The way that music is usually written down presents problems if you're blind or partially sighted. Stave notation uses symbols which vary a lot in size. Reading notation often takes more concentration, and requires more fluency, than reading words. What's more, when you're playing music and holding an instrument, you may have less choice of where you position the music than if you are reading a book.
If you’ve tried photocopying and enlarging your music yourself, you've probably ended up with huge sheets of paper that fall off the music stand. You may also find that there are big spaces on the sheet where you can lose your place. Some of the signs can become too densely packed for comfort, for example the note heads on crotchets, or fingering numbers. In different pieces, symbols are placed in different places, so you miss them even though they are bigger.
MSN enlarges the music generally and makes a score more consistent, but it also alters the proportions involved. For example,
Your preferred sizes and layout can be set up and applied to all your pieces. Reading may still have its hassles but your music will appear in a consistent format and you can develop learning routines which may help.
The original piece of music must first be scanned, played or typed into a music notation package. Most computer packages for writing stave notation have lots of variables within them for altering the size, appearance and placing of each element in the score.
You can view the Musescore handbook and find technical assistance on using Musescore via the Musescore website.
General guidelines for producing MSN are published by UKAAF (UK Association for Accessible Formats) and may be found on page 59 of G003: Creating Clear Print and Large Print Documents.This document is available as a free download from the large print section of the UKAAF Guidance Download Page.
For those working directly with partially sighted musicians, there is more detailed advice about assessing requirements for MSN and producing these in G009: Modified Stave Notation: Meeting individual needs for large print music. This document is available as a free download from the large print section of the UKAAF Guidance Download Page.
If you have a music software package yourself, experiment with the engraving rules and see what changes you can make, both on screen and for printing. If you don't have the software, see if friends, family or a local society can help. The local society may have a link with a school or college with suitable software.
If you don't use a computer and there is no one locally who can help, the RNIB Transcription Centre Southwest may be able to modify your original print copy. They can send you a sample booklet of different layouts, formats and sizes. You can then discuss your particular requirements with the people who make the modifications. For further details, please contact RNIB Transcription Centre South West:
A collection of the most requested choral works are now available to loan in 16mm MSN from the RNIB National Library Service, as well as pieces for piano and other instruments. For further details, please contact our music librarian
For some partially sighted musicians, there are advantages to having the music on an electronic music stand.
For more information about electronic music stands for use with your MSN, please visit the SightRead website.
If you use MSN and wish to take an exam, contact the exam board prior to entering to discuss your requirement to obtain suitable sight reading format. Please visit our exams page for further details.
When you get your music in your preferred format in Modified Stave Notation you may still find it difficult to read and play at the same time. You may need to memorise the music before playing it. Visit our page on memorising music to read more and feel free to share your own experiences.
George has been an enthusiastic violinist all his adult life, playing second violin for over 25 years in the Solllihul Symphony Orchestra. When the damage affecting his eyes, due to age related macular degeneration, began to take its toll, and George found his music really hard to read, he started his researches into what could be done. The account below describes how George was assisted by RNIB and colleagues at his orchestra to continue playing in concerts using MSN.
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