After three semesters of continuous use at performances and rehearsals, the large print music binder that I used for college pep band started to fall apart. This binder had previously been provided to me by the pep band staff and while I definitely appreciate their efforts to create an accessible music binder, I knew that I wanted to be more involved in the creation of my new accessible music binder. Here is how I created my own large print music binder that holds 80+ songs and the design considerations that went into creating it.
My old binder
My previous music binder measured 11 x 17 inches and was easily over 100 pages. The music dangled from the top of the stand, with the front cover flipped over the front of the stand, and sometimes multiple stands were required to balance the book and keep it from sinking. This was because the book weighed over ten pounds, and kept growing over the course of the semester, to the point where it would take three people to help flip the book to the other side of the page. While I was able to read the music on the page, I wasn’t able to use this book independently.
Why not use digital music?
While I have used my iPad to read music for concert band, this was not a viable option for pep band for several reasons:
- I wear sunglasses as part of my pep band uniform, which makes it difficult to read backlit displays. These are different than the tinted glasses that I wear every day, which have no impact on my ability to read digital screens.
- It would be difficult for me to quickly navigate to different areas of the book- if my director called for us to jump from song 3 to song 35, it would take me longer to flip across the screen with only the use of one hand.
- Our college pep band is extremely active- there’s lots of dancing, jumping, singing, arm waving, and other traditions. There would be a high risk of my iPad falling off the stand and breaking, or somehow getting stolen or misplaced
- I would have to hunch my back more to read the music on the smaller iPad screen, which is not a great option for someone who already plays a larger instrument.
- Tips For Reading Music On An iPad With Low Vision
- Concert Band and Low Vision
- Marching Band and Low Vision
- Adapting Band Uniforms For Photosensitivity and Sensory Overload
Requirements for a new binder
So I knew that I wanted a new and improved music binder, but what would that even look like? Lucky for me, my state’s accessible educational materials provider, AIM-VA, is based on my college campus, and while they wouldn’t be able to produce my large print music binder (they only provide services for K-12 students), they could certainly give me ideas on how to create one. After looking at several examples of how they have created accessible music books (one of which is pictured below), I decided on the following requirements for my new binder:
- 11 x 14 page size, which could fit on any stand
- Enlarging music to 250%, or the equivalent of size 24 font
- A weight of less than eight pounds so that it would be easier to carry
- The ability to turn pages independently
- Using a consistent font for song titles and lyrics/chants
Choosing my new binder
After searching all over the DC Metro area, I found the perfect large print music binder on a website called Keep Filing. While the binder by itself costs about $18, I purchased the combination set that comes with 75 clear sheet protectors and colored tabs for about $70. Due to an issue with shipping, Keep Filing generously sent me a second combination set for free, which I was incredibly grateful for when my original binder was stolen about a year later (and taught me an important lesson in securing my items).
- 11×14 Art Portfolio Binder Set – 11×14 Photo Album (keepfiling.com)
- 11×14 Binder with label holder – Poster Size (keepfiling.com)
Digitally enlarging music
All of the pep band music is stored in a Google Drive folder that is accessible for all students, so it was easy for me to get access to all of the music. I then used Microsoft PowerPoint and Microsoft Publisher to enlarge the music to fit the 11 x 14 page, a process that took around three hours. I go more into detail about how I did this in the post linked below.
- How To Make Music Accessible With Microsoft Publisher
- How I Document Accessibility Preferences With Low Vision
While it’s difficult to find an 11 x 14 binder, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to find 11 x 14 paper as well. After consulting with my university’s assistive technology office, we decided to have all of the music printed on 11 x 17 paper, and then trim off the three inches of blank space at the bottom of the page. This also helped to ensure that none of the notes or dynamic measures were cut off. While this is something the assistive technology office could have done for me for free, I needed to have the music printed that day for an upcoming performance and went to the on-campus UPS store instead- I used the assistive technology office services whenever we got new sheet music after that. I printed music on single-sided paper because the song order would frequently change throughout the performance season.
- What To Know About College Assistive Technology Specialists
- How To Request Accessible Textbooks In College
Assembling the binder
I enlisted the help of a friend to help me confirm the page numbers for songs and slid all of the pages into the sheet protectors- a task that was incredibly easy because the paper had been trimmed down to size. This took about 45 minutes to do since there were over 80 songs, many with multiple pages. The binder ended up clocking in at a weight of about five pounds.
Debuting the new binder
Bringing the new binder to the performance that night felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, or rather my music stand. I was able to balance my book on only one stand and could easily turn pages with one hand, even when playing. I believe everyone standing within a five foot radius could tell how excited I was!
Even though I could carry the binder on my own, I could not balance carrying my instrument, my blindness cane, and the binder up a flight of stairs to my seat, so I still needed some assistance in that regard. Eventually, when my neurological condition made it too difficult for me to climb the stairs, I asked to be moved to a lower seating section that didn’t require stairs, and had the additional bonus of having me stand behind another band member with low vision who turned into one of my best friends!
Summary of considerations for creating a large print music binder
While this binder system works for me, low vision is a very broad term. No two people have the exact same preferences for print materials or assistive technology. Considerations for creating a large print music binder should include:
- How many pages will be needed
- Whether the binder can be used independently- turning pages, transport, taking it on/off stand
- Considerations for font size and scaling
- Use of digital music vs printed copies
- Type of instrument- a bass clarinetist will have different music than a piccolo player