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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.

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