[Menvi-discuss] Blind music major questions

Jared Rimer - MENVI webmaster menvi-webmaster at menvi.org
Sun Sep 17 13:13:09 EDT 2017

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Jared Rimer
Music Education Network for the Visually Impaired
bridging the gap between the blind and music education

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On 9/17/2017 8:58 AM, Chris Smart via Menvi-discuss wrote:
> Hi Janis.
> Below, are my experiences. I'm sure other folks will chime in with theirs.
> What works for one student may not work for others.
> I hope there is some sort of guide for new post-secondary music students 
> who are visually-impaired. If there isn't, there should be. A lot of 
> these more general things probably apply to everyone: self-advocacy, 
> getting book lists early, what technology is available, etc.
> At 10:19 AM 9/17/2017, you wrote:
>> 1. What technology do you use for music theory, music history and 
>> aural skills?
> When I was in college, I notated answers to harmony, counterpoint and 
> other assignments in Sibelius. These days, I would probably go with Lime 
> and Lime Aloud from Dancing Dots. You can find out more about that 
> package by visiting their Website at:
> http://www.dancingdots.com/prodesc/limealoud.htm
>   There is no reason why she can't produce notation on paper for sighted 
> instructors, band members etc. although it might be helpful to have a 
> sighted friend visually check things before handing them in, keeping an 
> eye out for crowding, overlapping items etc. To me, working 
> independently is easier, cognitively, than trying to orally dictate  
> something complex like a counterpoint assignment to a sighted helper.
> I used to record classes in audio form or take notes, depending on which 
> class it was and the kind of material being covered.  For instance, if a 
> class such as jazz harmony contained many aural examples, it was better 
> to record that and re-listen to it later. A class like music history was 
> a lot more about writing down facts, dates, etc. so I took notes using a 
> notetaker.
> I completed most tests and exams with sighted help, that is, someone to 
> read me the questions and write down my answers. As you can imagine, 
> this requires holding lots of information in your head. "What was that 
> last note I gave you in the tenor part? Ok, now I need a B in the alto, 
> an A in the bass" etc. is how the conversation usually went.
> If she isn't that clear on how notation looks on paper, just the simple 
> stuff like what the staff is, what leger lines are, transposing 
> instruments, the ranges of the various clefs etc. she should try and 
> learn that sooner rather than later.  You can't always tell a sighted 
> helper or instructor about octave and interval signs or other 
> peculiarities of Braille, and assume they will understand what you mean, 
> especially if that help is another classmate. Learn what you need to 
> know to communicate effectively, if someone is writing down your answers 
> - learn to speak their language.
> For some reason, for years growing up, I had no idea what the staff 
> looked like for sighted folks, or even what a "note stem" felt like. 
> Finding this stuff out gave me more confidence talking to sighted 
> musicians. Heck, I didn't know there was such a thing as "beaming" notes 
> until I went to college.
> I'm not saying this directly affects how we understand things - I still 
> think in terms of Braille, octaves, intervals, etc. - but most of the 
> people you're interacting with are sighted, and they're using different 
> terminology.
> About tests and exams, doing things independently would have been 
> easier, had my college been equipped to produce things in music Braille, 
> and allow me to produce my answers on computer and print them out. But, 
> since they wern't able to produce music Braille on site, and professors 
> often didn't have tests prepared far enough in advance, it seemed easier 
> at the time to work with an assistant and they would read me questions 
> and write down my answers.  In hindsight, I should have advocated more 
> for what I needed to work independently and most effectively.
> This help was often in the form of well-meaning classmates, who also 
> have busy schedules, social lives etc. so, what I did at the time was 
> apply for whatever bursaries, grants, etc. were available, no matter how 
> small, and used that money to pay my helpers a little.  You'd be amazed 
> how quickly people can find time to work with you once you're offering a 
> little cash. Schedules suddenly clear and you go from no volunteers 
> available to having a choice between several.  If money isn't an option, 
> people respond well to food. :)
> Again, I was going to a smaller college, and a rather under-funded music 
> program at that. Ideally, I would have been meeting with professors or 
> teaching assistants to do exams, or having said exams transcribed into 
> Braille. But, for my particular situation, it made more sense to find 
> someone willing to volunteer a couple hours hear and there and just get 
> things done.
>> 2.  How do you get your music theory assignments from your professors?
> Sibelius and Finale, the two popular notation programs, can both produce 
> music XML files, which can then be imported into whichever notation 
> software the student is using. Again, I would talk to the folks at 
> Dancing Dots about this. Also, ask them about the Goodfeel music Braille 
> translator.
>> 3.  What technology do you need to use to turn in your music theory 
>> homework?
> Use notation software such as Lime and Lime Aloud. There are probably 
> other options that others here can list, but we don't have many notation 
> programs we can use. The two I know about are the aforementioned package 
> from Dancing Dots, or Sibelius 5.2.5 and some Jaws scripts for Sibelius 
> that were developed several years ago. Do a google search for "sibelius 
> access". Unfortunately, only this much older version of Sibelius has 
> been made accessible in this way.
>> 4.  If you had to take a pre-test for music theory as an entrance 
>> exam, how was it made accessible for you?
> In one case, a college accepted prior conservatory theory grades as 
> equivalent. In another case, when I auditioned, one of the professors 
> played me things on piano that I identified aurally: chords, scales, 
> intervals etc. (This was for a jazz program. I have no idea what goes on 
> for classical schools)
>> 5.  How did you get your textbooks in braille and audio?
> I obtained a book list for the upcoming semester or year well in 
> advance, and the college's office for students with disabilities would 
> see if any items were already available in alternate formats, or if they 
> needed to be produced. As you can imagine, producing books in Braille 
> takes lots of time, so get the list of required textbooks early, really 
> early! You certainly can't show up on the first day of class and go 
> "hey, where are my books?"
>> Advocate for yourself. Assume that some people will not get things to 
>> you soon enough, or know what format you need, and be ready to tell 
>> them otherwise. Be polite but firm.
>> You may also run into issues and attitudes such as, but not limited to:
> * Sighted help, a classmate for instance, feels bad about your 
> disability and really wants you to succeed, so they offer you an answer 
> or two, during a exam situation. Bad! Don't go along with this or let 
> people assume, wrongly, that you cannot do things. Don't take the easy 
> way out.
> * If you are able to produce things on paper for folks, do it. If this 
> means learning how to use new software, do it. Don't go along with 
> anybody's faulty assumption that you can't do something, because you are 
> blind. (and don't try to learn your notation software while in the 
> middle of a busy semester. I learned this one the hard way haha!)
> The rest of this is probably not relevant, but I need to write about it 
> somewhere, and this seems as good a place as any.
> Here's a brief cautionary tale.
> As I was finishing a three-year jazz program, another student who was 
> blind was in their first year. I immediately started hearing strange 
> things from peers and professors alike.
> Chris, can I ask you something? You took my sight singing class a couple 
> of years ago. How did you read the textbook?
> What do you mean? I had the book in Braille. It's already transcribed, 
> so your student needs to just call the disability office and ask for it. 
> It's probably sitting on a shelf. It turns out the student had received 
> the book, even, he just wasn't reading it, taking it to class etc.
> The professor couldn't remember how things were done before all that 
> clearly, and was probably thinking "how on earth is this new kid going 
> to complete my class"?
> Then, a classmate came to me with the following:
> Chris, um, can I talk to you about something?  I was helping X with an 
> exam the other day, and he kept asking me for answers.  I didn't want 
> him to fail, so I "helped". Note the quotation marks around helped.
> He felt horrible being put in a jam like this. His well-meaning response 
> was to help this guy cheat.
> If you encounter well-meaning but bad attitudes like this, people who 
> offer to just do things for you, when you clearly haven't studied or 
> don't know the answers, don't go along with this. It's tempting, but it 
> poisons the environment for whomever follows you; it erodes any 
> accumulated good will you have built up, or people who came before you 
> built up.
> and, I wasn't a great student either. But, when I failed something, I 
> did so honestly.
> Chris
> ----------------------------------------
> "There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and 
> cats." - Albert Schweitzer
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