RNIB, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, is the UK’s leading sight loss charity, offering practical and emotional support to blind and partially sighted people, their families, and carers. RNIB has been granted funding from Arts Council England to lead a short-term project to identify and develop strategies for improving the repertoire of musical scores and Music Education related resources available to blind, partially sighted, and otherwise print-disabled children and young people. They are looking to partner with three Music Education Hubs to form a working group.
Standard-print music notation can be difficult to read for blind, partially sighted, and otherwise print-disabled musicians, but presenting music in alternative formats can enable access. Braille music and large print (modified stave notation) are the formats primarily used by blind and partially sighted musicians right now. Technology is also beginning to offer encouraging developments that allow synthesised speech description to accompany digital scores, within notation packages such as MuseScore.
When scores are reliably produced in the open MusicXML format, digital tools exist that allow automated conversion to any of the formats above with passable accuracy.
The new National Plan for Music Education cites the importance of both music notation and inclusion but makes no provision for the transcription needed to enable learners with print disabilities to access notation, despite making significant funding available for accessible instruments. Moreover, RNIB and Music Mark ran a survey in 2023 which showed that Music Education Hubs are not currently confident in supporting children and young people to access scores in the formats that they require. As part of the new Music Hub network (September 2024), Hubs will be expected to support more than 500 blind and partially sighted children and young people.
To begin to address these points, Arts Council England are funding a short-term project between January and April 2024, which will include consultation with the music education and publishing sectors, to identify and develop strategies to improve the materials available to learners who require musical scores in alternative formats.
Integral to the project is a 3-month consultation period with Music Education Hubs. RNIB are looking to partner with three existing Music Educations Hubs to form a working group that will advise on key topics between 15th January 2024 and 14th April 2024. Representatives from each Hub will work collaboratively with RNIB’s Music Support Officers and other partner organisations as required.
We are looking for Hubs with a range of experience supporting blind and partially sighted children and young people – you do not need to be an expert in this area already.
Areas of exploration for the consultation include (but are not limited to):
- Influencing the development of materials that will support the music education and publishing sectors to proactively create accessible formats for learners. I.e. which resources are most needed for building confidence around transcription? Where should these resources be stored?
- Is there untapped capacity within the Music Education sector to support with accessible format transcription? Which roles within Music Education might be able to support and how do we reach them?
- Could a national collaborative network be a practical solution? How would requests be made and serviced? How would transcription jobs be priced and who covers the cost? Where could transcribed materials (MusicXML, BRF) be stored to avoid duplicate work?
- What are the main sources of scores used throughout Music Education?
The project is offering a fixed £1800 participation fee per commissioned Music Education Hub, which is intended to cover staffing time to engage with the consultancy and associated administrative tasks. On top of this, there is £200 available to test the process of subcontracting Hub staff to complete basic transcription work.
The project is funded by Arts Council England, with RNIB being the lead partner. RNIB, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, is the UK’s leading sight loss charity:
“We offer practical and emotional support to blind and partially sighted people, their families and carers. We raise awareness of the experiences of blind and partially sighted people and campaign for change to make our society more accessible for all. We want to change our world so there are no barriers to people with sight loss.”
The three Music Education Hubs are also likely to work with:
- The DAISY Consortium and its Music Braille Project.
- The Amber Trust, who are developing a network of VI-specialist education professionals as part of this project, to support the music education sector in the future.
- Each other.
- National music course exam boards.
- Print music publishing companies.
How to register your interest
Please complete the online expression of interest form, hosted by RNIB, by 11.59pm on 4th January 2024. RNIB will hold conversations with shortlisted candidates during the week beginning 8th January, with a view to the consultation beginning on 15th January.