Creating Accessible Scores with Universal Design
I am so excited to be launching a project to create universally designed scores. I will be focusing my initial efforts on piano and vocal works by historically excluded composers that are often not available in easily accessible formats for many students, teachers, and musicians. Much of this music has been out of print for many decades or even centuries, and may often be prohibitively expensive or difficult to find. This has presented a challenge for students and teachers who want to be more equitable in their assignments and projects but may not have the resources to do so. My aim is to re-engrave those scores while using a method of engraving that is more accessible. There are many people who might benefit from these scores including musicians with deteriorating eyesight or cognitive decline, students with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or other learning differences, students and teachers seeking scores by historically excluded composers, and many others I haven’t thought of yet!
Throughout my life I have personally dealt with a variety of learning differences that presented challenges to my own learning that I did not fully understand until I was an adult and working full time. With the help of therapists, doctors, family, and friends, I discovered that I had ADHD, dyscalculia, and autism (previously known as Asperger’s). This presented many challenges throughout my education and required years of learning to understand what I needed to be able to work, study, and live effectively. Many of the adaptations that I use made their way into the scores such as extra room to write, larger print, less music on a single page so that I could focus, and use of the opendyslexic font. While I do not have dyslexia myself, I do struggle with eye tracking and found using the opendyslexic font dramatically improved my own reading and writing experience.
While exploring the ways I could adapt my own learning styles during my master’s program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I came across the concept of universal design. Universal design is the idea that if an accommodation is made for one group it will often benefit another group as well. One of the more famous examples of this is the curb cut. The curb cut was originally intended for wheelchair users but benefits people with strollers, carts, foot injuries, those with walkers, and so many more. If you want to learn more I highly recommend this podcast from 99% Invisible which goes into detail on the topic.
Onto the Scores!
The result of many hours of research and experimentation, working with my own students, friends, and colleagues are these piano and voice scores. I first began working on this informally 7 years ago when I had a student whose dyslexia was preventing them from reading the music in their method books. As an experiment I took a few measures of the piece and inputted them into MuseScore using the musejazz font and then took it to a friend of mine who has severe dyslexia and autism, and who was deeply familiar with formal accommodations, dyslexic fonts, and had a background in graphic design and psychology. They agreed that the musejazz was “smoother” and that the differences would probably be helpful. Fortunately I found it did help my student and so I continued to use MuseScore in this way for other students.
Over the last two years this led to the discovery that the modifications made for one group of students would end up helping others in different and often unexpected ways. As a result I began transcribing more difficult music for both students and for myself. During this time I have experimented with different sizes, fonts, and amounts of detail within the score. I have also been taking note of what aspects of the music in standard method books and scores have given them trouble such as finger numbers, note beaming styles, alignment, size, and other similar elements to determine what specifics to change.
In this process I made the choice to continue to use open-source programs and fonts to demonstrate what is possible with these tools. These scores are my attempt to create an engraving process which will allow the widest variety of students to read and learn from these scores. I have incorporated the opendyslexic font into all text and used the musejazz font since it shares many of the same principles as the opendyslexic font, such as a bolder font and variations in line weights.
Here is an example from Sonata in F Major mvt. 1 m.m. 11-14 by Veronika Dusikova Cianchettini that I have been working on, first seen in the edition on IMSLP and second in my re-engraving:
Specific changes to scores:
Opendyslexic font for most text
Arial font was chosen as a substitute for lyrics in vocal music. This is due to technical issues with the score which caused opendyslexic to display awkwardly in the lyrics line. The difference can be seen below in this example from Roses After Rain by Liza Lehmann
Lyrics using opendyslexic font
Lyrics using Arial font
MuseJazz font used as the default for notation
Leland font for dynamics, pedal markings, fermatas, and other complex symbols, as many of the musejazz markings for these symbols are difficult to read or unrecognizable as the same symbols.
Leland (left) and MuseJazz (right)
Layout- In the process of making these scores, legibility and accessibility is always the first concern. Therefore I may break with some engraving traditions or expectations to facilitate this. For example I may at times change stem direction when necessary to avoid overcrowding. Other layout changes can include:
Formatting for 8.5X11” rather than 9X12” so that special paper is not necessary for printing.
I recognize that there are many standard paper sizes throughout the world, but since the size of the paper impacts formatting significantly I chose what is most widely used in the U.S.
Additional space between staves to help provide an uncluttered appearance and allow for additional notes written by the student or teacher.
Removing all fingerings which allows students to write them in while also allowing students with physical limitations to think outside the box on what may work best for them.
Minimizing instructions and markings where possible to assist with focus.
The recommendation of printing on peach or pale yellow paper where possible.
In addition to re-engraving existing scores, through this project I will also be offering services to composers in adapting their own materials into a more accessible format.
I appreciate any and all feedback for improving my process in the future and hope to hear from you! You can reach me at email@example.com.
Thank you so much to Dr. Annie Jeng for her support and inspiration while working on this project!
Ahmed, Rana et al. “The design and user-testing of a question prompt list for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” BMJ Open (Dec 16, 2014). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006585.
Baeza-Yates, Ricardo and Luz Rello. “Good Fonts for Dyslexia Study.” Association for Computing Machinery, ASSETS '17 (October 2017): 72–80. https://doi.org/10.1145/3132525.3132546.
Bingham, Jeffrey and Luz Rello. “Good Background Colors for Readers: A Study of People with and without Dyslexia.” Association for Computing Machinery, ASSETS '17 (October 2017): 72-80. https://doi.org/10.1145/3132525.3132546.
Cianchettini, Veronika. Sonata in F Major. mvt 1, mm. 11-14. (London: Goulding, Phipps & D'Almaine, N.D. 1800). https://imslp.org/wiki/Piano_Sonata%2C_Op.2_(Dus%C3%ADkova%2C_Katerina_Veronika_Anna).
McKnight, Lorna. “Designing for Children with ADHD: The Search for Guidelines for Non-Experts.” User Experience Magazine, March, 2011. https://uxpamagazine.org/designing_children_adhd/.
Angela Farlow Rumball recently completed her M.M. in Vocal Performance along with a P.B.C. in Musicology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She holds her Bachelor of Arts in Music with a Minor in Psychology from Winthrop University. She has taught voice and piano for the last 8 years both privately and as an adjunct professor at William Peace University. She has also performed as a featured soloist with the North Carolina Symphony, North Carolina Master Chorale, and the Carolina Ballet. She continues to teach privately and perform professionally.
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