Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

On Tech & Vision With Dr. Cal Roberts

Mar 6, 2023

This podcast is about big ideas on how technology is making life better for people with vision loss.

Marcus Roberts, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and even Louis Braille (who invented the Braille Music Notation system still used today) prove that musicians who are blind or visually impaired have made profound impacts on our musical landscape. However, to get their work to us, musicians who are blind have had to structure complex workarounds, like relying on sighted musicians to demonstrate complex scores; memorizing long pieces; or only performing when they can have a Braille score in front of them, shutting them out from opportunities that fall to those who can sight read, since Braille scores have often been time-consuming and expensive to produce. However, new technologies in music composition and production are making composition, nuanced scoring, and Braille printing easier than ever, bringing musicians and composers who are blind to centerstage to share their sound and song.


The Big Takeaways:

  • “Lullay and  Lament” by James Risdon. The recorder — pivotal in music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods — only lately has emerged from a long period of obsolescence. James Risdon, a passionate player who lost his vision due to Leiber’s congenital amaurosis as a child, has written the original song for recorder “Lullay and Lament” for his album Echoes of Arcadia, which marries the early recorder with contemporary recorder music. To make this album, he relied on new musical technologies like Dancing Dots.
  • Dancing Dots with Bill McCann. Bill McCann is the founder and president of Dancing Dots Braille Music Notation software. Dancing Dots is a suite of software — plus educational resources and training — that helps people who are blind to read, write and record their music. McCann founded Dancing Dots in 1992.
  • Chris Cooke and When Chris Cooke got the Dancing Dots software in 2016, her creativity exploded. She was able to arrange a song and bring it to church and play a duet with a member of the congregation, something she hadn’t been able to do before, given the former time and cost of translating music into Braille notation.
  • What is Braille Music? Louis Braille, a noted musician, created the Braille musical notation system. Being able to translate music easily between Braille Musical Notation and Western musical notation, and to easily print either of these, helps musicians who are blind share music with other musicians, both sighted and blind, and play music together with ease.
  • Musical Instrument Digital Interface and MusicXML. MIDI has made it possible for musicians to play music into their instruments and have it automatically translated into digital musical notation. MusicXML has made universal the file type for a score and allows musicians to share scores across popular music notation applications like Finale or Sebelius.
  • The question of parity. James and Chris agree that while Dancing Dots technology has enabled them to take advantage of new musical opportunities, no technology exists that offers them complete parity with sighted musicians because musicians who are blind need additional lead time to get the music scanned correctly or to memorize pieces. Chris adds that preparing the music in a timely fashion and on a budget would help.
  • The MIDI-to-brain connection. Bill McCann has explored using the Brainport, a technology from WICAB (which we profiled in an episode from September 2021, on “Training the Brain: Sensory Substitution”) to allow musicians who are blind to read music on their tongues. This is important if someone needs to read music live in a performance in order to play any instrument that also requires their hands. Early trials showed signs of success. He posits that maybe someday, maybe soon, people could think new music into notation.



  • “I said, I will never put myself in this position again. If I write something and I am asking other people to play it, and they ask me questions or there’s something I am going to know before we meet exactly what I want and what I have.” — Bill McCann, founder and president of Dancing Dots
  • “So the duet that we played was hot off my printer and went with me and we played it. And it was great to be able to share music in that way because of the technology in the Dancing Dots program.” — Chris Cooke, musician and music arranger, creator of
  • “As a blind person, I can say this for myself, often we end up following sighted people, or following somebody. Braille music gives blind musicians the chance to become leaders.” — Bill McCann, founder and president of Dancing Dots
  • “I've set aside 2023 as a year. I'd really like to kind of develop some more expertise in the area and also come to grips with some of the technology that would help the process.” — James Risdon, musician and recorder player
  • “Someone sitting there and getting inspired is what we call the MIDI-to-Brain connection. We’re not there yet, but you could … think the music in your head … at a computer and … music materializes in the form of a score.” — Bill McCann, founder and president of Dancing Dots


Contact Us:


Pertinent Links: