Many reasons can be cited for resorting to motor behaviour science in psychology as a departure point for investigating piano technique. This study compares the merits of the motor and action systems approaches to motor control and learning in order to assess which approach could be most valuable in addressing problems of piano playing. The study commences with an investigation into the traditional motor systems perspective of motor control. Discussions are rather general and multi-faceted in order to enhance understanding of action theorists' criticisms of the motor view- an approach also necessitated by the lack of research involving piano playing. Three stages of human information-processing and the way they are influenced by interference are examined. In the final, i.e. response-programming stage, movements can only be launched in discrete bursts; this, however, does not influence fluency and continuity in piano playing, because a response can consist of many subsidiary movements controlled by a motor program. In the response-execution stage following information-processing, movements are organized with a powerful underlying temporal structure. Only one such structure can be sustained by the motor program at a time, explaining the difficulty of executing polyrhythms in piano playing. The generalized motor program concept can account for certain easily coordinated technical constructs in piano playing. Also, grounds exist for postulating that rhythm and timing in piano playing are regulated by an internal clock. Following discussions on the relative importance of three types of intrinsic feedback for piano playing and the pointing out of techniques for giving extrinsic feedback, Adams's closed-loop theory and Schmidt's schema theories for motor learning under the motor systems approach are critically examined. Methods are described for applying schema theory concepts to musical instrument practice. Motor memory, apparently, is not well understood. Action theorists regard the motor systems application of the computer metaphor to human motor behaviour and the motor programming notion as incorrect. The concept of functionally-defined actions consisting of postures and movements, which in themselves are actions, is presented. The ecological view, based on Gibson, that human information-pickup from the environment is direct, without elaborate central processing, is discussed. Apparent common denominators between two prominent "methods" for piano playing and action systems theory are pointed out. Most aspects of action systems theory still need to be tested; much uncertainty is also prevalent on action learning. Under the motor systems approach, various scientifically-based premises exist for structuring piano practice, applying to inter alia massed vs. distributed practice, blocked vs. random practice, variability in practice, slow practising of rapid passages, and practising "in rhythms". If action theory is correct in that the motor programming notion is wrong, most of these premises could lose their scientifically-based claims to validity; so will schema theory. Unfortunately, action theory apparently cannot offer any scientifically verified alternatives yet. Much more research will be necessary for either choosing a particular theory or establishing a fusion between theories as a basis for piano-technical learning.
Dissertation (MMus)--University of Pretoria, 2012.