Music has powerful effects on human beings, including lifting moods, reducing anxiety, improving memory and connecting with others. Children who are blind or visually impaired currently face barriers in accessing music as they participate in music activities such as choir or band. Joey, a middle school student who is learning piano, saxophone and clarinet, accesses print music primarily by listening to others play and memorizing what he has heard. Anna, a college bound senior heading to Nashville, needs skills to access the curriculum as a music major. New tools and strategies are needed to teach these students how to access music independently as well as those students who may not have explored music due to inaccessibility.
There are wonderful technological and educational resources available to our students through Dancing Dots, a company founded by professional trumpeter/ composer/programmer, Bill McAnn, who is blind. Using the GoodFeel software, students will be able to read and write music. They will convert print music scores into Braille, print a Braille copy to bring to rehearsal, read a music score by listening to descriptions (key, time signature, note value, accents, lyrics, etc), navigate to any location in the music using keyboard commands, compose their own music and print Braille or print versions. Imagine a band director or music professor sending music files to a student who translates them to Braille and arrives at rehearsal confident and prepared!
In addition to learning the GoodFeel software, students are also participating in coursework learning music fundamentals, music reading, sight singing, theory, and ear training using the Braille Music Code. During the first course, Anna was able to read basic Music Braille with her left hand and play the piano with her right hand while singing. She is very interested in songwriting as a career, and was able to get a glimpse of GoodFeel’s composing capabilities by entering a melody into her keyboard that translated into a Braille musical score.
Music Braille differs from the literary Braille that students learn in school. Lighthouse of Collier has identified a need to provide Music Braille instruction and give students equal access to music as their sighted peers. The goal of Lighthouse of Collier is to expand our music program to provide individual student software licenses, and obtain materials such as musical keyboards, electronic Braille displays (for reading Braille music), scanners, and Braille music courses. We will also be exploring software that has special magnification and scrolling features to enable students with low vision (non-Braille users) to read and write music notation with larger notes and different contrast and color options.
Music brings joy, its melodies replace the brain’s negative chatter, it allows for creative self-expression, and enhances our social connectedness – all so important, especially during these times.