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Perception: Its Relation to Sight Reading

BY A. W. SEDGWICK.
 
That perception is one of the principal causes of defective sight reading is proved by the observations made by tests on different pupils of all grades. Slow sight readers are not always the poorest musicians, nor do the quick readers always prove the most musical; thus is brought about the psycho-physiological subject—perception—and its effect on the sense of sight.
 
Various estimates have been made through public school tests as to the percentage of normal eyes, and though it is hard to find a general average, still the percentage of perfect eyes is very small, showing that the majority of music pupils are handicapped by defective sight. Of course, all defective sight may be remedied by the use of glasses, but it is much harder for pupils who have to wear them to have good reading.
 
Perception does not mean defective eyes alone, but also relates to the memory and association of ideas; therefore it is not simply according to the objective character of so-called things to be seen; it is also very largely according to the mind's custom in perception. Accordingly, when the mind's habit is broken up for a time, its interpretation of the sensation becomes more complex, and its synthesis of them into recognized objects of sense may be much altered; so it is shown that perception covers a large range of causes and effects.
 
If the teacher watch carefully the numerous pupils coming within his observation, he will be able to make deductions from all kinds of hindrances attributed to poor sight reading: among them will be short, or near sightedness, far sight, weak eyes, poor concentration, bad memory associations, lack of knowledge of the exact proportions of the keyboard, and, last of all, improper position at the piano.
 
It might be well to take each failing as a subject and consider an alleviation for the cause.
 
First, abnormal sight, including near and far sightedness; also, eyes that are stigmatized should be noted at once by the teacher, and the pupil sent to an optician for the proper glasses. Near sight or far sight is not easily detected by the average person, yet, in either case, there is a tendency to bring the visual object close to the eyes, which will show a need of attention. Stigmatized eyes are very apt to become tired quickly, and no doubt are the ones which are chronically weak. An easy test is to take a dotted line on white paper, and hold it vertically at the greatest visual distance at which the line will be distinct; then turn horizontally, and if the line becomes blurred or solid it shows stigmatization.
 
An important factor in seeming good sight reading is to have the music desk arranged so that it may be pushed forward or back to meet the needs of the pupil; thus it is the grand piano has the advantage over the upright. Piano manufacturers should invent a rack that the same result may be obtained, for from one to three inches will make a great difference in the focal distance.
 
In normal sight, the object perceived is indeed made up of parts contiguous in space, but the extension of the object perceived is never a copy of the extension of that nerve expanse of the eye, by imitation of whose minute parts the object is presented to the mind.
 
For example: the nervous elements on whose imitation the perception of an extended visual object depends, lie in the retinas of the two eyes. Each retinal image is interrupted by the "blind spot."
 
The images have no value for perception, unless the results of the irritation are propagated to the brain. In the brain we know that the nervous elements whose irritation results in the perception of the extended visual object do not lie at all side by side after the exact manner of the parts of the object itself.
 
In the use of the eye there are produced various intermingling sensations of light and color tones, together with muscular sensations of accommodation of motion due to the action of the six mucles (sic), and sensations of tactile sort as the eye moves in its socket.
 
Space form is mental form; to impart it is a mental achievement which implies a native character to the mind.
 
The ink used in note printing either helps or distracts vision; a good illustration is to try to read music sheets published by the different newspapers and printed in colored inks, the tax upon the eyes being severe in such cases; also, if the notes are printed jet-black, small and close together, such as in sixteenths, etc., they are very apt to become blurred or confused; with the printing may be considered the lighting of our music rooms.
 
Sometimes rooms too well lighted bring the notes to too sharp a focus, and it will be found that curtains drawn enough to give a more mellow light will relieve the strain on the sight.
 
A small item, but one which teachers have no doubt noticed, is to keep the music constantly in a direct line from the eyes, and the pupil will play much more freely and easily.
 
Of concentration very little need be said; one can quickly tell when a child's thoughts are wandering, as there is a lack of attention; frequent mistakes are made which are absolutely inexcusable and good reading under such conditions is of course impossible.
 
Imperfect memory associations is one of the principal drawbacks to good results in sight reading. In learning an exercise the practice becomes the habit, and the association and relation which one note bears to another is fixed in the mind, and thus the piece is formed in the memory.
 
The advanced musician who has studied harmony acquires a quick grasp of key relations and modulation which tends to make him a quick reader; so, if the pianist fails to acquaint himself with harmony, he naturally will never be a fast sight reader.
 
An imperfect knowledge of the relative position of the keyboard should soon be eliminated; for the continual glancing from note to key makes a corresponding change of focal distance, and thus a continuity of the reading is destroyed. One of the easiest methods to get this knowledge is to have the pupil play a memorized piece in absolute darkness, and a continuation of this practice is necessary until a mental picture of the keyboard lies within the brain. Edward Baxter Perry has but to lay a hand on either end of the keyboard to find the exact center; then he has his bearings, and so it should be with all players.
 
A wrong position at the piano is very confusing, for to be too much to one side or to the other, too close to the keys or too far back, gets one out of latitude, so to speak; and though note reading is easy, they are misplaced when transferred from eye to finger.
 
Perception is an achievement due to extremely complex activities of the psychical subject—the mind —it involves the synthesis of a number of sense data according to the laws that are not deducible from the nature of the external objects, or of the physiological actions of the end organs and central organs of sense.

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