By: Carmen Willings
Music class is a preferred activity for many students who are blind and visually impaired, but it shouldn't be assumed that all students that are blind will be musicians or be uniquely gifted in this area. Like other areas of the curriculum, adaptations may be necessary to allow the student who is blind or visually impaired to fully participate.
Many aspects of the music program will be the same for students who are sighted and students who are blind or visually impaired. There are some strategies that will help students access the curriculum.
Students should be exposed to a variety of musical instruments from a young age. Show students the different ways that music can be produced. Listening to the differences in sounds will help the student develop auditory discrimination skills. Expose the student to a variety of types of music (ex. concerts, CD's, YouTube videos, etc.) to help develop music appreciation.
The Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) and the general education music teacher should collaborate, at a very minimum at the beginning of the school year, to review activities and lessons that will be taught throughout the year. If the student will need to read music, it may be necessary to provide enlarged music scores or instruct a student who is blind in the braille music code if the student is a braille reader. Even if the student is using the braille music code, they should be familiarized with print symbols that are used (using tactual graphics) so they can understand terms and descriptions used by their sighted peers. Also, it may be necessary to determine if there is a need for non-visual prompts during conducting.
To help a student practice their scales or other music at home, YouTube videos can be a great resource. Collaborate with the music instructor to ensure that the correct version of the song or the correct scale is available. Copy and send the link home to the family to allow the student to listen and practice at home.
Braille Music Code
Braille music is a form of the six dot braille code used in literary braille. The code includes all the information presented on a standard sheet of a music score including notes and their values, dynamic, expression marks, and fingering. Braille music score is presented in a linear form. In teaching a piano score, the score for the one hand is presented followed by the score for the other hand. Once the student has learned each score, they then play with both hands together. For this reason, it will take longer for a student to learn printed music scores than sighted students. Students must learn to memorize music in order to perform it as sight reading music is not possible with the braille music code as the student will need to read the score tactually instead of visually.
The music braille code is used internationally. Copies of the music code are available for purchase in hardcopy print and braille from the APH or can be downloaded from BANA.
BRL.org offers a very detailed braille music code manual.
Dancing Dots offers technology, educational resources and training to assist blind and low vision individuals to read, write, and record their music. Their products and services foster inclusion, literacy and independence for visually impaired musicians and audio producers engaged in educational, leisure, and professional pursuits.
How to Read Braille Music by Bettye Krolick provides the basics in clear terms with an emphasis on accessibility. The examples are short, fun and to the point. The book identifies music symbols frequently encountered in elementary to intermediate music with an index for identifying new symbols as they are found. View the pages for free on the internet archive!
Opus Technologies offers software, print, and braille materials for learning and using braille, especially braille music. Products include books and software for music braille, and popular braille sheet music.
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Due to the nationwide shortage of vision professionals, it can be challenging to locate personnel. Announce a job vacancy on the Job Exchange of Teaching Students with Visual Impairments, an online listing of jobs specific to the visual impairment field.