The Dots of Braille Music Transcription

Close-up of person playing the piano

Daniel Gillen is a Library of Congress Certified Proofreader in Unified English Braille. He works as a Braille Music Specialist at The Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School, FMDG, in New York City. 

Daniel began learning braille music from FMDG when he was five. There, he participated in their choir and learned to play the piano. He now holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and music. 

The Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School 

FMDG has a lengthy history. They have been around since 1913, providing music transcription and education for children and adults who are blind or have low vision. Initially, they were part of the Lighthouse Guild. Five years ago, however, they became an independent organization.  

Braille Music 

Louis Braille began developing a code for braille music 200 years ago. He played the organ and wanted a way to be able to write and read music just like his sighted peers. 

Braille music is a tactile notation system that allows individuals who are blind or low vision to read and create music. Similar to how braille facilitates reading and writing by touch, braille music provides a way to interpret musical scores through touch. Using a combination of symbols and patterns on paper, musicians can feel and understand elements like notes, rhythms, dynamics, and musical expressions. This system allows for engaging in musical learning, performance, and composition. It also provides a means to express musical creativity and talent.  

How it differs from print music 

Daniel says braille music differs from print music since you cannot show the staff information horizontally and vertically as in print. Additionally, he states, “A braille reader cannot read in two different directions.” Likewise, a braille reader “cannot play an instrument with their hands and also track braille music simultaneously.”  

The limitations of reading music by touch make braille music complex. However, it can be learned. 

“In braille music, “notes are indicated by dots 1, 2, 4, and 5. The rhythm is indicated using dots 3 and 6,” explains Daniel. 

Special indicators in braille music 

As in Unified English Braille, braille music has specific indicators unique to the braille code. Daniel says, “An octave indicator shows the start and then the change or termination.” There are also indicators for concepts such as crescendo and decrescendo. 

Technology assists with the transcription of braille music 

Daniel explains that he uses software from Dancing Dots to convert print music scores into braille. However, just like converting print material using braille transcription software, music transcription needs to be proofread and corrected. 

Learn Braille Music 

Visit Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School to learn more about the music school, accessible music, and music transcription. Additionally, you can discover the world of braille music with a six-week virtual class offered at the Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School. Learn more about the virtual classes.