Problems with reading stave notation

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.

Enlarging music

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.

How Modified Stave Notation can help

Four bars from the soprano chorus part of Handel's oratorio "Jeptha" in two versions. Version one is the download from the free score site ISMLP. This extract has been rewritten using Musescore 2. It comprises four bars in three four time, key signature one flat, rehearsal letter A, treble clef. Bar one: F crotchet in the lowest space, going up to C crotchet, D crotchet, bar line. Bar two: C dotted quaver, slurred to, B (flat) semiquaver, slurred to A crotchet, crotchet rest, barline. Bar three: up to C crotchet, up to F crotchet, down to B (flat) crotchet, barline. Bar four: A crotchet, two crotchet rests. Underneath the notes is the text as follows. Bar one: These la-bours. Bar two: past, . Bar three: How hap-py. Bar four: "we!" As well as general enlargement, Version 2 has thickened stave and barlines and slur; thickened note stems; enlarged duration dot. The text has the rehearsal mark in Arial bold in a square box and the text in Arial in a large font.

MSN enlarges the music generally and makes a score more consistent, but it also alters the proportions involved. For example,

  • The gaps between notes from left to right are not enlarged as much as the vertical gaps between the stave lines.
  • The font size for fingerings is increased much more than the size of note heads.
  • The thin lines for note tails and the stave can be made thicker, as can slurs.
  • Articulation marks can be made much bigger.
  • Text is usually written in Arial bold font.
  • Dynamics are consistently placed below or above the stave.
  • Any unusual signs or placing of symbols have a print note to help make sure you do not miss them.
  • The music is usually printed in landscape format rather than portrait, to minimize the number of times you need to track back to the beginning of the next line, and so that the top of the page is less far away from your hands, if you are a keyboard player.
  • The music can be printed on coloured paper and bound on whichever edge you wish. There will probably be more page turns than in the original but these are placed at a convenient place.
  • For ensemble scores, such as the vocal line for a choir, rehearsal numbers or letters are made as clear as possible, and in all longer pieces bar numbers are made larger and clearer.
  • You can request certain things to be made bolder, larger or placed somewhere specific.

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.

How to produce MSN

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.