Music school graduate develops new tactile music notation

Date Posted: 06/16/2014

A student who recently earned a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW-Madison) School of Music developed a tactile notation system for reading music that is designed to be simpler to use than traditional music braille. Yeaji Kim, the first visually impaired musician to be accepted into the school's doctoral program, described Tactile Stave Notation in her dissertation.

Traditional music braille uses the same six-dot braille cell as other braille codes, however, since each braille symbol or group of symbols in music braille have different meanings than they do in literary braille and other braille codes, it can be difficult for young students to master. "The (Braille)[sic] letter system is already very complicated. And then to have the symbols also mean something else, to mean music, can be very confusing to a kid," explained Todd Welbourne, professor of piano at the UW-Madison School of Music. Dr. Kim's creation features a tactile or 3-D staff and musical notes printed over traditional sheet music, and it is designed to allow visually impaired and sighted musicians to read the same musical score. In addition, Tactile Stave Notation is designed to make it easier for teachers who are sighted to teach students with visual impairments, since teachers do not need to learn braille to use the new notation.

Dr. Kim has filed a provisional application for a U.S. patent for Tactile Stave Notation, and is seeking funds to help pay for legal fees related to a patent application. After returning to her home country of South Korea for two concert engagements following her graduation, she hopes to find a way to return to the United States later this year to continue work on the notation system. Help has already been offered to Dr. Kim by faculty at UW-Madison, however. Upon learning of Tactile Stave Notation, UW-Madison Professor Tim Osswald, co-director of the Polymer Engineering Center at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, immediately amassed a team of undergraduate and graduate students to brainstorm ways to mass-produce the tactile music, which Dr. Kim had been creating by hand. "We do research in the area of 3D printing. We see this as an opportunity to push the envelope and have undergraduate and graduate students try to find a solution for her," said Dr. Osswald. For more information, contact: School of Music, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 3561 Humanities, 455 North Park Street, Madison, WI 53706; phone: 608-263-1900. [Information for this piece was taken from the June 15, 2014, Wisconsin State Journal article, "Blind musician at UW-Madison develops 3D sheet music for visually impaired children," by Gayle Worland.]

Contact: UW-Madison School of Music

Phone: (608) 263-1900

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