation durations were substantially longer during the flute, clarinet, and saxophone videos than were the nonexperts’. Experts also devoted more fixation time to the embouchure in the music videos, perhaps noting the dynamics of the embouchure over time. Nonexperts also fixated the embouchures, but looked at other targets as well; their fixations tended to be shorter than the experts’. The results of these two studies reveal expert music teachers’ clarity and intentionality in directing attention to the most informative aspects of their environment, and demonstrate how fixation duration varies in relation to the task at hand. In the case of music score reading (i.e., viewing static images), experts tended to fixate for shorter durations than did nonexperts, and the scan paths of experts indicated attention to multiple voices in the music texture. In observations of human behavior, music performance behavior in particular, experts fixated for longer durations, focusing on the most important features of performers behavior as they developed over time.

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