In 1962 a special music collection for blind persons was authorized by Congress as part of its free national library program, and in 1966 service was extended to individuals with disabilities. The collection is the basis for the music program the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress, administered through its Music Section. While patrons receive most NLS services through the network of cooperating libraries, music materials are circulated directly to patrons from the NLS headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Patrons may access a collection of braille, large-print, and recorded instructional materials about music and musicians. They may also obtain free subscriptions to magazines produced in audio, braille, and large print. All materials are circulated postage free, and many digital audio and ebraille materials are available for download over the Internet. Machines needed to use the audio cartridges are provided to eligible users without charge. Musical recordings intended solely for listening are not included in the music collection, as they are readily available commercially and from public libraries.
Eligibility and Application for Service
To be eligible for music services, an individual must:
- Reside in the United States or its territories or be a U.S. citizen living abroad.
- Be unable to read regular print because of a temporary or permanent visual or physical disability.
Anyone currently registered with an NLS cooperating library that serves individuals who are blind or have a physical disability qualifies to receive music books and scores and should contact the NLS Music Section directly. Other eligible individuals may sign up for service by completing the Application for Library Service: Individuals and returning it to their cooperating library or to the NLS Music Section. Once an application is approved, patrons will be contacted by their library and may contact the Music Section to begin receiving service.
The special-format music collection, the largest of its kind in the world, consists of more than 25,000 audio, braille, and large‑print music scores, texts, and other instructional materials. Some materials are purchased from national and international commercial sources. Other items are selected and produced in audio and braille formats by NLS with the permission of composers, authors, and publishers. Some titles are developed solely for the NLS program.
The collection materials range in levels from beginning to advanced and can be searched online. Additional books about music and musicians are available from local cooperating libraries.
- Braille. Braille titles make up the largest portion of the collection. These include braille music transcriptions of the standard eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth century repertoire for most instruments, with emphasis on piano, vocal, and choral music. The braille collection also includes earlier and later classical music, popular music, textbooks, librettos, and music instruction books.
- Large Print. Large-print music, which is produced with a minimum 14-point type size and a 1-inch staff size, is available for piano, voice, and other instruments. The large-print collection also includes books about music, librettos, biographies of popular and classical musicians, general music histories, and some music reference works.
- Recordings. A variety of instructional recordings may be requested from the hard-copy collection. Subjects include music theory and appreciation; interviews and master classes, opera lectures, and history; and biographical sketches of pop, jazz, and classical musicians with examples of their art. Many recorded titles are devoted to instruction in playing various instruments (e.g., guitar, piano, organ, and recorder), as well as songs for those instruments.
- Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD). Patrons may request access to the Braille and Audio Reading Download (BARD) website, which allows patrons to download music materials. Ebraille files (BRMs) include scores (sheet music) for various instruments and/or voice, standard music texts and many method books. Audio materials (DBMs) include instructional guides and music appreciation presentations. Titles produced by NLS represent a variety of instructional material for both instrumental and vocal artists.
Six music magazines are available by direct-mail subscription to registered users. Subscriptions may be obtained through the local cooperating library or the NLS Music Section. Several are also available via download from BARD. The magazines are:
- Braille Music Magazine, a monthly British publication containing articles and criticism from British classical music magazines. Hard-copy embossed issues are mailed to all subscribers.
- Contemporary Sound Track: A Review of Pop, Jazz, Rock, and Country, a bimonthly NLS-compiled sampler of articles from national magazines. It is available to subscribers on cartridge and on BARD.
- Musical Mainstream, an NLS-compiled sampler from national magazines. It contains current articles on classical music and music education. The quarterly publication is available in large print, braille, ebraille, and audio. Audio is available to subscribers on cartridge and on BARD.
- Popular Music Lead Sheets, an NLS-compiled collection of melodies, lyrics, and chords to popular songs ranging from golden oldies to recent hits. Published four times a year in braille, it is available on BARD.
- Quarterly Music Magazine, a single issue of a complete music magazine chosen from among commercial popular and classical offerings. The audio publication is available to subscribers on cartridge and on BARD.
- Sound and Vision, a monthly publication containing articles and reviews of music recordings and information about technological equipment. It is available to subscribers on cartridge and on BARD.
The Music Section has a blog on the Library of Congress website called NLS Music Notes. The blog posts highlight the music collection, present newly added titles, profiles of musicians who are blind or visually impaired, and feature braille music transcribers and their work, along with a variety of related music topics and activities.https://www.loc.gov/nls/braille-audio-reading-materials/music-materials/
Music Materials on the Web
Please visit the Music Materials on the NLS website for updates and to access music publications available on the Internet, some of which are noted below.
Materials Available from the Music Section: A Selection
- Braille Scores Catalog: Choral (braille and large print)
- Circular #13, Braille Scores Catalog: Choral—Supplement A (braille and large print)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Instrumental (large print and braille)
- Circular #14, Braille Scores Catalog: Instrumental—Supplement (braille and large print)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Organ (braille, large print, and TXT)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Piano (braille, large print, and HTML)
- Circular #3, Piano Methods in Braille (braille and large print)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Vocal, Part I—Classical (braille and large print)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Vocal, Part II—Popular (large print)
- Braille Scores Catalog: Vocal, Part III—Popular, Supplement (braille and large print)
- Circular #10, Braille Scores Catalog: Vocal Part I—Classical—Supplement (large print)
- Instructional Music Recordings Catalog (large print and on BARD [DBM03542])
- Large-Print Scores and Books Catalog (large print)
- Sample Large-Print Music Page
- Musical Mainstream (audio, braille, and large print)
- Popular Music Lead Sheets (braille)
Publications on Reading Braille Music
- Circular #11, Books on Braille Music Notation (braille and large print)
- Dictionary of Braille Music Signs (braille, large print, and available on BARD [BRM26334])
- Volume 1 Dictionary of Braille Music Signs, revised edition
- Volume 2 Dictionary of Braille Music Signs, revised edition
- Do You Know This Tune? (print/braille music sample)
- Who’s Afraid of Braille Music? (braille, large print [LPM00660], and on BARD [BRM32949])
Publications on Special Topics and Materials
- Circular #4, Braille Music Transcribers (braille, large print, and online)
- Circular #5, Music Periodicals Available from NLS (large print)
- Circular #16, Opera Librettos and Lectures (large print and online)
- Circular #17, Christmas Music and Instructional Recordings (large print)
- Circular #19, College Texts about Music (large print)
- Facts: Music Services for Individuals Who Are Blind or Have a Physical Disability (braille and print)
- Music Is for Everyone (large-print brochure)
To request any of the above materials or more information contact:
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542
Note: Telephone or e-mail is the most efficient means of contact as a result of required security procedures for postal deliveries.