Reading music in accessible formats

We can offer advice on producing and learning from music notation in accessible formats, including Modified Stave Notation (MSN), Talking Scores and braille music. We also have suggestions for learning to play music by ear or memorising music.

If you support or teach a blind musician, we can also offer help in producing music in accessible formats.

Modified Stave Notation

Modified Stave Notation is "A term given to describe music in large print. MSN enlarges the music generally and makes a score more consistent, but it also alters the proportions involved. The spacing of notes is adjusted and other features such as articulations and expression marks may be disproportionately enlarged." (p 59 and following, G003, UK Association for Accessible Formats, (UKAAF), 2012)

There is more information about MSN on Wikipedia.

MSN in practice

To read how MSN can work in practice, why not read about George’s experiences playing second violin in the Solihull Symphony Orchestra.

Guidelines for producing MSN

Guidelines for producing MSN are published by UKAAF - UK Association for Accessible Formats. They can be found on page 59 of G003 Creating Clear Print and Large Print Documents which can be downloaded from the UKAAF Guidance Download Page.

A more detailed document is also available for those working directly with partially sighted musicians:

Modified Stave Notation: Meeting individual needs for large print music: Guidance from UKAAF (2013) UK Association for Accessible Formats. Ref: G009

Braille music

Braille music was developed by Louis Braille, himself a talented musician. The code allows all standard signs used in print notation to be represented using one or more 6 dot cells.  In its basic form, pitches are determined by the top two rows of dots, with octave signs to distinguish between the same note at different pitches, whilst note lengths are shown by combinations of dots in the bottom row.  The code is capable of showing all kinds of music, from a simple melody to piano and organ music, full orchestral and choral scores as well as contemporary notation. Braille music is an international code meaning that scores produced in one country can be shared and read by musicians in other countries.  The code has undergone several revisions since Louis Braille's day, the most recent by Bettye Krollick in the 1997 New International Manual of Braille Music.

Getting started with braille music

We have written a short guide to getting started with braille music which is full of useful tips for the beginner as well as some ideas for instrumental and classroom teachers. It also contains a useful resources section with details of transcribers, software and online resources. It is mainly aimed at learners in the UK, but may be of some use for learners in other countries.

You can also download our

If you require print music to be transcribed into Braille, please download our

Our braille music section contains further information including:

  • Advice on buying and loaning braille music from RNIB;
  • Libraries and organisations who produce and loan Braille music

Talking Scores

A talking score is a spoken version of a stave notation score which often incorporates the music in sound, either produced electronically or played live. Talking scores may be of help for you if you struggle to read print notation or do not read braille music.
 

The following document gives more detail about the music subject area of UKAAF and its work with talking scores. It also includes an account from an experienced user of talking scores.

The following document offers advice for producers and users of Talking Scores. We hope to expand and revise this document based on user experience.

Please do get in touch if you are interested in helping us in our work with Talking Scores or if you wish to find out more.

Learning to play by ear

Learning to play by ear can be very rewarding and a great option if sight difficulties mean that you are struggling to read your music. However, if you are used to reading from music, it can be a challenge to develop the confidence and skills required.

Donate now

Right now we can only reach one in three of the people who need our help most. Please make a donation and help us support more blind and partially sighted people.

Donate now