Whether you are a teacher or a student, it is both heartening and a challenge to find a blind person willing to learn the piano. While it is impossible to understand the difficulties and anguish of coping with blindness, there are a number of means by which the blind piano player can be aided in his/her journey to become a maestro. While the perspectives of the student and the teacher would obviously differ, we have provided below some simple ways to help a blind piano player learn that can be applied in virtually all environments and by people in all roles/positions.
Note : For purposes of clarity, “blind” here refers to complete visual impairment. Tools for teaching students with partial visual impairment are different and these should not be foisted onto a person with total visual impairment for reasons of convenience.
Teaching Braille Sheet Music
Braille is the language of the blind, made up of formations of six dots that allow people to “read” like a normal person would. Braille sheet music works the same way as braille does, but the notes and chords – E, A, D, etc. – do not conform to the braille for their alphabets. In other words, learning braille sheet music is like learning a close cousin of English eg. Dutch or French.
To help a blind person learn sheet music, you can:
- Obtain/rent a braille printer: While teachers in schools catering to the visually handicapped would already have access to braille printers, individual teachers may not. If you are a teacher or student willing to help your fellow learner, you can inquire whether a printer can be loaned or rented. If sufficient resources are available, you can even buy one for the music school. This would render you capable of printing braille sheet music whenever necessary.
- Find braille music for curricular music: Most of the classical works of music have been transcribed into Braille at some point or the other. Usually, these are available on the internet for free. If you have access to a braille printer, you can even print these out for the person.
- Specialized instructors: Most cities have lists of people who are available to train students in learning braille sheet music. Finding and employing such people to teach braille music would be a prerequisite to introducing a blind person in a batch of otherwise visually sound people. Note that such instruction must be provided (or the majority of it provided) before the person is introduced to the class.
- Use cassettes/audio CDs for accompaniment: If the person is learning with others in a batch, there is every chance that he/she may not be able to follow the lessons as easily using braille sheet music as others follow printed sheet music. On the other hand, many blind people are known to have a keen sense of hearing. Therefore, it makes sense to play cassettes/audio CDs of the music being taught. There should be options for pausing the music and allowing them to conform to the exact pattern of music on the braille sheet to avoid confusions. Note however that such accompaniments must not replace braille sheet music as that is the foundation of any blind student’s musical career.
Take Help From Transcribers
As the person progresses, it becomes harder and harder to find readily available braille sheet music. Indeed, the person may even want to compose his/her own pieces, and of course, these would need to be transcribed for the person to progress.
This calls for a professional braille transcriber. Such a professional must have a Library of Congress Certificate of Literary Braille or equivalent (if the person is not in the US) to be considered fit for musical transcription. Usually, printed sheets of music are mailed to the transcriber and the transcriber quotes a price per braille sheet. If this falls within the budget of the differently-abled person, the transcription is carried out. Some transcribers are willing to print out the sheets and send via post. Others require that the buyer have his/her own printing resources.
This procedure is especially useful if the student in question has reached an intermediate level and wishes to compose his/her own music. As a teacher or fellow student, you must never discourage him/her from trying out composition simply because of the cost or difficulty of printing braille music. This would not only dishearten the person, but may well force him/her into a creative straitjacket.
Use Public Library Resources
Many of the largest public libraries in the world have dedicated sections for the differently-abled. Such sections are usually willing to lend large amounts of braille sheet music for free. The best example of such an organization would be the Library of Congress in the USA. This library requires the parents/teachers/assistors of the concerned individual to apply on his/her behalf. Once the registration is done, braille sheet music for a massive range of songs can be borrowed from the library for free. Indeed, the library would even send the borrowed works by free post to your organization or home if needed.
Beyond a point, it is not possible for a teacher or fellow student to teach (or help teach) a blind person piano. To attain specialization, students are generally required to attend a course by organizations such as Music and Arts Centre for the Handicapped (MACH). Spread most widely across Connecticut, this organization allows anyone to attend its summer course as a stepping stone to college or university courses.
Another organization, Music Education Network for the Visually Impaired (MENVI), prints helpful articles and spreads awareness about the special needs of blind music learners. Teaming up with them can help blind students obtain much needed information and support regarding the path they should follow in learning the piano.
The biggest stumbling block for both teacher and blind student is lack of confidence. While many blind students find the piano to be a difficult obstacle, teachers who are unused to handling blind students would often try to apply methods meant for visually sound students to them. Combined together, these lead to a good number of blind students dropping out of piano classes. To avoid such tragedy, you should, in addition to following the above suggestions, be able to provide sympathy and encouragement to the person in a way that helps foster his/her genius. While the learning curve is far more acute, a number of piano legends have proven that learning the piano is in no way impossible for a visually challenged person. Hence, with adequate adherence to guidelines and faith in the person’s ability to excel, you can help a person achieve his/her true potential as a pianist.