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for the Blind

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Marcus Roberts on 60 Minutes: Let's Look at Accessible Music Technology

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Marcus Roberts was on 60 Minutes last night! Take a look, if you didn't get a chance to see it. He plays piano, he talks about music, and, my favorite part, they talked a little bit (too little to suit me) about the fact that he uses technology.

No question, Marcus Roberts' most important piece of technology is the piano. He is first and foremost a talented musician, composer, and entertainer (this is my blog, I'm allowed to have three foremosts).

But like any successful blind person, he uses any and all the tools that will get him access to what he needs and wants to do.

Marcus, I'd love it if you'd comment here, or e-mail, to tell us about the music technology you use!

It was mentioned in the 60 Minutes interview that Marcus is a braille reader, that he reads braille music, and they showed a quick shot of a braille device—maybe someone could identify it and comment here for all of us?

So, what specific examples of music technology do musicians who are blind use? How does an adult who is visually impaired get access to sheet music, music textbooks, and music instruction? How does a musician edit music for a living? How does a blind composer put music on paper?

The answer will take several posts and a lot of contributions from you, so help me out here! But, let's start with Dancing Dots®.

I first learned about Dancing Dots and the world of music editing software for people who are blind from one of the first issues of AccessWorld. (You'll get a laugh at how out-of-date this 2001 article is!) But, I wasn't learning music at the time, and most of it went over my head. When I started taking music lessons, I ran into a roadblock right away—everybody else had sheet music. They could study away from the keyboard, and they could read and play at the same time. I listened to recordings, and slowed them down to hear the details, but my musical skill didn't let me get more than 10% out of what I was hearing.

The Lime Aloud and GOODFEEL Braille Music Translator came to the rescue. This is a suite of programs that lets me scan a piece of sheet music and bring it into a music notation program. I can read the music note by note, and Lime Aloud speaks everything. I can read it in braille on my braille display, and I could theoretically send it to a braille printer.

CakeTalking with Cakewalk Sonar is much more exciting, though, for what I want to do. In Sonar, with the JAWS scripts and massive "tutorial" I got from Dancing Dots, I create my own songs. I put together the many tracks of instruments and vocals, mainly for practice, but sometimes to annoy my friends (annoying, because I'm kind of a lousy singer, but I'm having fun).

OK, musicians, and would-be musicians, what are you using? And, what do you wish existed?

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