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." (k12academics.com)
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." (k12academics.com)
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 . 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 :
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 .
Inner speech is not a perfect mirror of speech: when
subjects read a novel aloud, the reading speed was 66%
slower than silent reading . 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 . 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: http://www.cc.gatech.edu/~vector/papers/emg.pdf
The link for the slides that go with the article is: http://www.slideshare.net/chrisparnin/emg-web