Continued from last week
5. When should a music student start learning braille music?
As soon as a youngster is reading braille somewhat comfortably, I believe they can begin to read music braille. If they keep playing by ear, then the desire to learn to read music diminishes. And sadly, very often there is no one in the student’s school district to teach them. That is when parents need to be good advocates and make sure someone can be found to work with their child– even through the phone and the mail. Alternately, they need to encourage their child’s TVI (teacher of students with visual impairments) or the paraprofessionals working with the youngster to learn enough of the basic musical code to help get the child started.
6. What are some of the challenges a music student with visual impairment faces when using the braille transcription of the beginning method books? Do keyboard instrumentalists face any additional challenges when they have multiple lines of music that must be played simultaneously?
It is vital for the braille-reading student to use the braille transcription of the exact print book edition that a sighted teacher is using. There are good options available, so planning ahead to get the correct braille books is essential. You should also make sure to get a couple of “fun” books with other music to mix in with the learning concepts in a structured lesson book.
For keyboard students, it is very helpful to be a two-handed braille reader. You can memorize a phrase of the right hand reading with the left. Then you switch and read with the right as you play the left. That saves a good deal of time. Playing duets also motivates the students. If the student is an instrumentalist or vocalist, having accompaniments to play or sing with always enhances learning.
The question did not ask this, but the challenges for a braille-reading music teacher of sighted youngsters are more involved. I always marked up the print copies of the lesson books for my beginners. Whenever a new symbol was taught, I put a braille symbol next to it. In that way, a little one could not insist that it’s NOT in my book! You also need to have a good understanding of the print music symbols and structure so that you can teach them easily. I also had flash cards for many of the symbols and notes so that I could quickly give my students a visual quiz.
7. Do you have any other comments that you’d like to share with our readers?
I have a favorite college story. I was in a women’s treble clef ensemble. I brailled out my music ahead and had it memorized quickly. When it was concert performance time, all the other group members had their music in folders since they did not memorize their parts. Then the director told me I would need to hold a folder so that I would conform with the ensemble appearance. I was young and thought it utter nonsense, but did it for the next performance.
My private voice teacher came up to me after the performance, giving me a hug, and laughing. She said, “you looked so involved and as though you were enjoying everything. But you either need to give up this ridiculous folder routine or memorize when to turn the print pages. You steadfastly held that folder in position through each song, never once turning a page.” She and I spoke to the director and the folder went back in the storage cabinet.
Thank you Linn for sharing your valuable experience and insight about learning braille music with us.