2002 Conference Proceedings

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BRAILLE MUSIC LITERACY LOW-TECH AND MULTIMEDIA TEACHING AIDS FROM DANCING DOTS

William R. McCann
President
Dancing Dots Braille Music Technology, L.P.
PO Box 927
Valley Forge, PA 19482-0927
Tel: 610-783-6692
FAX: 610-783-6732
Email: info@dancingdots.com 
http://www.dancingdots.com

Summary

Over the past fifty years or so, the trend toward mainstreaming blind and visually impaired students in the United States has had many undeniable benefits. However, one clear casualty of this trend is braille music literacy. When the majority of blind children attended specialized schools, study of braille music was a natural result of passing through a well-rounded course of study. Students were expected to learn to read and write in music braille in the same way as sighted children enrolled in general music classes or participating in school ensembles.

As more and more children were mainstreamed, it became less and less common for blind students to learn literary braille, let alone braille music notation. In far too many cases, music educators on the local level did not even know that there was such a thing as braille notation! Those who did know had a very vague understanding and had no resources for learning and teaching the system. Fear of the unknown often led to misguided decisions to forgo literacy for blind students. Even today, too many well-intentioned but uninformed educators penalize talented young musicians with the unfounded rationalization that, since these students possess such an excellent memory and keen ear for music, there is no need for them to learn to read music notation! These educators usually reconsider after being asked if they take away written music from any equally gifted sighted students. Of course, reading music notation is just one of the skills which any schooled musician needs.

Nonetheless, those mainstream educators who did advocate for literacy for their blind students encountered difficulty in finding resources. One excellent introductory work is Bettye Krolick's "How to Read Braille Music." Available in print and braille editions, this concise book continues to help get many people started. But Richard Taesch, a great admirer of Mrs. Krolick's work, found that many educators and new braille readers wanted a method that introduced braille music reading together with concepts of music theory such as singing scale degrees with traditional solfeggio syllables, the basics of harmonic structure and other music fundamentals such as rhythm. Whereas Krolick's handy book tells you how a quarter note f, for example, is written in braille music, Taesch's curriculum explains to you what a quarter note is, how it is expressed in braille and its function in numerous examples shown both in traditional staff notation and in a braille font for the sighted educator with many annotations to assist the teacher in answering questions from the new braille music reader.

Dancing Dots introduced Taesch's new curriculum, "An Introduction to Music for the Blind Student, A Course in Braille Music Reading", during a presentation made to the sixteenth Annual CSUN Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in the year 2001. This year, we share our work to develop multimedia content that supplements and complements the lessons and examples in this thorough curriculum.

A multimedia presentation of braille music using any of a few new touch-sensitive computer screens offers many attractive features to augment traditional learning methods. Students can press down on a given braille character and hear a spoken description and/or a musical tone which that character represents. Unstructured exploration can customize learning. Most of the devices offer a structured quiz mode as well. Developers can guide the student to the correct response to spoken questions. With each incorrect response, more and more clues can be given to encourage the proper answer. A correct answer can elicit a funny or encouraging sound effect or phrase such as a fanfare of trumpets blowing or a hardy ""Way to go!"" Scores can be reported to students so they can track there progress. The highest scores are awarded to the student who chooses the highest number of correct answers with the fewest number of clues.

Developing multimedia content to support Taesch's curriculum is a logical extension of the mission of Dancing Dots: to promote literacy, independence and inclusion for the blind musician. The company supports blind musicians and those who educate them through development of new technology, adapting mainstream music technology and by offering training in blending assistive technology and mainstream music technology to benefit the blind musician. See www.dancingdots.com for more on the GOODFEEL(r) Braille Music Translator and their scripts for Cakewalk Music Software products.


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