We’re delighted to announce MuseScore will be the first mainstream music notation program to support the groundbreaking accessibility features of Live Braille Translation and 6-key Braille note input. Developed in partnership with two prominent accessibility organizations — the DAISY Consortium, and Sao Mai Center for the Blind— these new Braille features will complement the advanced keyboard navigation and screen reader support already available in MuseScore 4; providing more ways for musicians who are blind or partially sighted to interact with music notation.
New accessibility features coming to MuseScore 4.1:
Arriving with the upcoming release of MuseScore 4.1, the live braille translation will be displayed in the braille view: a new text panel below the score. For sighted users, the braille will show up in the panel as actual braille dots (no need to install any special braille fonts). For blind users who have a braille terminal connected to their computer, the braille dots will appear on the refreshable braille display.
This image is part of a score from The Cuckoo, and highlights the braille view which is the new text panel below the score, as well as the braille in the panel that is actual braille dots.
The braille notation displayed in the viewer always corresponds to the bar (i.e. measure) of whatever element is selected in the main score view. When the music in the score is changed, or a different element becomes selected, the braille notation is updated to match. This enables blind musicians to explore the score one bar at a time, and is much faster than the traditional method involving a screen reader, which is only able to describe one note at a time. This live braille translation fosters inclusivity and opens up new opportunities for users to engage with sheet music more efficiently.
Braille 6-key note input
In addition to being able to read braille music on the braille display, the release of MuseScore 4.2 later this year, will make it possible to write music into the braille panel as braille music notation and have it appear on the screen as print music. This is done using the six keys on the computer keyboard – S, D, F, J, K, L – which represent the six dots in a braille cell. These keys can be pressed in different combinations to create all the possible braille patterns.
A huge leap forward for blind musicians
When combined with MuseScore 4’s enhanced keyboard navigation and screen reader support, these new braille features create an extremely accessible workflow that is a gamechanger for blind and partially sighted musicians.
James Bowden, Braille Technical Officer at RNIB, stresses the importance of enabling blind musicians to use a free program to write music that can be printed and played by others:
James goes on to explain how the braille features are helpful for a sighted music teacher who is working with a blind student, or vice versa, to be able to read each other’s language:
“The sighted teacher can see on the screen exactly what is being written [for the student] on the braille display. There's a lot of music teachers out there who can see, and they might have a student who can't. It's useful to be able to see what each other sees.”
He adds that the features provide a useful tool for blind or sighted musicians who are trying to learn music braille:
“With MuseScore, you can use the [screen reader] speech to describe the notes, and use the braille to read the music notation. If you didn't know what a particular braille music sign was, you could get the speech to describe it for you.”
How it came about
Implementation of the live braille features would not have been possible without the dedicated community of volunteers and freelancers who contribute to MuseScore's open source development alongside our internal team here at Muse Group.
Before joining Muse Group in 2021, Peter Jonas, now our Community Ambassador, had already contributed to MuseScore's development as an open source developer specializing in accessibility. His past contributions were supported by RNIB, the UK’s leading sight loss charity.
In 2020, Peter was invited to apply for funding from the DAISY Consortium, a global alliance of accessibility organizations, who were looking to finance development of music braille software. Peter teamed up with Sao Mai Center for the Blind, a Vietnamese non-profit, to get MuseScore working nicely with a MusicXML to Braille conversion tool that Sao Mai was to develop.
As luck would have it, at that time another open source developer named Andrei Tuicu submitted code to MuseScore adding the ability to export scores as braille music files, albeit without the detailed options for customization provided by Sao Mai's dedicated tool. This unexpected development allowed Peter and Sao Mai to extend their plan to include the live braille features you see today.
Finally, with a concrete proposal in hand, Peter approached us at Muse Group for confirmation that the live braille features would be welcome in MuseScore. Naturally, we were thrilled to hear about the project, and pledged the support of our internal development team to get the features fully merged. In 2021 we hired Peter as a full time developer to assist with future accessibility development and to liaise with our open source community.
Accessibility continues to be one of the key driving principles of Muse Group, as we strive to empower everyone to be more creative. Our development teams continue to design and update our software with accessibility in mind, and we actively seek feedback from blind users, as well as agencies like RNIB and the DAISY Consortium. Our two most popular applications, MuseScore and Audacity, are both free, open source, and accessible to musicians who are blind or partially sighted.