I joined my school’s concert band program when I was in fifth grade, and played in several different concert band settings as part of school band and extracurricular music programs, including symphonic band, honors band, wind ensembles, and other concert band programs. I’ve been grateful to have a lot of amazing and inclusive band directors who worked with me to implement disability accommodations in the school band classroom and on the stage so that I could participate fully, and in honor of Music in Our Schools Month, today I will be sharing my favorite tips for participating in concert band with low vision and visual impairment, based on my own experiences.
Talking to my directors about my disability
My IEP accommodations are written with the traditional classroom environment in mind, so I would talk to my band directors before the beginning of the school year about how to implement my disability accommodations in the band classroom, including how to print large print music and other strategies for participating in band with low vision that I had learned over the years, such as how I would navigate auditions and performances. When I transferred high schools, I was amazingly fortunate that my new band director was actually a former student of my previous director and the two were able to talk about different strategies for enlarging music and avoiding flashing lights in the classroom- more on that in another section.
- Learning to Self-Advocate
- Eight Things You Need To Know About Your Disability Accommodations
- Marching Band and Low Vision
How I read music with low vision
I’ve used a few different strategies for reading music with low vision in various ensembles, including:
- Organizing printed copies of music in a large print music binder. My band directors would provide me with digital scanned copies of music or I would scan them in myself.
- Displaying music on an iPad. Again, my directors would provide me with digital copies of music that could be annotated as needed with the Markup tool.
- Printed music on large paper. A school paraprofessional would resize my music on larger paper and print it horizontally, and my directors would work with me to ensure no notes or important symbols were cut off.
- Playing audio recordings of music to learn music by ear. Admittedly, I only tried this a handful of times as an experiment, but I’ve had other friends with low vision who preferred this method for getting accessible music.
When attending assessments or auditions that involved sightreading, my band director would request my music to be scaled 250% and printed on larger paper sizes. If the host school didn’t provide this, I would sit with my instrument in my lap and the director would inform the juror that my music was not given to me in an accessible format- in the instances where this happened, I was the only person who played a given instrument, so it was noticeable to others I was not playing.
- My Large Print Music Binder
- How To Make Music Accessible With Microsoft PowerPoint
- Tips For Reading Music On An iPad With Low Vision
- Using The iPad Markup Tool With Low Vision
- Low Vision Accommodations For Print Materials
- How To Modify An Instrument Fingering Chart For Low Vision
Asking for my own stand
Students often share stands in sections, but I always requested my own stand because the large print music required page turns at different times than the traditional printed music, and sometimes I needed to use a stand that could accommodate the heavier music binder or other tools. When I was the only one in my section, this was not an issue, though when setting up for concerts and assessments I would ask my directors or the stage manager to ensure that an extra stand was available.
- Ways To Use Music Stands As Assistive Technology
- Options For Watching The Conductor With Low Vision
- Paper Size and Low Vision
Storing instruments in the band closet
At my first high school, the band closet was a large, well-lit and spacious area that was filled with lots of identical instruments. One of the strategies that made it easier for me to locate my clarinet was to add unique keychains and decorations to my case along with a colorful name label, so it was easier for me to identify my soprano clarinet.
The band closet at my second high school was smaller, didn’t have very good lighting, and was difficult for me to navigate, especially when I had a broken ankle or leg brace. Instead of having me store my instrument in the closet, my director gave me permission to store my bass clarinet case behind the piano so that it wouldn’t be a tripping hazard, but was still easy for me to retrieve.
- Why I Chose The Clarinet As A Musician With Low Vision
- Playing in GMU Green Machine Pep Band With Vision Impairment
Accommodating for sensitivity to strobe/flashing lights
I have a neurological condition that is triggered by strobe and flashing lights, and seeing these types for a prolonged period of time was once a seizure trigger for me, and is now a migraine trigger. If I have a migraine or seizure, I am often disoriented and unable to play my instrument, and this unfortunately caused me to miss many band classes and performances over the years.
One unexpected source of flashing lights in the band classroom is instrument tuners. Instrument tuners often use lights to indicate whether an instrument is sharp or flat, and these lights often flicker rapidly as the musician plays a tuning note. Since students often tuned their instruments with the help of another student anyway, I would have the person assisting me cover the lights of the tuner with their finger or turn the display away from me so that I wouldn’t see the lights.
For performances, I would sit in the hallway instead of the audience when waiting to get on stage, and my directors would make an announcement reminding people not to use flash photography before I got on stage. I would use a guide to get on the stage, usually another staff member or student, so that I wouldn’t trip over any equipment.
- Flashing Lights and Photosensitivity in the Classroom
- Dance Classes and Low Vision
- How To Be An Effective Human Guide For People With Vision Loss
- Having An Undiagnosed Chronic Illness In High School
Other tips for participating in concert band with low vision
- When traveling to assessments or other performances, my band director assigned me an “assistant” to help me with carrying items and serving as an informal human guide, which was helpful when I had to navigate unfamiliar areas. My “assistant” was usually one of my best friends or my brother.
- I didn’t use a blindness cane until I was in college, though when I was playing I would store the cane folded in my chair behind me, or use a human guide exclusively for getting on/off the stage
- In addition to flashing lights/photosensitivity, I also experience photophobia, or a sensitivity to bright lights, as part of my neurological condition. This is easier to accommodate for in concert band, as I wear tinted glasses and try to sit away from direct spotlights when playing on the stage.