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Thinking About Learning Braille Music? Part I

I always get excited when a patron requests a book on reading braille music because it means one more patron might be able to take advantage of our wonderful braille music collection. In my opinion, braille music readers have an edge over non-readers since they are able to explore and interpret the score themselves. In addition to using their aural skills to learn, braille music readers can delve into the score to analyze each marking and try to figure out what the composer intended. This is a particularly relevant skill in classical music, one that helps musicians put a personal touch on an existing piece, similar to what actors and storytellers do.

Box 1, Folder 5, Tuesday Morning Musical Club Records, 1898-2014 (48/3/8)

Polly Pettinga (cello), Bettye Krolick (violin), and Mary Kelly (viola), at the home of Mrs. Russell Sullivan, 18 April, 1963.  Tuesday Morning Musical Club Records, 1898-2014. The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Whether you are a musician with a visual impairment who wants to start using braille scores or a sighted teacher who has been asked to teach a student who is blind, we have great resources to help you learn braille music.

Two of the most widely referenced books about reading braille music in our collection are How to Read Braille Music: An Introduction by Bettye Krolick and An Introduction to Music for the Blind Student by Richard Taesch. The latter is a series: Part I and II, each part consisting of lessons, exercises and supplemental exercises. Both books are available in a large print version for the sighted teacher or student and a braille version for the student who is blind. In this blog, I will describe the contents of both books so that you can learn more about them. (For a comprehensive list of materials on reading braille music, please refer to the section titled Publications on Reading Braille Music on the Music Instructional Materials and Scores page on the NLS website.)

Bettye Krolick, as many who work with braille music know, was the compiler of the New International Manual of Braille Music Notation, published in 1996 and the author of the Dictionary of Braille Music Signs. She served as the president of the National Braille Association and in addition to being a leading  braille music transcriber who standardized music braille internationally, she worked tirelessly to educate those who taught music to students who are blind. Our braille music specialist Gilbert Busch remembers receiving a message from Bettye at his former job, suggesting improvements for their music lead sheets to make them more user-friendly.

Bettye Krolick with John Hanson, former head of the Music Section at NLS

Krolick’s book, How to Read Braille Music: An Introduction teaches basic music symbols such as the notes, rhythm, octave signs (the clef signs are not used in braille music), and rhythm in the first chapter. In the following chapters, she presents the signs that are specific to vocal and instrumental music: wind instruments (with a brief section on percussion), strings, and keyboard instruments.  The student should read all the chapters because some chapters contain information that is applicable to all instruments.

The last chapter provides information on where to get braille music and lists additional books students can use to learn braille music. Considering that this is an introductory book with a limited number of examples and no exercises, students are well advised to use supplementary books to reinforce their learning. The two books Krolick suggests are:

  • Primer of Braille Music by Edward Jenkins (BRM29158 & LPM00608)
  • They Shall Have Music: A Manual for the Instruction of Visually Handicapped by Dorothy Dykema (BRM29278)

This section is followed by an index of musical symbols, sort of a mini music dictionary of symbols encountered in the beginning and intermediate level. For someone like myself who has trouble remembering the braille symbols, this section is very useful.

Continued next week.

From Loose Change to Reconciliation in Beethoven Quartets

Often the blogs we write have something to do with the calendar: a historic event, date of birth or death, etc. but this blog concerns a favorite topic of mine. Going through all the Robert Greenberg courses that the Music Section offers, I found one called “The String Quartets of Beethoven.” So I got the […]

It’s Summertime!

Now that the hockey season is officially over, there is only one major sport that is capturing the nation’s attention: baseball! I find that baseball is synonymous with summer, as it’s been played in the summer months for generations. I’m sure I’m not alone recalling warm summer evenings spent gathered around the radio listening to […]

Vacation Listening, and Much More

On May 13, I was baking cookies and listening to the Met Broadcast of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. One of the announcers explained that this production would take place not in the 18th century, but in 1911, the year it was composed (also the year that Mahler died, I thought to myself). And that’s when it […]

An American Classic: Irving Berlin

We’ve discussed show-tunes, Broadway, and the Great American Songbook on the blog before, but we have yet to talk about perhaps one of the most influential composers of American standards: Irving Berlin, who happens to celebrate his 129th birthday today. Along with penning a few Broadway scores, including the score for Annie Get Your Gun, […]

Over the Rainbow, and More: Part 2

This is a continuation of my survey of songs recently added to the LOC’s National Recording Registry, indicating where they may be found in the NLS music collection. (Note that Over the Rainbow was covered in last week’s blog.) Puttin’ on the Ritz Harry Richmond’s 1929 recording of this Irving Berlin song was added to […]

Over the Rainbow, and More: Part 1

Every year, 25 recordings are added to the LOC’s National Recording registry, recordings that are considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” The purpose of this blog is not to list all 25 of them, but to highlight those where the song is part of the NLS Music collection. Most of these items may be downloaded […]

Ganne, Alford, Holst, and Others: Music of World War I

This April marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I. The Library of Congress is commemorating that significant anniversary with exhibits, publications, and other various activities. As part of this commemoration, the NLS Music Section was asked to provide braille music for blind visitors. While going through the collection, we […]

An Interview with Stephanie Pieck, Part 1

I am excited to share my interview with Stephanie Pieck, a pianist, teacher, and an NLS patron. Stephanie received her bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Ithaca College and maintains a private music studio in New York. Q) How old were you when you started playing the piano? What motivated you to start playing? A) […]

A Miniaturist and More

For many music lovers, the end of January brings to mind two birthdays: Mozart’s on the 27th, and Schubert’s on the 31st. Could a composer born between these two giants, end up being overlooked? Perhaps. It was while preparing my blog about the Viking Opera Guide (BRM29585) that I learned that the 29th of January […]