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Singing tutorials

Singing lessons with the use of BME2

By Helena Jakubowska


Braille Music Editor (BME2) can be a valuable aid, facilitating our learning (or teaching) of vocal music. Therefore, it can be recommended both to blind singers (soloists or members of singing ensembles) and choir masters or teachers. BME will be helpful not only to blind teachers and leaders of singing groups, but also the sighted ones who happen to work with the blind. Thanks to BME a blind person will gain much independence in his/her musical activities. Moreover, this software will allow for the successful integration of a blind singer within a mainstream group.

The necessary condition is, however, to have access to the vocal music prepared in the BMML format and to get acquainted with the software (BME or at least BMR). Unfortunately, it is not possible at this stage to import complete XML formats of the vocal music (i.e. the score and lyrics together), but if the songs needed are available in XML one can import just the notes and insert the lyrics in BME oneself. For anybody who can use BME efficiently, writing a song does not take much time and effort.

One of the advantages of BME is the opportunity of having both the notes and corresponding lyrics. In the course of subsequent units you will find suggestions as to how BME could be utilised by all groups of potential users: blind singers, blind teachers (and leaders of vocal groups) and sighted teachers or choir masters who have blind vocalists in their groups.

We will give examples of how to approach different types of vocal music: from simple unison songs to four-voice choir arrangements.

Unit 1.

Singing in unison

The subject of this lesson is the song "Plurimos annos", sung on various occasions and ceremonies, such as to honour somebody on his/her jubilee or anniversary.

plurimos annos example

In example 1 you will find the song in BMLL format. The text is in Latin, so you will have the correct version of lyrics, both in the computer and Braille printout. Unfortunately, there is still a problem with inserting texts which have diacritic signs of various languages. We hope it will be solved soon.

The notes for "Plurimos annos" were arranged in two lines of Braille notes and above each line the respective piece of lyrics was inserted (see example 1). In the measure preceding the first and second ending there is a syllabic slur, which means that we have to sing the same syllable "plu-u" on the two notes (B flat and C). This is reflected in the lyrics (see the second line of lyrics, having entered the "Lyrics" window.

Please note the asterisks denoting the repetition of words:

*Plurimos annos, plurimos* - in the first line = plurimos annos, plurimos, plurimos annos, plurimos
*annos* - in the second line = annos, annos.

The possibility of using such repetitions in BME is valuable. As we know the lyrics in Braille take much more space than the notes and the asterisks may reduce this inequality significantly.

Reading a BMML file in a computer one can check which syllable is related to a given note. To do this, put the cursor on the note required and press F11. JAWS will tell you the corresponding syllable. It is also possible to find out whether the lyrics have been entered properly, i.e. whether the hyphens have been notated correctly. In our case it is enough to put the cursor on the last note (A semibreve (whole note) in the first and second ending and F semibreve (whole note) in the third ending) and press F11. If everything is well, you should hear the syllable "mos". If we don't hear it, there must be a mistake somewhere.

Now let us see how the BMML file can be used by each of the groups of users.

1.1. A blind singer

A blind singer can get the song in two formats: embossed on Braille paper and as a BMML file on a computer, possibly with Braille display.

The embossed Braille version will be used in the traditional way: the singer will read a fragment of notes and the respective fragment of lyrics (in any order). The Braille printout will be useful during the group rehearsals and while studying independently at home. If it is a mixed group of blind and sighted singers then possessing a Braille version will give the blind singers equal access to the score. If a group consists of blind members only, reading Braille notes and texts will facilitate the work.

Vocal music is often not too complicated and even those who, to start with, are not skilful in using Braille music notation, gradually grasp it in this practical way.

The BMML format will primarily be helpful for learning a piece at home. Even if you do not have BME, you can use the Braille Music Reader (BMR), which can be downloaded free of charge from the website of in the "Tools" section.

Open the file and listen to the piece (Ctrl+B and space bar), then try to sing together with the computer. If necessary, you can read the text from your Braille version (while listening you will not be able to read either the notes or the lyrics). Longer and more difficult pieces will be dealt with in short fragments, of several measures each.

1.2. Blind teacher/conductor

If a blind teacher has the song in BMML, he is able to work independently with the group.

If there is no instrument (piano or electric keyboard) in the classroom, a computer, even a laptop can fulfil this function, playing the melody.

To begin with, the teacher can demonstrate the piece as a whole, played by the computer. Then he can proceed with small fragments at a time, e.g. of 2 measures each, asking the students to repeat, first accompanied by the computer and then a cappella.

It is useful to regulate the tempo. The tempo can be set at the beginning of a piece by a metronome mark (for instance, crotchet (quarter note) equals 100), or by adjusting the required value in the "Midi Player" function, but in the latter case remember to have "Play tempo changes" unchecked.

As was already mentioned BME makes it possible to prepare the Braille version on paper and to hand it out to blind participants of the group.

1.3. Sighted teacher/conductor

A sighted teacher or choir conductor can use the BMML format in the similar way:

To demonstrate the song to the group (as a whole and in fragments),

To practice proper tuning with the use of the "play" function (if an instrument is not available),

To ensure that blind singers have Braille copies.

It is not, however, necessary for the sighted person to learn Braille music notation. The BMML format can be exported to Music-XML, which, in turn, can be opened by popular music editors, such as Sibelius, Finale or Lime. Thus the teacher can get the score in staff notation.

Here is a suggested outline of a singing lesson from the teacher's point of view:

  1. Listening to the whole piece from the BMML file.
  2. Handing out Braille copies to blind participants.
  3. The teacher reads the lyrics and the group repeats it.
  4. The teacher reproduces the first two measures singing: "Plurimos annos, plurimos" (the students may follow the text in Braille).
  5. The group sings the fragment accompanied by the computer and then a cappella.
  6. The teacher demonstrates the next fragment, calling attention to the repetition of words.
  7. The class repeats, with and without the accompaniment.
  8. The part to be memorised is first listened to and then repeated by the group. Volunteers can be asked to sing solo.
  9. Following the same routine the teacher presents and teaches the rest of the song.

The class repeats the second part of the song, with and without the computer.

  1. The group listens to the whole song and repeats it from the beginning to the end.
  2. Now, if necessary, the teacher speeds up the tempo and discusses the interpretation (dynamics, possible ritenuto etc.).


  1. It is sometimes better not to use Braille copies. Little children will probably prefer to learn by heart.
  2. The teacher can prepare the accompaniment in BME and use it during the lesson.

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