The correlation between sight reading practice and working memory is fascinating. For anyone needing a very simplistic introduction to the term ‘working memory,’ it is simply the very short term memory we keep in our minds to help us with little tasks. It is essentially a human’s personal RAM. If someone asks you to remember a 7-digit number, you can, because of your working memory, but you’ll most likely have completely forgotten it within the hour.

So what does this have to do with sight reading? Well, it is pretty well documented that sight reading requires at least a little looking ahead, and the best sight readers probably look ahead considerably in the music, and are then completely prepared for the music when it comes time to play. However, all of the notes and musical information in between what is being read-ahead and what the fingers are playing must be held in working memory. I think you begin to see the correlation. I am not alone in drawing this conclusion, by a long shot.

sight reading practice - working memory

So if one can increase one’s working memory, one would improve one’s sight reading, correct? Seems likely, and this could possibly serve as an advanced sight reading practice technique. Up until recently, it was considered impossible to upgrade one’s working memory (sometimes termed ‘fluid intelligence’), but that everyone was simply given a certain amount to deal with.

This is no longer the case. Tests are starting to show improved working memory through certain games and exercises, and by consequence higher IQ testings by people who do these exercises. So we’re finally to the real question: would these same exercises improve a musician’s sight reading? (And should musicians play chess to improve sight reading?) Is this another weapon to put into our sight reading practice arsenal? 

I don’t know. I have fiddled around with this game for a while, and noticed improvements in other areas, but at the time wasn’t considering its possible impact on my sight reading. I am thinking about going back. Of course, I’ll keep you up to date with whatever I find and whatever I can track.

-Colin

 

sight reading practice

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