Scanning and sight-reading
Scanning for a particular sign is much harder in braille music as it has less of a graphical representation than in print. In braille music, all the signs must appear from left to right and one at a time. This is different from stave notation, where notes are displayed vertically in chords, and other signs like phrase markings may appear above or below them.
For example, around a particular note there may be:
- preceding it, a dynamic marking, an accent, or staccato sign, an accidental, and finally an octave indication.
- the note itself.
- after the note, a sign to show added duration, a harmonic indication or a fingering number and a slur sign to the next note.
Related to this is the issue of space: a bar of braille music can take up considerably more room than in print notation. Reading and following scores can therefore be challenging as there may be just one bar per page.
To save space, braille music repeats signs more frequently. These include signs for repeating a beat, part-bar or whole bar, and conventions for repeating previous bar(s), specific numbered bar(s) or sections.
The number of distinct signs is limited. Although braille music can represent all the commonly used signs in conventional stave notation, only 63 combinations of the six-dot cell are possible. Many print signs are shown by combinations of two or even three braille signs, meaning that many braille cells can have multiple meaning, or look very similar depending on their context. This can be confusing for new readers of braille music.
Braille music usually shows the clef in which the original print is written but uses a system of octave signs to determine in which octave a note is to be played.