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Braille Music Transcribers

The Music Section often touts the large number of braille music scores in its collection (20,000+).  Without braille music transcribers, there would be no such scores. 

Some of you may know or know about music transcribers and may even have made use of their skills.  You should also know that these transcribers transcribe for everyone — from individuals, to schools, to colleges and universities, to the NLS Music Section.  And you should further know that they are invaluable.

They also transcribe a wildly diverse range of music, because music itself is wildly diverse.   We don’t know all the pieces and types of music that individual transcribers are working on, but here in the Music Section, for example, we are currently having transcribed some of the organ works of Jan Bender, a Dutch-born 20th century composer, not represented in our collection.  Then there is the medium high voice version of 24 Italian Songs and Arias, a variety of songs from Broadway shows such as Chicago and Cabaret, not to mention the monster collection of modern music for many different instruments in the form of the third volume of the Norton Anthology of Western Music. We’ll be writing about that shortly in another post.

What is the transcriber’s process?  He or she takes a piece of ink print sheet music (with its standard, graphical notation) and transcribes or translates it into the linear format of braille music notation.  This requires the transcriber to know standard print music notation very well, and then, also know the braille music code.  The current music braille code is from 1997.  A new revision is expected in the fall of 2015.

In the American context, the Music Section uses only certified braille music transcribers.  The certification process is two-part.  First, the would-be transcriber must take and pass a course on literary braille transcription.  This process and its costs are supported by the Library of Congress, free to any resident of the U.S.  Once the literary course has been successfully passed, one may begin the braille music transcription course.  The course is based on a two-volume work provided by the Library.  Its first chapters are available and accessible at http://www.loc.gov/nls/music/degarmo-ch01-06.pdf.  The student may work at his or her own pace. There is always room and need for more transcribers.


TP of De Garmo

Title Page of Print Edition of Introduction to Braille Music Transcription



If you need a new transcription, any individual music student or musician may turn to one of the certified transcribers in order to request a transcription.  The Music Section has a list of current transcribers that is available on the web [http://www.loc.gov/nls/music/circular4.html ] or a paper copy, print or braille, may be ordered from the Music Section (nlsm@loc.gov or 800-424-8567, option 2).

Although there is a cost for transcription, the amount is arranged in negotiation with the transcriber and varies with each transcriber, depending also on the type and amount of work involved.

There are approximately 50 certified transcribers in the U.S. They are scattered from West to East, North to South.  Some of them were trained in and practice in programs based in prisons.  Some of the finest quality transcriptions originate from current or former members of these programs.

In short, it is a great and invaluable service that is provided by these transcribers. These words can hardly do them justice, but we wanted to try, while publicly acknowledging their work.

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