More than meets the eye

5 September 2019
Dr Katie Zhukov

UQ academic Dr Katie Zhukov together with Dr Sieu Khuu (UNSW) and Professor Gary McPherson (University of Melbourne) have published a research article in the Journal of Eye Movement Research. Their research investigated eye movement of woodwind players during music sight-reading.

The ability to sight-read traditional staff notation is an important skill for all classically trained musicians. Up until now, however, most research has focused on pianists, by comparing experts and novices. Eye movement studies are a niche area of sight-reading research, and research into eye movement of instruments other than piano is limited. Eye movement studies of woodwind sight-reading were conducted in the 1980s and early 2000s, highlighting the need for new research using modern equipment.

This pilot study examined the eye movements of six woodwind (three flute and three clarinet) undergraduates of intermediate-to-advanced skill level during sight-reading of scores of increased difficulty. The data was analysed in relation to expertise level and task difficulty, focusing on numbers of fixations and fixation durations. The results show that as music examples became more difficult the numbers of fixations increased and fixation durations decreased; more experienced players with better sight-reading skills required less time to process musical notation; and participants with better sight- reading skills utilised fewer fixations to acquire information visually.

The findings demonstrate that expertise is a factor in eye movement during woodwind sight-reading, with more experienced players and better sight-readers demonstrating different eye movement from less experienced and weaker sight-readers. Complexity of music task was also a factor that should be investigated further.

Future research needs to investigate larger samples of woodwind players of various levels of expertise: beginners, intermediate and advanced students. This will enable music educators to develop better teaching strategies that will target weaknesses in music reading at crucial skill development windows.


Zhukov, K., Khuu, S., & McPherson, G. (2019). Eye-movement efficiency and sight-reading expertise in woodwind players. Journal of Eye Movement Research12(2).