2003 Conference Proceedings

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James Carreon and Joan Anderson
California School for the Blind
500 Walnut Ave
Fremont, CA 94536
Phone: 510 794-3800 x312
Fax: 510 794-3813
Email: jcarreon@csb-cde.ca.gov 
Email: janderson@csb-cde.ca.gov 

As the population of the United States continues to age, the need to present information to people with macular degeneration or other eye diseases in a new way becomes more important. Musicians who can no longer read regular size sheet music often enlarge each page using a photocopy machine. As the disease continues to progress, the photocopies becomes larger and larger until it is no longer practical to read the music. This is the problem presented by the UC Berkeley low vision support group to the technology staff at CSB. Is there someway to present music to low vision musicians that will be easier and more efficient than a simple photocopy?

We worked with two individuals in their late 70s with macular degeneration. Both had been professional musicians at one time in their lives but at this time were unable to read music and play the piano at the same time, even with enlarged music.

Each page of music was scanned into the computer using Adobe Photoshop 5.5 set for grayscale image scanning. Color or black and white scanning proved to be unacceptable to the musicians. The color-scan created a rainbow effect caused by the lines of music and created a large file size. The black and white scans proved to be too stark and not acceptable to the two musicians. The image of the music was then cut into sections and pasted into individual slides in PowerPoint. The size of each section was customized based on the available sight of each individual. The optimal size for one individual required that we place only two measures of music on each slide. Repeat symbols required that we duplicate individual slides so the music could be presented in a continuous manner. Each music image was enlarged to fill the PowerPoint screen and a slide number was placed at the bottom of each slide for easier navigation. The slides were then compiled into a complete slide show of the music score. After all of the music pieces were completed, the individual PowerPoint files were burned onto a CD for distribution to each individual.

The hardware consisted of a laptop computer with a separate 18-inch flat panel monitor with its base removed. The display was placed on the music holder at the front of the piano just as if it were a simple sheet of music. A mouse with a switch adapter was attached to the computer's PS2 port. A foot pedal switch was then attached to the mouse and placed on the floor next to the piano foot pedals. When the slide show began, the musician moved to the next slide by pressing and releasing the foot pedal.

The results were generally positive. Each musician stated that they could now see music and play the piano at the same time; something neither had been able to do for years. Moving to the next slide proved to be the most difficult part for each of them to understand. The next slide displays when the foot pedal is released. With practice, they felt they could coordinate the movement of the slide to their needs.

There were two major difficulties with presenting music in this manner. The first is that the whole process is labor intensive, taking up to one hour per piece of music. The second problem is that each piece of music had to be customized to the individual's visual acuity. Once in PowerPoint, the size of the image could not be easily changed. One feature that both musicians wanted to explore was seeing music stream across the screen instead of seeing only one or two measures of music at a time.

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