Music Instruction For The Visually Impaired

While many students with Visual Impairments have considerable musical talent and perfect pitch, playing ensembles and reading music can prove quite challenging without the necessary accommodations. The article "Enhancing the Ensemble Experience for Students with Visual Impairments," written by a music director at the California School for the Blind, offers practical suggestions for accommodations and access for students at all levels of musical knowledge.

For students who already know how to read sheet music, teachers can transcribe their lessons into Braille music (Braille form of sheet music using Braille codes for each note and scale), which students can read, understand and memorize to play in the group. Several softwares are available for teachers to convert text into Braille, including Duxbury, Sharp Eye and Toccata. Additionally, some websites exist that will transfer digital music files to Braille, wuch as and

Many students, however, who can read Literary Braille, have not yet been taught how to read Braille music, as these are two completely different codes. For these students, there are several possible options to access:

  • Students who have some usable vision can be taught to read music using Enlarged Print which the teacher would make of each lesson and sheet music.
  • Students who are blind can memorize music by listening to recordings.
  • Students who are blind can learn to read Braille music using the intermediary step of translating notes to Literary Braille.

Teachers must first assess the student and determine whether the student is fully blind, can read Braille music, and has good tonal recognition and memory. Then, depending on the specific need, teachers can offer some of the following accommodations:

  • Recording student ensemble parts on casette or digital file, including both a recording of music note names with a slower version of the part, and a real time recording of the full ensemble. This will accommodate students in memorizing the music.
  • Mentoring with experienced music players who can practice the song with the visually impaired after they have memorized the piece.
  • Translating the musical piece into Literary Braille using portable Braille computers or Duxburry software, and encouraging students to learn Braille music by matching the notes and learning the new code.

Overall, visually impaired students need to be included in the music curriculum of schools and the necessary accommodations made so that they can experience the process of playing music instruments, both individually and as an ensemble member in the class. This article demonstrated many creative and practical ways that music teachers can ensure that their visually impaired students are included; additionally, many of these resources may also be helpful to teachers using auditory teaching techniques in other disciplines.

Footnote: Siligo, W.R. (2005). Enriching the Ensemble Experience for Students with Visual Impairments. Music Education Journal, 91 (5), 31- 36.

Note: This page has been contributed by: Allison Aboud