Sight-Reading and Visual Interval Regonition

Recognition of musical intervals is thought to be an important skill in the development of sight-reading. Musicians are thought to process music in pitch intervals, using a visual and spatial process of encoding. The recognition of the number of lines and spaces between notes as well as accidentals, is part of the visual and spatial process. Good sight-readers can recognise the difference in visual and spatial intervals when compared to poor sight-readers. A further process of auditory encoding of music is also though to occur in good sight-readers.


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This study found that interval recognition was influenced by visual shape and characteristics (i.e.: accidentals) and indicates that interval recognition is processed by its visual-spatial features. However, poor sight-readers were more affected by visual-spatial features than good sight-readers in terms of accuracy. This suggests that there is a further non-visual coding occurring in good-sight readers – auditory encoding. The skilled sight-readers were thought to posses an extra cognitive process. Skilled sight-readers have an ability to read ahead and process musical material through an auditory encoding mechanism. This mechanism allows for storage, retrieval, and analysis, in reference to the notes currently being performed and leads to increased accuracy and fluency.

If skilled sight-reading is shown to be based around the encoding of the visual and spatial features of music, teachers can adopt strategies to develop interval recognition to improve the sight-reading ability of their students.

Gillman, E., Underwood, G., & Morehen, J. (2002). Recognition of Visually Presented Musical Intervals. Psychology of Music, 30(1), 48-57.

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