Over many years of piano teaching, I have been fascinated at the co-relation between a learner’s eye movement and reading music well. How learners actually look at the written music has a huge impact on how quickly they grasp the process of reading the notes well. How well their eyes take in information determines how competently the brain can tell their fingers what to do.
Looking for hazards
A big part of preparing a young driver for a driving test (in New Zealand at least) is teaching him or her to watch for hazards. They need to keep their eyes moving around to take in peripheral views of side streets, parked vehicles, etc. The testing officer actually puts a mirror up on his side of the car to specifically watch where the driver’s eyes are looking during the test. A young brain does not process risk assessment well. If they are taught how to watch for hazards, they are actually more likely to be aware of them. Of course a driver must keep his focus on the road and not be looking at his hands on the steering wheel.
Similarly, in learning to read music it is essential to have learners keep their eyes following the written notes, not their hands. Once the hands are in position they do not need to be watched. I feel I am sometimes like a testing officer watching learners’ eyes to see where they are following. Once I know they are actually processing the notes systematically with their eyes, I can then encourage them to be “looking for new hazards”, as it were. So they are learning to look ahead more to see what is coming up as well. They will develop the ability to look for other sign posts in the music quickly and know what to play. In time their eyes will actually be looking ahead on the page of music while their hands will be playing a bar or two behind.