Top of page

Unusual Paragraph Formats in Braille Music

Share this post:

In this month’s exploration of Bettye Krolick’s articles written for Musical Mainstream, we take a look at some uncommon variations on the paragraph format found in older braille music transcriptions.  Interestingly, one poorly named format called “sight method” was proposed to be used for sight-singing instruction and practice. As Mrs. Krolick notes, this format did not work as intended, and was rarely used after the early part of the 20th century. There is a list of examples of each of these uncommon formats from the NLS collection at the end of this post, if you’re curious to explore them.

Braille Music Reading Questions: Unusual Paragraph Formats
Musical Mainstream, March-April 1979
By Bettye Krolick

This column is the third in a series on braille music formats. The purpose of the series is to assist readers in identifying and reading music in many formats. Although music is no longer transcribed in some of these formats, all types of transcriptions continue to be available to braille readers. With knowledge of how the parts are arranged and the direction to read intervals, reading becomes much easier since, with few exceptions, individual music signs are the same within all formats. For convenience, I have grouped braille formats into three categories that I compare to themes: music in paragraphs, music in parallels, and music identified by marginal signs. Individual formats are variations to these themes.

When I first open a piece and find music in a series of indented paragraphs, I expect one of the common variations on music in paragraphs described in the January-February column. But occasionally I find a more unusual variation, such as one of the following.

Vertical Score

This format is used most frequently for hymns and chorales. The music generally has four-note chords throughout.

In choral music, the four parts are combined and written as chords that usually begin with the bass note followed by interval signs to represent the higher voices. An interval reads down only if it is preceded by dot 4. This score arrangement is more useful to a choral conductor than to an individual singer.

In keyboard music, pedal, left hand, and right hand parts are written in chords that usually begin with the bass note and read up.  In the first measure, pedal and hand signs may indicate which notes belong in the respective parts. A dot 4 within a chord indicates that the intervals following should be played by the right hand.

In both choral and keyboard music, unisons are indicated by dots 1-2-3. Every part is accounted for with an interval or unison sign, except where a unison continues for more than four notes. In that case, the letter u is found, indicating that the unison continues until interval signs reappear. In some pieces in-accords indicate moving voices; in others, dot 6 indicates one moving voice and dots 5-6 indicate two moving voices. Voices move to the intervals following these signs.

Sight Method

This vocal music format was devised as a means of putting text and melody as close together as possible; its purpose was to facilitate sign singing. Apparently the approach did not prove practical for, to my knowledge, the method has not been used since the early part of the [20th] century.

A single syllable, word, or very short group of words alternates with one or more notes throughout each paragraph. A space indicates a change from literary to music braille and vice versa. The difficulty I have in reading this music is that octave signs do not precede notes unless required by a skip in the melody. Therefore, dots 1-2-4 can be read as the word from or the note E. As a solution to this problem, hyphens sometimes precede each un-capitalized word. Hyphens also link words if more than one comes between music signs. Music in this format is intriguing and challenging, rather than easy to sight read. The music is quite readable though, when the system is understood.

If you’re interested in exploring some of these uncommon braille formats, please consider borrowing the following books or downloading them from BARD when possible:

Vertical Score
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent by Gustav Holst (BRM32965)
Swing Low Sweet Chariot (BRM05666)
All People That on Earth Do Dwell  by Thomas Tallis (BRM05664)
“A Regular Royal Queen” from The Gondoliers by Arthur Sullivan (BRM01651)

Sight Method
“The Bells of St. Mary’s” by Emmett Adams (BRM36300)
“Love’s Old Sweet Song” by James Molloy (BRM10147)
The Flying Flag  by Carrie Jacobs-Bond (BRM13279)
“In My Heart There Lives A Song” by Gena Branscombe (BRM20610)

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.