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Real-time translation of sheet music to Braille in the classroom
Author: Wiida Fourie-Basson
Published: 19/11/2018

​​A Computer Science student from Stellenbosch University, Cameron Raven, developed a software programme that can translate sheet music to Braille and vice versa in real time.

Cameron developed the system specifically to assist in the teaching of music up to Grade 3 level at the Pioneer School for the Visually Impaired in Worcester. The work was done as part of his BSc Honors project in Computer Science under the guidance of Professor Lynette van Zijl, well-known for her work on computer-assisted technologies for the blind and deaf.

Cameron says his program differs from similar systems in that it can be used in real time in the class room: “Teachers will be able to translate from a digital version of sheet music to Braille and send the file over a local area network to the learners' Apex machine at their desk. The Apex machine then reads and interprets this file to give the equivalent Braiile Music Notation for the learner to use and read the music," he explains.

The learners will also be able to write their own music on their Apex machines which is then saved in Braille and sent back to the teacher. The music is again converted to sheet music for the teacher to read.

Mr Hannes Byleveldt, Deputy Principal at the school, says music as a subject has been taught at the school since its inception in 1877: “Music is one of the most important building blocks in the development of the blind learner and is the source of much joy and meaning in their lives. Several of our learners follow the UNISA curriculum, which means they will be able to study music after school."

One such example is former learner Michelle Nell, currently enrolled for an MA in Music Education at Stellenbosch University.

The school is also home to the South African Braille Music Library, the only library of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. With nearly 1 300 titles, ranging from beginners' pieces to complex pieces by composers such as Beethoven and Lizt, it serves users from all over Africa.

Earlier this year, SU and the Pioneer School signed a collaboration agreement with the view to support e-learning and enhance the quality of education at the school.

“With the help and support from Stellenbosch University, we want to use technology to revolutionise the teaching and use of braille in the classroom and in real life," Mr Byleveldt says.

As part of the collaboration agreement, the Computer Science Division also donated six Lenovo desktop computers to the school. The computers became available after the upgrading of equipment in the Natural Science's Computer Usage Areas. Mr Andrew Collett, senior technical officer in the Computer Science Division and an MSc student, made sure the computers were technically ready for the school to use.

“Now they only have to tell us what is the next project on their wish list for 2019," concludes Prof. van Zijl.

On the photo, from left to right, Ms Elizma Berlyn (marketing), BSc student Cameron Raven, Prof. Lynette van Zijl, Mr Andrew Collett, Mr Hannes Byleveldt (deputy principal) and Mr Michael Bredenkamp, principal of Pioneer School.