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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Candle Sight-Reading Exercise for Peripheral Vision, Perceptual Span and Court Vision

The Candle Sight-Reading Exercise for Peripheral Vision, Perceptual Span and Court Vision

I have designed this exercise to stimulate musicians awareness of their peripheral vision and perceptual span.
Often times when faced with difficut musical passages, musicians fall into what is called 'tunnel vision mode' *. They loose their awareness of the whole and just focus on the immediate problem. However, as you know, a difficult measure or two move very fast when one is sight-reading.
This exercise is supposed to force you back into 'seeing the whole' and returning to a more broad view of the score.
I discuss peripheral vision, visual span and percetual span in several articles posted on this blog.
You can access the 'search' tool on the top of the blog to find all the definitions you will need.
I also have written about how sports psycologists have been doing a lot of research on this area, more than musicians do.
Today, I will post a link where you can read about  COURT VISION and video game players.
While reading it, you will find information about their preocupation with vision as well as a familiar subject explored on this blog when I describe the exercises on EyeQ Vision Therapy Program: Decision Making
while reading. (You can also search 'decision making' on this blog for more info)

Other reading material:

* Tunnel Vision (Kalnienk Vision) is the loss of peripheral vision even though your central vision is fine.
I use the term tunnel vision here in a very loose way just to clarify this habit some musicians, athlets and video game players fall into.

Candle Sight-Reading Exercise

While practicing your sigh-reading, place two lit candles on each side of the keyboard (a grand piano is ideal for this). Make sure you are always aware of them (seeing them) while reading.
As you get better at this, try to add the awarennes of your hands moving below the score on the keyboard. This will amplify even more your vision field and it is somewhat easier since your hands are constantly moving.
Blow the candle :-)

Sight Reading Suggestion - Alexandre Dossin's edition of Tchaikovsky Album for the Young Ops 39

Schirmer Performance Editions ( Hal Leonard Piano Library) has published a wonderful edition of these beautiful works by Tchaikovsky. Pleasant to play and to read. In my opinion,  this edition is the best example of music printing  (typography)* one can get.  The page turns are well planned and the spacing between notes and staves are made so reading and counting is very easy. 

*Search typography on this blog

Monday, December 2, 2013

Subvocalization, Text Reading X Sight Reading Music - Brainstorming

 The purpose of this article is to initiate a discussion about subvocalization and music reading. I have been researching this subject and will share some of its basic aspects here. Unable to find any research about subvocalization and music, all the articles I read about subvocalization were related to text reading only. Therefore, I am curious to hear your ideas and suggestions on this subject.
  I have been asking people about subvocalization for a few years now. One friend, a very fast reader, told me he rarely subvocalizes and was quite surprised to know that some people did. A Chinese friend told that she only subvocalizes when reading English, but never subvocalizes when reading Chinese. By doing so, she reads  Chinese much faster than she reads English. This friend also happens to be a very impressive music sight reader, which makes me wonder whether 'chunking music patterns' and 'chunking Chinese patterns' for her are one of the same.
I subvocalize 100% of the words I read, which may account for my slow reading speed.  Right now, I have been trying not to suppress subvocalization entirely, but instead to minimize this habit by avoiding subvocalization of small words or small expressions such as 'there are' or 'about' without losing comprehension. I found that my reading speed has already increased, leading me to speculate whether or not I am doing something related to subvocalization when reading music. If so, what is the impact of it on my sight-reading speed?
Do musicians 'inner sing' (I took the liberty to rename it to better reflect this action when reading music)?
 "O, learn to read what silent love hath writ! To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit." (Shakespeare, Sonnet XXIII)

"Subvocalization, or silent speech, is defined as the internal speech made when reading a word, thus allowing the reader to imagine the sound of the word as it is read. This is a natural process when reading and helps to reduce cognitive load and it helps the mind to access meanings to enable it to comprehend and remember what is read. Although some people associate subvocalization with moving one's lips, the actual term refers primarily to the movement of muscles associated with speaking, not the literal moving of lips. Most subvocalization is undetectable (without the aid of machines) even by the person doing the subvocalizing." (

Language is processed in the left hemisphere of the brain while music is processed in the right hemisphere. However, music and language have many things in common. Both involve reading, comprehension, the auditory cortex, premotor cortex, and motor cortex to mention a few common traits.

"I learned to speed-read and read War and Peace in an afternoon. It's about Russia" (Woody Allen)

While reading about subvocalization I encountered many speed-reading courses based on poor research that advocate the increase of reading speed rate by total suppression of subvocalization. Such techniques vary, with suggestions that range from while reading, one should listening to music, count out loud or hum, use a pencil to push the tongue down in order to immobilize it, chew gum, tape one's mouth,  to holding one’s jaw. A few speed-reading courses however, seek only to minimize subvocalization. The reason behind this is that while subvocalizing we can only read at the speed we can speak. "The silent reading speed for 12th graders when reading for meaning is 250 words per minute, whereas the speed for oral reading is only 150 words per minute” (Carver, 1990).
"It may be impossible to totally eliminate Subvocalization because people learn to read by associating the sight of words with their spoken sounds. Sound associations for words are indelibly imprinted on the nervous system—even of deaf people, since they will have associated the word with the mechanism for causing the sound or a sign in a particular sign language. Subvocalizing is an inherent part of reading and understanding a word, and micro-muscle tests suggest that subvocalizing is impossible to eliminate. Attempting to stop subvocalizing is potentially harmful to comprehension, learning, and memory. At the more powerful reading rates (100-300 words per minute), subvocalizing can be used to improve comprehension." (

Subvocalization, as well as reading out loud, can improve memory and comprehension because the reader adds another sensory modality (auditory cortex) to the visual aspect of reading.

Here is a section from an article by Chris Parnin (College of Computing Georgia Institute of technology) I found very interesting:

           Subvocalization - Toward Hearing the Inner thoughts of Developers

A. Inner Speech
Inner speech is soundless mental speech that accompanies
and carries our inner thoughts. During silent reading of
text, we often perceive the sound of partial or complete
words we encounter but make no perceivable movement of
our lips or sound. However, silent reading is a relatively
recent human invention: reading during medieval periods
was primarily spoken aloud or in muffled tones [2]. One
of the first accounts of silent reading occurs in 397 A.D.
when Saint Augustine reports his astonishment of seeing
his teacher, Ambrose, reading to himself [3]:
Now, as he read, his eyes glanced over the pages
and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice
and tongue were silent.
But what has been understandably called silent is not
necessarily so. Even for modern readers, ever so slight
movement of the tongue or lips (imperceivable to the naked
eye) still occurs when we read or perform mental calcula-
tions. Movement of vocal muscles itself is not necessary for
thought, but merely the final recipient of motor and premotor
commands sent by the brain. Dodge (1896) demonstrated
this when he anesthetized his own lips and tongue and found
no effect on his own inner speech [4].
Inner speech is not a perfect mirror of speech: when
subjects read a novel aloud, the reading speed was 66%
slower than silent reading [5]. Often a reader may only
subvocalize the first part of the word.
Other late 19th and early 20th century researchers at-
tempted to understand motor movements associated with
cognition [6]. Some attempts used a glass balloon that en-
cased the tongue to detect movement, whereas others used an
inflated balloon to immobilize tongue movement. Ultimately,
movement of the mouth or tongue was found to be unreliable
as too much noise resulted from breathing. More success
was found with readings from electromyographs (EMG) that
recorded electricity from muscle nerves.
 The link for the whole article is:

The link for the slides that go with the article is:

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sight Reading Children's Songs 11-20 by Chick Corea

"Some people ask: “Are we going to some sort of children's concert? Some new compositions for children?” Whenever I can, I try to explain: this is children's music in about to the same extent as “Alice in the Wonderland” by Caroll Lewis is children's literature. Youngsters and adults enjoy reading them alike, don't they. They appreciate its simplicity, playfulness, sense for nonsense, but in particular – they return to the almost forgotten territory of a child's soul that they rediscover by way of words and paper." (
                        About Sight Reading Them

Sight reading Children's Songs 11-20 is a lot more challenging than sight reading 1-10. I would place these pieces at an intermediate conservatory (private studio) level. These compositions require technical and emotional maturity form the performer. They are a lesson in form and atmosphere changes.
Nos. 11-20 explore the keyboard even more than the prior ten pieces. They explore leger notes, chromaticism and rhythms become increasingly harder to read though once again, the metronome markings help students make sense of them. Obstinati bass is not as frequently as before.
No.14, in particular, would be a resourceful piece to learn how to read or 'see' common tones between chords. There is much more information from the composer such as pedal markings, dynamics and articulations.
No.18 is great for teaching how to take advantage of the accompaniment (which switches from one hand to the other) as a tool for counting, and how by minimizing counting one can match the melody into it.
Nos.17 and 19 once again betray melodic* expectations imposing a bigger challenge to sight readers so they cannot predict what is coming next.
No.20 (short notes- brisk and light) is a fast and playful piece with hard accents and provocative rhythms.

             YouTube Links
            Score and Corea's Poem


       * Expectations, Previous Experiences and Sight Reading

According to Lehman and Erichson (1996), our expectations are powerful. Expectations along with our previous knowledge are a big part of completing the score during sight reading. Therefore our previous knowledge of harmony, style and even music history, next to our experience (amount of sight reading, accompaniment and chamber music practice, ear training, and exposure to repertoire by listening or playing) are important tools for sight reading successfully. Research also shows that both text readers and music readers often perform automatic corrections in a suitable style and context when there are misprints without being aware of it based on expectations and experience alone.
According to my experience as a musician, modern and atonal music are harder to sight read because they betray our expectations. There are no familiar rhythmic, harmonic and melodic patterns.
In a similar study by Wolf, chess players experience the same problems when faced with random combinations on the chess board.
Visual closure exercises use expectations and previous experiences. See 

               Expectations also impact the audiences!

"The sadistic newness of The Rite's (Rite of Spring by Stravinsky) patterns, its stubborn refusal to conform to our learned expectations, is the dirty secret of its discontent. By disobeying every rule we think we know, Stravinsky forces us to confront the fact that we have expectations, that the mind anticipates certain types of order, followed by certain types of release. But in The Rite, these expectations are rendered useless. We do not know what note will come next. And this makes us angry." Proust is a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer


Thanks to my friend and former university classmate Marcos Kröning CorrĂȘa for sending me Children's Songs and unlocking my curiosity to playing and writing about them.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sight Reading Children's Songs by Chick Corea 1-10

Chick Corea started writing Children's Songs in 1971. They were recorded by him in 1983 and released in 1984 (lable EMC). Length 36:14
 His work has been compared to Bartok's Mikrokosmos because of its use of pentatonic scales, its variety of moods, cross-rhythms and increased challenges. I am not a fan of such comparisons but it is a helpful way to draw a picture of this composition to teachers who don't know it yet. I read an absurd parallel of these pieces with Ligeti's studies which made my hair raise. If I were to compare them with any work, it would be to Robert Starer's "At Home Alone." Starer wrote it around the same time, in 1980 and dedicated them to "...people who play the piano when they are at home alone. This does not mean that they cannot be played for others, in private or in public; of course they can. It only means that the images, views, sounds and thoughts will come, as they did to me, when you are at home alone." (Starer) I had a similar feeling when I read through Corea's songs. Same combination of modern, erudite and jazz languages. Corea's composition gave me this sensation that everyone would love to play Children's Songs at home alone...
About his work, Corea wrote:"The Children's Songs are the first collection I've written specifically for solo keyboard. I wrote the first song in 1971 to convey simplicity as beauty, as represented in the spirit of a child. Songs 1 through 15 were composed for Fender Rhodes and 16 through 20 for the acoustic piano, although any of the songs can be played on either instrument. Songs 17 through 20 were composed during a one month period in 1980, completing the series. The songs lend themselves nicely to various forms of expansion with orchestration." (Chick Corea)
 This composition provides the teachers with an opportunity to not only teach sight reading but to teach form as well.

                             About Sight Reading Them

 No. 1 
Time Signature 6/8.  My favorite time signature to practice sight reading because it always provides   the student with opportunities to look ahead.
Here Corea uses obstinati accompaniment and builds a dreamy atmosphere as if the child is still asleep and will gently be awaken through the set.
Both hands 'read' in contrary motion.

Pay attention to how well Corea writes the metronome markings helping the student to embody the sophisticated rhythms.
Hands 'read' in parallel motion.
Very comfortable and pianistic writing.
Once again, long notes give the student time to predict and prepare ahead.
The last 7 measures are helpful for visualizing the differences between 6ths and 5ths.

Time signature 6/8.
Two voices on the LH.
Obstinati accompaniment again making reading pleasant.
Wonderful example of conveying a message in just under a minute. Less is indeed More.
I love how these pieces don't finish. They just stop!

Time signature 6/8 and obstinati accompaniment. Here the obstinati bass counts for the student so concentration can be entirely focused on reading.
Good exercise in reading melodic and harmonic 6ths.

 No. 5 
Interesting rhythm alternating between hands.
The half notes at the beginning of each measure allows the student to prepare the next chord and   accidentals.
Helpful time signature and metronome marking instructions.
Rich articulation.

 Two sharps.
 First opportunity for both RH and LH to read the treble clef.
 Obstinati accompaniment.
 Time signature 3/4 but played "in one" thus giving you the same 6/8 feeling.
 Use of appogggiaturas.

 One sharp.
 Obstinati accompaniment.
 5ths on the RH.
 Easy to read.
 Chromatic but accidentals are always preceded by long notes so there is time to look ahead.

 LH and RH can read treble clef.
 Highly chromatic.
 Exercises four voices.
 Rich dynamic markings.
 Technically this is the most challenging so far with plenty of opportunities to scan the score due to  the frequent use of half notes.

 Two sharps.
 Rich articulation in both hands.
 Nice jazz flavor.

 LH rhythms help with counting.
 Very challenging because the melody is unpredictable and betray our expectations (I talk about this   in earlier posts). Previous experiences and expectations are very helpful for sight readers. Having no expectations is a challenge and one has to work much harder.

 Recommended reading:

Next post will describe  Children's Songs 11-20.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Visual Attention and Reading

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

EyeQ - Reading and Processing Information - How it helped my Sight-Reading

My optometrist suggested that I try the EyeQ (vision therapy) program since it has been some time since I finished working on PTSII. I decided to spend a couple of months working on it and stop the practice of sight-reading just to see if I would be able to transfer the therapy alone to my sight-reading. As you know, while I worked on PTSII, I practiced sight-reading everyday.
At first, I didn't think EyeQ was going to help me because it is much more focused on text reading. However, to my surprise, I again experienced incredible improvements even without my daily practice. The exercises are not half as interesting as the ones on PTSII, but I benefited a lot from the fast pace: it improved my reaction time and information processing, expanded my peripheral vision, and I benefited a lot from the exercises where the eyes have to follow objects horizontally, vertically, and diagonally.
EyeQ trains your eyes and brain to work together more effectively. According to other people who went through this program, improving eye-brain processing showed improvements not only on text reading, but sports, music, and typing abilities.
The program was developed by Dr. Akihiro Kowamura in the 80s. Today, it is widely used in Japanese schools. According to the manual, our reading abilities are impaired by narrow field of vision, sub-vocalization* and weak eye muscles. (EyeQ exercises six sets of eye muscles).
There are 12 exercise sessions (7 minutes long) and three levels according to your age. Each session starts and ends with a reading speed test. Typically, there are 3 stages: warm up exercises which are designed to strength the muscles and expand you visual field, super fast exercises, and finally the speed of the exercises drops to a moderate pace.

There is a Personal Training Center where you can design your own therapy which includes:
- Eye Exercises: horizontal, vertical, and diagonal saccades and expanding circles and squares to improve peripheral vision.
- Maze Games: your eyes have to solve mazes in order to activate the right brain and scanning abilities.
- Number Finding Games: improves scanning abilities. (After a lot of training, I was able to see the whole page at once. It is remarkable.)
- Two Point Training: it is supposed to be one of the most effective ways to improve reading. In this exercise, each line begins and ends with a square and you have to move your eyes as fast as possible from the left square to the right without reading the words. I would like to hear form a person who has succeeded in doing this exercise. To me, it remains impossible to achieve the goal unless you have bionic eyes.
- Comprehension Test: you can choose a short piece to read and be tested by answering 10 questions about the text.

Tracking Progress:
Your progress is automatically recorded in a chart.

A poster with a case report about my results after vision therapy is going to be presented by Dr Jeniffer Simonson at the 2011 COVD meeting this coming October.

*I confess I am still not able to break the sub-vocalization habits.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sight-Reading and Rhythm - Intermediate Repertoire

"I have benefited a lot from your suggestions of repertoire. Could you please suggest some SR material (intermediate)that explores diversity in rhythms?"

Upon receiving the e-mail above, the first thing that came to my mind was a rarely performed set of 10 pieces by Villa-Lobos: Francette et Pia. This set was written in 1929 for the piano class of the celebrated Marguerite Long. This suite mixes Brazilian and French songs and tells the story of a little Brazilian Indian boy (Pia)* and a French girl (Francette). I can't help imagining a recital alternating a boy and a girl performing these solo pieces and at the end, the two kids closing the recital with the final piece called "Francette and Pia Play Together Forever" (it is a duet - 4 hands).
Mixed with the Brazilian folk and indigenous melodies, you will recognize the French national anthem (Marseillaise - #8), Au Clair de la Lune (#1), Le Bon Roi Dogobert (#2) and Malbrouk S'en Va-t-en Guerre (#6).
As expected, Villa-Lobos writes challenging rhythms, but the repetitive patterns through the compositions make this set a good source for sight-reading (there are lots of opportunities for self-correction). Each piece is rich in tempo, meter and key signature changes.

1 - Pia Came to France.. (it opens with an Indian theme).
2 - Pia Saw Francette...
3 - Pia Spoke to Francette...
4 - Pia and Francette Play Together...
5 - Francette is Angry... (the edition I have translates this piece as Francette is sorry, however, the right translation is Francette is angry).
6 - Pia Went to War... (the composer writes "to make kids used to syncopation and exaggerated accents").
7 - Francette is Sad... (it opens with a Brazilian March followed by a French theme).
8 - Pia Returns Form the War...
9 - Francette is Happy... (the composer brings back a variation of previous themes).
10- Francette and Pia Play Together Forever... Four-Hand Duet

Villa-Lobos dedicated a lot of time writing pedagogical music exploring Brazilian children's folk tunes. My favorite set is the Cirandinhas (it is extraordinary!). There is also Guia Pratico (11 sets of 6 pieces in each), Carnaval das Criancas Brasileiras, The 3 Marias, Petizada, The Broken Little Music Box, and The Toy Wheel.

* Pia means a little boy of Indian descent. In Tupi-Guarany, it is an expression of affection like "dear boy". Today in Rio Grande do Sul (south Brazil), we call all boys "pia".
Guarany is an indigenous language in South America.