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Although music is the only totally accessible art for blind persons, in the last 30 years, and despite the introduction of school integration, music studies have dramatically decayed in Europe among them.
The main reason for this is the fact that music Braille notation, which is indispensable for musical literacy, differs far more from conventional musical notation than literary Braille does from common print characters.
In other words, while literal notation can be represented by a limited number of symbols (the Braille literary alphabet), this is not true when it comes to music scores.
In fact, printed music scores represent the most important elements of a score (pitch, note duration, melodic line(s), monophony VS polyphony) visually.
All these elements can certainly be represented in a very precise way with Braille, but, due to the fact that Braille is based on 64 dot combinations, a Braille score is a linear representation of the original, and there is no logical analogy between the Braille symbol and its musical meaning.
This forces the blind to engage in enormous mental work when deciphering Braille scores.

Reading and skimming
Due to the peculiar functioning of the sense of touch, which is the sense of limited extension and of proximity, the non-sighted cannot "grasp" the structure of the score, like their sighted peers, and, unless they already know the piece by ear, learning is much more tiring.
Sighted musicians can read their score based on different criteria (overall, precise reading, part extraction, skipping certain symbols, etc.); the blind are generally bound to sequential reading, even if they can decide to ignore certain Braille symbols. Braille music pages are flat sequences of symbols, and there are not many typographical resources to help the reader skip directly to a certain point.
Summarizing, we can say that a printed music score is like a town with many windows and signs. On the contrary, its Braille version is like a black box, containing all the elements, but no signs, no flags. Finally, in most cases (except for singers), the blind student is not able to read and play at the same time, like sighted peers, because he needs his hands to read the Braille score.
All of this puts beginners off from studying music.
The tradition of special schools for the blind has produced high quality teaching methods, which can be adapted to modern needs, and can be enriched with new technologies based on the use of PC and innovative music software.

Solutions and their limitations
Recently, a number of alternatives have been developed to reduce the gap between music literacy and the blind. Most of these technologies, though, are based on the principle that the only way to approach music is learning by ear.
Almost all pieces of software and related learning methodology are based on the use of MIDI. These files, however, are not at all precise with regard to many music elements, such as: a) mechanical aspects of execution (fingering, use of bow, pedals in organ pieces, use of nail in guitar, etc.); b) ornaments; c) logical lines (e.g. in polyphonic music); etc.
Although learning by ear can be very stimulating for beginners, who can attain good results in a very short time, it  is very dangerous for advanced learners - analogous to learning English only by listening, with no idea of the spelling.
We know that our mental ability to use complex communication can develop only with the use of written symbols. This ability allows the human being to disassemble and re-assemble complex logical structures, thus making it possible to master a given language. In this context, music is to be considered also a kind of complex language.
For all of the reasons mentioned above, the principle of "equal opportunities", with regard to musical studies for the blind, appears, in practice,  to be ignored.

European projects and innovative solutions
In recent years a number of programmes have been developed in Europe, among these, PLAY2 (2002-2004), Contrapunctus (2007-2009).
All of these pieces of software are based on the idea that real access to music for the non-sighted can be achieved only if those musicians are allowed to access a given score not only in its acoustic aspects (by ear), but also in all its grammatical, lexical and formal aspects. This requires a very precise representation method, capable of informing the interpreter (whether beginner or professional) about each musical element.
These programs have been focused on transforming Braille music scores, originally like black boxes, into very flexible products.
They can replace many of the tasks performed by sight with a visual reading of a score, including overview, the grasping of structure, following a given melodic line among many others, highlighting desired elements (e.g. only notes), disassembling function (especially useful for chord analysis).
Moreover, thanks to combined use of existing adaptive technologies (synthesized voice, Braille display, Braille embosser, sound card, interaction with normal keyboard), the blind can use different methodologies for exploring and navigating scores, in any combination (Braille and speech, only spoken music, Braille and listening, etc).

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