Cognitive Chunking to Enhance Sight-Reading

The ability to group pieces of information into chunks is essential for cognitive processing. Pattern recognition and motor skills are crucial for sight-reading. Sight reading includes musical awareness, visual perception, reading comprehension, audition, musical experiences, motor co-ordination and problem-solving skills.

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The capacity of the human working memory is about seven units. Chunking this information into larger groups is an effective tool for cognitive processing. The larger groups allow for more meaningful patterns of information to emerge and facilitate the process of reading, comprehension and memorisation. Expert sight-readers have the ability to chunk information into larger units consisting of familiar chords and rhythmic patterns.

For beginner students, pitch and rhythm are the most common sight-reading errors. The chunking of rhythm and pitch material have an improvement effect on the sight-reading ability of beginners. This consists of rehearsing rhythm and pitch patterns in the form of drills. 

The mapping of visual cues of musical patterns to specific motor skills is also an important aspect of sight-reading ability. Presenting rhythm and pitch chunks allows for the development of these motor skills, as well as the development of the cognitive process of chunking the visual clues into meaningful sets of musical information. The technique of breaking down musical examples into rhythmic and pitch exercises to target specific rhythms and pitch patterns, is a useful strategy for the development of sight-reading skills in beginner students. 

Pike, P. D., & Carter, R. (2010). Employing cognitive chunking techniques to enhance sight-reading performance of undergraduate group-piano students. International Journal of Music Education, 28(3), 231-246

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