Shop RNIB Donate now

Braille music

Learn about how to read music in braille

A graphic explaining how the different braille notations correspond to musical notes on a scale.

Braille music uses combinations of the same six-dot cell as literary braille to represent the pitch and rhythm of each note. If you imagine that the braille cell is arranged like an egg carton for six eggs, for example  in three rows of two. The top two rows represent the pitch, and the bottom row is used for rhythm.

The graphic on this page shows print notation of a rising chromatic scale in quavers from middle C with the braille music equivalent. Note the first three cells in the braille denote the treble clef, the following dot denotes the fourth octave, and the last two cells denote a thick double bar. Note the print barline is shown by a space in the braille.

Differences between braille music and stave notation

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.

Playing from memory

Braille music usually needs to be memorised. The braille reader normally must read, memorise and then play a piece.  As braille is read with your hands, it is impossible to read and play at the same time, unless you are a pianist. Singers can, with practice, read and play at sight, though usually memorise either the words or the music as it is difficult to read both at the same time.

If you're teaching a group who are playing from different formats, you may find that the braillist takes a lot longer to learn a score than a print reader.

You may wish to download the collection of articles on memorising music from blind musicians.

Braille music tests and feedback

People of any age now have the opportunity to test their braille music skills, and receive formal feedback on their achievements, by entering the annual Gardner's Trust Braille Music Literacy Awards.

Entries are invited for the 2023 period, which will run from June 2023 to the end of November 2023. Candidates can apply at any time during this period.

To register your interest, or to find out more, please email: [email protected]

Learning braille music

The most common way to learn braille music is while learning an instrument, often the piano or electronic keyboard or working with your teacher through one of the braille music tutor books listed below.

Tutor books in braille

Several mainstream beginners' books are available in braille music, though learning this way does not introduce braille musical terms and syntax in a progressive way. To see if a particular tutor book is available in braille, please search the RNIB Library. There are some tutor books specifically designed for learning the braille music code whilst learning singing or an instrument.

If you would like to learn braille music alongside singing or an instrument, please visit our page on braille music tutor books.

If you want to learn to "hear" the symbols in your mind, and work on memorisation skills in a graduated way, try: An Introduction to Music for the Blind Student, or A Course in Braille Music Reading, Parts I and II. These are both by Richard Taesch and available from Dancing Dots.

Getting music in braille

To check UK availability, search on the RNIB Library. You may also like to consult the listing of international organisations who produce or loan braille music, maintained by the Music Subject Area of the UK Association of Accessible Formats (UKAAF). The piece you want may already be available in braille music, though you may need to check it is the edition you require and in a braille format with which you are familiar. If the piece is not already transcribed, there are two main routes to getting it transcribed: Either employ the services of a braille music transcriber or produce it yourself, usually with a reader. For further information on the automated transcription of pieces into braille music, please download the following document.

If you opt for this second option, you may wish to train a sighted reader to read music precisely how you need it, so you can write the music down, either using a manual brailler, such as a Perkins Brailler or using an electronic braille note taker.

UKAAF Braille Music Podcast series

The ‘Journey through braille music’ is a six-part podcast series describing the history, development and uses of braille music. The podcast series is presented by Sandra Gayer who is a soprano singer, a broadcast presenter, and a braille music teacher.  Alongside Sandra, the series features guest speakers James Risdon, Access Coordinator for ABRSM, James Bowden an organist and pianist, Clare Gailans, a singer who uses braille music and is also a braille music proof reader and Melanie Wren who is the Lead Transcription Executive for Music at RNIB:

  • Episode one (opens in new window): This episode discusses the history and background of braille and music.
  • Episode two (opens in new window): The second episode considers music for single line instruments.
  • Episode three (opens in new window): Vocal music is the theme of this episode.
  • Episode four (opens in new window): The focus of episode four is keyboard music.
  • Episode five (opens in new window): More advanced topics are considered in the penultimate episode.
  • Episode six(opens in new window): The final episode is a summary and talks through available resources