Dotted Notes – Part 1: Introduction

Braille page side view.

Welcome to the first installment of the Dotted Notes series, a course developed to be fully accessible for anyone interested in learning to read braille music notation, and designed to be used in conjunction with other music theory and instrument courses to provide a fully accessible learning experience. Whether you are a blind musician interested in expanding your repertoire by use of braille sheet music, a parent of a blind or visually impaired student interested in helping your child learn, an instructor to a blind or visually impaired student interested in helping your student have the same access to course material as a sighted student, or simply just interested in how braille music works, read on, because there’s something here for you!


About the Course


As a visually impaired college student majoring in music, braille music has played a major role in my education. I entered college with over a decade of prior experience under my belt, however only about the last year of that was done with the assistance of sheet music. Noticing my love for music, I had several of my resource teachers from elementary to high school give me resources designed to self-teach braille music, but I was never able to make much sense of it all. This was in part because I didn’t receive my first experiences with individual lessons until I was around sixteen years old, so a lot of the theory involved in being able to teach yourself music just went over my head. I even managed to get my hands on some braille transcriptions of print piano courses, but those transcriptions aren’t much help when you can’t figure out the symbols used to braille the theory you are trying to learn.


Finally, as I neared my transition to college, I was fortunate enough to work under a private piano instructor who knew absolutely nothing about braille music, but (despite the cliché) was able to help me overcome what I’d struggled to learn for so long once we both put our minds to it. Armed with a stack of reference books and identical print and braille copies of that metaphorical first step in every young piano student’s journey, Bach’s Minuet in G Major, we very slowly ground our way symbol by symbol through the piece. That first piece took me three months to learn. Quite a few lessons throughout that time consisted of nothing but a single measure of the music, and a ton of patience on the part of my instructor as I would flip back and forth between my score and one of the reference books and all the questions that ensued.


That first piece was the hardest, but it was the push I needed to get me to the point where, as a college student, I was able to read my way through Bach fugues, Chopin nocturnes, and sight-read through some of the major choral works, and later as an instructor myself, be able to read along with what my sighted students were studying. In developing this course, I hope to share what I learned to save others the struggle of slowly working through a first piece with those often difficult to find reference books, as well as spread awareness of braille music and push for increased braille music literacy. Having privately taught braille music to blind and visually impaired students, I have personal experience seeing how quickly it can be learned when taught properly, so welcome aboard and enjoy the ride!


Preparations: For Braille Readers


Throughout the course, examples will be provided to demonstrate what a particular chapter focuses on. A portion of this will be able to be done directly on the page on which it is discussed, however to get the most out of the course you will need access to a braille display and a means to read plain braille (brf) files, which will be provided as downloads that will contain the majority of the examples.


Preparations: For Print Readers


If you are completely new to braille, no need to worry! Due to how the braille music system operates, you need minimal experience with what is refered to as literary braille, the symbols used for everyday letters and numbers. These usually only appear in a score in the headings (title, composer, and other info), in articulation markings, and of course in the lyrics in vocal scores. If you are completely new to braille, study the braille basics guide which you can download at the end of this article, and that will bring you up to speed on letters and numbers.


Examples for the material covered in the course will be downloadable as PDFs, and will contain printed representations of the braille symbols and both braille and print versions of scores when applicable. All you will need is a means to read a PDF document, and a way to write braille if you wish to practice the material on your own work.


Final Thoughts


My hope in developing this course is to demystify braille music, and push for increased literacy and awareness of it. This course will also serve as the foundation for future material, and I hope to eventually be able to provide fully accessible lesson series on everything from theory to individual instruments. Whether you are an experienced musician hoping to broaden your repertoire through the use of braille scores, someone completely new to music interested in having access to the same materials a sighted student would have, a music teacher looking for resources to help a visually impaired student, or just a sighted musician curious about how some of your visually impaired counterparts work, I hope you’ll find something here for you!


Support the Series


This course is provided free of charge, and is supported by contributions from readers. If you have benefited from this course and would like to give back to support future content for the course and others like it, please consider making a contribution in any amount by buying me a coffee through Ko-fi.





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