What is Music Braille/Braille Music?
Music Braille is a code designed to allow individuals to read music notation accurately, efficiently, and tactilely. In fact, Louis Braille (the man who developed the braille reading code) also created the Music Braille code.
Music Braille uses the same six dots used in both literary braille and Nemeth Code, so there are cell dot formations in Music Braille that are identical to those in literary braille and Nemeth Code. As with those two codes, the MEANING behind the cell dot formations is based on the code in which the cell is located.
For example, the cell composed of dots 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 has a distinct meaning in each code:
- In literary braille, a cell with dots 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 is the contracted sign for the word “with”
- In Nemeth Code, a cell with dots 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 is the sign for a closing parenthesis “)“
- In Music Braille, a cell with dots 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 is the whole note “A” (or “ti” in solfege)
Why Is It Important?
Beginning in elementary school, sighted students learn and use print musical notation, and this is done for a reason—because interaction with musical text is important for musicians at all levels. Providing text-based musical notation allows individuals to read, interact with, and write musical notation.
Independent access to music notation is akin to independent access to literary text and mathematical text. Just as listening to books and math problems is qualitatively different from reading books and math problems, listening to music is qualitatively different from reading music. Additionally consider this: Everyone with typical hearing has access to audiobooks, oral math problems, and performed music. If that were sufficient, there would be no need for written words, numbers, or music.
Therefore, access to written music notation provides blind/low vision individuals with access to written music notation – just as sighted individuals have access to print music notation. Without the tactile access to music notation that Music Braille provides, blind/low vision individuals would be limited to only enlarged print notation or would have no means of efficiently and independently reading, interacting with, or writing musical notation.
What About Learning By Ear?
Many individuals believe that individuals with blindness or low vision are naturally talented in music and, therefore, should rely on “learning by ear” – without any musical text. Of course, this is a myth:
- Blindness and low vision do not magically create musical talent.
- Even talented and successful musicians who are sighted use and/or interact with musical text/musical notation.
- Music notation allows individuals to engage in a common musical audition requirement: Sight-reading. Without access to music notation (and the ability to understand it), a musician cannot fully and effectively participate in many auditions.
- Remember, no one gives “extra credit” to musicians who cannot read music. Musical talent is enhanced by the ability to read music – that’s why most sighted musicians use music notation early and often.
More about Louis Braille’s Music Braille Code
Luckily, we have a solution. As noted in Classic FM’s article “Braille music notation: what does it look like, how does it work and who invented it?” Louis Braille invented Music Braille in 1829. Note: This was not just a passing interest for Louis Braille; he was a professional music teacher. Thus, it is not surprising that the Music Braille code braille-reading musicians use today has changed little in almost two hundred years.
The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) has codified Louis Brialle’s Music Braille code – so teachers and students alike may use this tool to confirm that they are transcribing and reading Music Braille accurately.
More Music Braille resources
Links to many resources, from instruction through production and access to existing Music Braille scores
Music Braille cheat sheets (PDFs):
Compiled by Jennifer Dunnam; helpful as an introduction, (from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB))
More advanced symbols (PDF)
Products from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH):
- Music Braille Flash Cards: $74.86, shipped free matter
- Feel The Beat Music Braille Curriculum: $96.97, shipped free matter
Braille Music Resources web page; from the NFB; Topics include:
Braille and Music Technology
Education and Listservs
Braille Music Scores
- GOODFEEL® Braille Music Translator
- Instruction books:
- An Introduction to Music for the Blind Student: A Course in Music and Braille Music Reading (two books available for purchase)
- List of NLS-certified Braille Music Transcribers (as of June 2023)
- Services from Dancing Dots
- Services from Braille Music and More
- Information on becoming an NLS-certified Music Braille transcriber
Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 357-1546
- Voice mail: Call (410) 357-1546, leave a voice mail message, and we will return your call
This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.
Updated as of September 9, 2023.