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Using software to display music scores in large print

Introduction

If you are a partially sighted musician wanting to display your sheet music in large print, then there are several software options to explore.

  • If you are starting with a print or PDF score, then you may wish to try forScore (for iOS or Mac) or Power Music AF (for Windows). Both these apps allow the user to import PDFs or scan printed music, and then reformat them to display in larger print.
  • If you have the option of starting with a MusicXML score, which is more flexible than a PDF, then you may prefer to import the score in a notation editor app to read or listen to there and tweak the formatting more precisely to your requirements.
  • Dancing Dots Lime Lighter is another popular software package that may be of interest, for displaying either scanned or MusicXML scores in more accessible ways.

If you are not confident using technology, and you are based in the UK, then RNIB’s Personal Transcription service can support you by creating Modified Stave Notation tailored to your preferences.

Please read below for more information on all these options.

forScore

forScore is an app for Apple devices: iPad, iPhone, and Mac. While not designed specifically for partially sighted users, it does have some good accessibility features, which many users find adequate. Most notably, the “Reflow” feature reformats the music into one continuous stave that can then be enlarged. This is much easier than having to zoom in and out of a whole page and move between lines!

The user can then scroll through the music by dragging on the device’s screen, or by pairing with a Bluetooth page turner foot pedal. The user can also add annotations, flags, and bookmarks for quick navigation, as well as add links to jump back to the beginning of a repeated section.

However, it should be noted that the current user interface may be difficult to navigate for some low vision users, as some of the buttons are small. You may wish to use the magnifier or zoom function on your device.

If you choose to try forScore, then you may wish to explore the following pages in the support documentation:

forScore costs £17.99 and is available from the Apple App Store.

Power Music AF

Power Music AF (Accessible Format) is a version of Cambron Software’s Power Music app that has been designed specifically with partially sighted musicians in mind. It is available for Windows tablets and PCs.

The software allows the user to enlarge PDFs or scanned sheet music and display it on a computer screen or digital music stand. As with forScore, the user can then scroll through the music by dragging on the device’s screen or by pairing the device with a Bluetooth page turner foot pedal. The user can also add annotations, and navigate by page number, rehearsal mark, or bar number.

The software comes with a slight learning curve, but because it was designed for low-vision users, it includes lots of accessibility settings, including modified colours, as shown in the following YouTube videos:

Power Music AF costs £35 and is suitable for any Windows tablet, or a Windows PC if you don’t need the portability.

Some users also prefer to purchase a pre-packaged “digital music stand” for ease of setup and portability. These cost a fair bit more – Power Music sell stands ranging from £300-£1500 depending on the size – but you might be able to find a cheaper one second hand or from another supplier.

The company do also make an iPad /iPhone version of Power Music, though this version puts less emphasis on accessibility.

forScore vs Power Music AF

As forScore is mainstream software, it is well supported and actively developed. Assuming any accessibility barriers with the user interface can be overcome by the user, the app claims to be able to ‘Reflow’ the music automatically into one long scrolling line, whereas reformatting takes more manual work in Power Music.

On the other hand, the simple and bold user interface of Power Music AF may be preferable to some users. It also offers greater flexibility in the music colour and background.

Both apps are compatible with Bluetooth page turner foot pedals.

If you have experience with these apps that you feel would be useful to share, then please add a comment at the end of the article.

Reading a MusicXML or source file in a notation editor app

The inherent flexibility of the MusicXML format is very useful for accessibility. If you can obtain the scores you would like to read in MusicXML format, then you may wish to try importing these into a notation editor, such as MuseScore or Sibelius. Apps such as these afford users the potential to tailor the display and layout of individual elements of the score to their requirements.

Furthermore, both these apps allow you to save a comfortable ‘house style’ of music and text size, along with other preferences, which can be applied to any score that they open in the app.

Notation apps also allow you hide or show different instrumental parts within a MusicXML score for easier reading, and even to listen to the score using the app’s instrument sounds.

All of the above also applies to source files that are specific to one particular app (.mscz for MuseScore, .sib for Sibelius etc.).

If you wish, you can then save your modified score to PDF, creating your own Modified Stave Notation music to read in other sheet music apps, such as the two described at the top of this article, on the go.

Additionally, MuseScore has enlarged menu options and a low vision colour mode, which some users prefer.

MuseScore is free. There is also a free version of Sibelius (Sibelius First) but this comes with limitations, so many users are likely to require a paid plan.

Dancing Dots Lime Lighter

Lime Lighter is based on Lime notation software, but uses a version that has special scrolling and magnification features to enable performers with low vision to read and to write music notation. It is a significantly more expensive option than any others mentioned above but remains popular. It can be purchased as Windows software to run on your own PC or Windows tablet (Lime Lighter Liberty) or packaged with a portable PC (Lime Lighter Leggiero).

Users can scan their music using the bundled SharpEye software, but it should be noted that there is no direct PDF import option at this time.

RNIB’s Personal Transcription service

If you are not confident using technology to create your own large print music, and you are based in the UK, then RNIB’s Personal Transcription service can adapt your musical scores into a format that is easier to read and then send them back to you. They can tailor Modified Stave Notation to your preferences, but also have a set of standard sizes available, for which they can send you a sample booklet to try. They can return the music as hard copy A4 or A3, or digitally as a large print PDF, or as a MuseScore or MusicXML file.

Further reading

You may also find the following article interesting, where sight-impaired harpist Adelaide Jang talks about using forScore on an iPad:

Adelaide Jang: From office to orchestra pit, a classical harpist’s journey

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Jay Pocknell

Jay Pocknell