The University of St. Thomas

Music

Shersten Johnson

Shersten Johnson

Notational Systems and Conceptualizing Music: A Case Study of Print and Braille Notation
srjohnson2@stthomas.edu Dr. Shersten Johnson
Abstract

With the maturation of mainstreamed students, there are more and more visually impaired musicians pursing college degrees in music. The study of music theory is particularly challenging to these students in that it centers at many levels on notation, with students learning to mediate between audible sounds and the visual depiction of those sounds. While one might assume that blind students can simply depend on tactile representations of music in the form of braille notation to function in the place of printed scores, in practice the two systems signify music very differently. Whereas print notation acts as a graphic image of music providing symbols that make direct, one-to-one mappings of many of our musical concepts, braille is an alphabetic code that describes music using combinations of letters and other symbols derived from the 6-dot braille cell. Drawing on recent developments in cognitive studies, this paper seeks to add to the ongoing discovery of how music notation systems result from and constrain the ways in which human beings think about music. An examination of the metaphorical notions that underlie both types of notation provides a basis for understanding some of the differences between modes of representation. Examples drawn from activities undertaken in the music theory classroom highlight these differences, with special focus on analysis, part writing, and “sight” singing.