I’m a fast typist, but Greta types much faster than me. I’ve taken a few years of piano lessons, but Greta could read music before she could read, and she still plays oboe and English horn with the Davidson College Symphony Orchestra. Could her 30+ years of musical training be the reason she’s a faster typist?
This week’s Casual Fridays study was inspired by my observations about my personal typing quirks, but it quickly morphed into a new justification for music lessons. Commenter (and perception of music blogger) Scott Spiegelberg felt his musical training might have had something to do with his typing ability, so I added a question about musical training to the study.
541 participants took a typing test and then responded to 12 questions about their typing quirks (and musical training). As you might guess from the headline, musical training was indeed related to typing speed. Those with no musical training averaged 57 words per minute — competent, but not great. However, respondents who said they’d had 5 or more years of musical training averaged over 65 words per minute. Impressive!
But does the type of musical instrument matter? Take a look at this:
People trained on piano, or on any instrument with keys (clarinet, flute, and Greta’s oboe and English horn) typed significantly faster than those with no music training. Typing for string players, however, wasn’t significantly different from those with no training.
We can’t say for sure that the music training caused better typing — perhaps people who choose to play instruments with keys are just naturally predisposed to be better typists, but I’ve got a hunch that the training itself is what helps.
But an even stronger link to fast typing can be found in another part of the data. If you don’t look at the keyboard, you’re going to be a faster typist. Take a look at these results:
Each step on this graph represents a statistically significant improvement in typing ability. Those who never look at the keys are nearly twice as fast as those who always look at the keys. And, in fact, not looking at the keyboard is significantly better than music training at predicting typing ability. Best of all: Play piano and never look at the computer keyboard. The 49 respondents who did this averaged an amazing 76.14 words per minute.
But what about those typing quirks? Is it possible to have less-than-perfect typing form and still type fast? Let’s take a look at a few common quirks:
This graph compares typing speed with the fingers our respondents use to type a few keys. The arrow on each graph indicates the “correct” finger taught in typing classes. As you can see, using the proper finger to type “P” or “X” corresponds to faster typing speeds, but respondents using the “incorrect” ring finger to type backspace actually type a bit faster (though not significantly faster) than those using the correct pinky finger. The quirk of using the wrong finger in this case doesn’t slow you down. In fact, among respondents who used the correct finger to type both “P” and “X,” those who used the ring finger for backspace were actually significantly faster than those who used the pinky for backspace — 69 versus 63 WPM. This typing quirk is associated with faster typing!
Another quirk I’ve noticed in my own typing is that I always use the same thumb to type “space” (oddly, my right thumb, even though I’m left-handed). I seem to recall being taught to alternate thumbs as the situation required (I’m not certain about this, though). What do our survey results suggest?
Faster typists are the ones who pick a thumb and stick with it. The particular thumb doesn’t matter, but alternating thumbs or using both together is associated with significantly slower typing.
So, if you want to improve your typing, what’s the best way to do it? We asked our respondents how they learned to type, and here’s how the various methods compare to actual reported typing speed:
All these results are significantly different; learning on a computer at school is associated with the best typing speeds, though I wonder if the old-fashioned typewriter method suffers because typists slow down with age. Learning on your own with commercial typing software, however, appears to be an attractive alternative to the classroom.
Finally, I couldn’t resist making one last observation. It’s always seemed to me that people who use the numeric keypad to type numbers are slow typists. They’ll be typing along, they need to type a three-digit number, and they’ll painstakingly remove their hands from the keyboard and shift over to the keypad for entry. Isn’t that a waste of time? Now I’ve got some results to back up my observation:
You see! The fastest typists use the numbers on the keyboard, not the keypad. Whether you’re a touch typist or you look at the numbers, using the keyboard is faster.