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Software provides easy access to Braille music scores

Mon, 10/07/2013 - 11:29 -- deepti.gahrotra

Hiroko Oyamaguchi is volunteer transcriber who transforms musical scores into Braille, enabling visually impaired musicians to read the notes.

It can be a long process even for a 30-year veteran like Oyamaguchi, 62, who says a complicated piece of Debussy music can take her up to a month to complete.
That all began to change in 2006.

With the spread of the Internet, many Japanese started using automatic music translation software BrailMUSE (Braille music support environment), which was developed by Toshiyuki Gotoh, a professor of image processing and assistive technology at Yokohama National University Graduate School, and other researchers at his laboratory.

This year, the Japan Association of Braille Music started offering automated Braille translation software for trial use to test its effectiveness. The association hopes it will be used as Internet transcoding for universal access to music scores.

The association was founded in 2005 with a donation by Empress Michiko from royalties of her books to be used for creating Braille music scores. Violinist Takayoshi Wanami, who has been blind since birth, serves as association president.

The 61-year-old Gotoh kept revising BrailMUSE during the past five years based on requests and suggestions for improvement by Braille translation volunteers like Oyamaguchi.
With BrailMUSE, music scores are transcribed from a computer-based musical format into Braille music notation, using symbols to show pitch and rhythm, octave markings and other types of musical notations. The software has been used in 25 countries, as well as in Japan.

When BrailMUSE first became available, there were still some problems, according to Oyamaguchi. She said the poor condition of some original scores led to scanning failures, and volunteers were forced rewrite the original scores by hand before scanning and translating through BrailMUSE.

“If only correct electronic data was available from the beginning,” she recalls thinking.
Yukio Imaishi, who works for music score publisher Music Eight Inc., offered to help in January.
Imaishi proposed to the president of Music Eight that the company provide electronic scores for Braille music. With no copyright fee required, users can download transcribed Braille scores for free on the Internet.

Part of the reason that Imaishi wanted to help was that his daughter, now 10, was born premature. When she was a baby and at risk of going blind, he would take her to the hospital, where he saw many visually impaired children.

Being in charge of score sales for wind instrument music, Imaishi said he wants “to have all the children--both visually impaired and unimpaired (enjoy music.)"

“I want to ask for cooperation from other publishers (in Braille translation efforts) via the music industry network,” Imaishi said.

Scores of five popular songs for recorders, including “Ue o Muite Aruko” ("Sukiyaki") and “Ashita ga Arusa” (Tomorrow is another day), both sung by the late Kyu Sakamoto, and “Heavy Rotation,” a hit song by AKB48, have been made available for evaluation in the trial version.

Tetsuji Tanaka, director of the Japan Braille Library and co-representative of the Braille music association, said, “It is our goal to have users find their favorite songs and download their braille scores in the near future so they can feel free to enjoy music.”

For more information, visit the Japan Association of Braille Music website (

Source: The Asian Shimbun

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