Top of page

Braille Music Formats: Advice from Bettye Krolick

Share this post:

This blog post is an excerpt of an article written by Bettye Krolick for the Music Section’s quarterly magazine, Musical Mainstream. The magazine is still produced by the NLS Music Section and is available to NLS patrons in braille, large print, and audio formats.

Bettye Krolick was a musician, author, educator, and braille music transcriber. She authored two of the most widely used books in our collection: “How to Read Braille Music: An Introduction” and “Dictionary of Braille Music Signs.” Additionally, she served as the president of the National Braille Association (NBA), and wrote about braille music and music education for students who are blind.

The article excerpted below describes the differences between some formats of braille music for keyboard instruments. Since the development and standardization of braille music by Louis Braille between 1829 and 1835, the code has been updated a number of times, with the last update occurring in 2015. However, even with the standardization of the code, braille music transcribers around the world have arranged this code in different ways over the years. Today, bar over bar format is the most common format used by braille music transcribers for keyboard music, and is the standard that the NLS Music Section uses for all of its new transcriptions of keyboard music.

A complete version of this article in braille, including braille music examples, can be found here.

An Excerpt from “Braille Music Reading Questions”
Musical Mainstream, January-February 1977
By Bettye Krolick

In the full-page example following this column, I have written the same music in three different formats. They present the Paragraph, Bar-over-Bar, and Bar-by-Bar types of styles. There will be variations within each style as transcribed by different presses in different decades, but these variations will not be as drastic as the differences between styles or formats. Actual comparison of the same music in the three styles should be more helpful than discourse. I suggest that you stop reading at this point, examine the examples carefully, and then return for whatever explanations you need.

Paragraph Style

The entire eight bars of the right hand (M.D.) part is followed by the same eight bars of the left hand (M.G.) part. Intervals of the right hand read downward in this example as in much paragraph style music. Intervals read up in the left hand part and also in the right hand part of some paragraph style music, especially that transcribed in England. The number at the beginning is a serial section number. The next right hand paragraph will be labeled “2.”

Bar by Bar Style

Intervals read up in both parts. Each measure is complete and is separated by the bar line (dots 1-2-3) from the next measure. As shown in the first measure, the left hand part is given first followed by the right hand part, with a space between the two. This pattern continues for each measure although the hand signs are not repeated unless a change of pattern occurs. The repeat sign following the first bar line means that the left hand part of measure two is the same as the left hand part of measure one. The fourth octave D after the space is the first note of the right hand part for measure two. When a repeat applies to both hands, it is shown once. The sign

means “count back four measures and play the first three of them” with both hands. The marginal measure numbers refer to the first complete measure on each line. Numbering systems vary, and this is an interesting variation I have found in several types of music.

Music example in Paragraph style
Music example in Paragraph style
Music example in bar by bar style
Music example in bar by bar style
Music example in bar over bar style
Music example in bar over bar style

Variations on these and other formats can be challenging, exasperating, and intriguing. The realization that the basic symbols remain the same should help you unravel many mysteries.

If you are interested in reading more by Bettye Krolick, here are some books by her in our collection:

How to Read Braille Music: An Introduction (BRM29811)
Dictionary of Braille Music Signs, revised edition (BRM36087)

Large Print
How to Read Braille Music (LPM00638)
Dictionary of Braille Music Signs (LPM00428)

We would love to hear comments from you on this article! The most expeditious way to get in touch with us is via email ([email protected]) or phone (1-800-424-8567, ext. 2).

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.