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Breaking the sound barrier – overcoming my difficulties of playing and enjoying music


breaking the sound barrier

I’ve always loved listening to music, watching music videos, and playing musical instruments and singing. Music is a big part of my family’s life and we all really enjoy it. As a visually impaired person, some elements of enjoying music are difficult for me. I thought I’d write a blog about how technology (and my Mum!) is helping me overcome these. 

Firstly – Listening and Watching! 

Listening to music is brilliantly easy for me – because you don’t have to see anything! For some other people though, I understand that it can be a challenge, but this doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyed by everyone. For example, someone who is deaf might find listening to music a little trickier – but I’ve seen deaf/deafblind people on music workshops I’ve attended who have speakers at high volume and also touch the speakers to gain the vibrations from the music, so there’s always a way to have fun with music if you look for it! 

Watching music videos is a bit more challenging for me, but there are ways around this too. Sometimes I sit very close up to the screen of my iPad or TV, or use the Zoom feature on my computer to see what’s going on. If I’m really bothered about a particular music video, then I get a friend or family member to describe the details to me (I do this with all of Jessie J’s videos!). Music videos would be a great alternative for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, because with the visuals from the music video, the vibrations from speakers and subtitles on the screen, it means that you are getting as much out of the music as you possibly can. Some TV channels have audio description for their music videos – but these segments of air time are often on when I’m going to bed! This isn’t very helpful and it would be really good if there were more times during the day or evening when music videos could be described on TV. I love music videos all the same though! 

CDs and Downloads 

Downloading things onto my iPod used to be a nightmare, but with a few small adjustments, it’s actually pretty easy now. When I got my first iPod Shuffle in 2005, my Mum used to download the music for me. As great and lovely of her as this was (thanks Mum!), I realised I wasn’t really developing my independence. So when I got my next iPod, I asked my Mum to show me how to use iTunes properly so I could download songs onto it myself. Once she’d shown me a few times, I more than got the hang of it and now do it all the time! Again, by using the Zoom and VoiceOver features on my Mac, I can access iTunes absolutely fine. This might be harder for people with certain disabilities, especially those who might find it harder to be dexterous. However, there are a lot of access features on computers now, and there’s always the Aidis Trust to contact.

CDs are great. The only difficulty I have with them is reading which CD I’ve got in my hand to put into the player. I learned basic Braille as a teenager and so I labelled all of my CDs not only as a way to know which one was which – but also as a fun way to remember the Braille letters! It really worked, especially on the CDs that had dark cases. I also used to write out the artist and album title onto big sticky labels and put them onto CD cases which helped too. 

Reading the inserts proved very tricky, so I tended not to do that. This annoyed me though, as they often have the lyrics to the songs on. I used to learn the lyrics by listening to one line, learning that line, playing the song back and then moving on to the next line. Must’ve driven my Mum crazy! It would be really lovely if there were large print booklets available, but that probably won’t happen, so a good solution for now is to look online for lyrics, because then I can enlarge them as big as I want to. This wouldn’t have been an option say, ten years ago, though. 

Sheet Music and Music Books 

I have to say that this is where I really struggle. I play guitar, and used to play violin and recorder. Sight reading has always been impossible, because I can’t get close enough to read the music at the same time as playing the instrument. I used to enlarge the music on a photocopier, but even then this was tricky. 

Music books are even worse. Generally the print is tiny and it can be really hard to read, especially chord symbols, which are what I read to play guitar now. Often I get around this by looking up close with a magnifier, or begging someone (usually my Mum – again!) to help me work out where my fingers need to go on the frets of the guitar.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of being able to see the music and play at the same time, so I learn from memory as I’ve always done. Another good alternative is to watch/listen to someone playing a song on YouTube and learning that way. I do this less often, but it’s a good method. I also use online guitar tabs that help me to learn music because these websites show you the chords for particular songs. My favourite website is ultimateguitar.com. The site has thousands of songs where the chords are all inputted by users, and there’s videos that teach you how to play too! 

What Can Make It Easier? 

There are certain services that can be a real help to people who are visually impaired looking to make access to music easier. The RNIB has a great library of large print sheet music and music books which can either be rented or bought which is very handy. They also have Modified Stave Notation (MSN) which can help some people with some sight to read music more easily. The involves increases in size, colours and sometimes the presentation of notes on the stave. More information on this can be found at http://www.rnib.org.uk/information-everyday-living-home-and-leisure-music-reading-music-accessible-formats/modified-stave-notation

I haven’t ever made use of this service myself, but maybe I should start. It might make seeing guitar chords a little easier for when I want to screech out my next Adele belter (Sorry, Mum!) 

How do you access music? Do you do anything differently to other people? Let us know in the comments. 

Links http://www.rnib.org.uk/information-everyday-living-home-and-leisure-music-reading-music-accessible-formats/modified-stave-notation 

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