American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
Winter 2017       MUSIC AND DANCE

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Musical Bricks Using LEGO to Notate Music

by Matthew Shifrin

From the Editor: Matthew Shifrin is a longtime LEGO aficionado. His website, <legofortheblind.com>, provides downloadable instructions for building dozens of LEGO kits. In this article he explains how blind students can use LEGO blocks to enhance their understanding of musical notation.

As a conservatory-bound blind composer, there's one hurdle that I haven't fully overcome. That hurdle is music notation. Though accessible software exists for writing musical notation, I find it confusing and cumbersome to use.

When I started taking music theory lessons with a private instructor, Kathryn Salfelder, I knew I would have to do rhythmic dictation. Rhythmic dictation consists of a series of exercises in which an instructor gives the student a musical passage, and the student has to write down the duration of each note, that is, how long each note lasts. A note may be a quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note, etc. I needed a way to convey this information quickly and efficiently to my instructor. When Kathryn found out that I am a LEGO aficionado, she invented a brilliant solution. She created a tactile LEGO-based notation system!

How does the system work? All of the notes are represented diagonally, top left to bottom right, on a standard 32x32 or 16x16 LEGO baseplate. The size of the baseplate depends on how many measures must be notated. LEGO blocks of various sizes are assigned to represent particular note durations. From shortest to longest, the note durations and their associated LEGO bricks are as follows:

• 1x1 cylinder = 32nd note
• 1x1 = sixteenth note
• 1x2 = eighth note
• 1x3 = dotted eighth note
• 1x4 = quarter note
• 1x6 = dotted quarter note
• 1x8 = half note
• 1x12 = dotted half note
• 1x16 = whole note
• 1x1 wedge = slur/tie

New measures are usually notated with two rows of space between them, or they may start from the top of the board, again depending on what kind of music the student is writing.

The brilliance of this system lies in the tactile feedback that a blind person gets from manipulating the LEGO pieces. The system provides a sensory immediacy lacking in systems such as Music Braille. Using the LEGO system, a student easily can recognize and correct errors in notation. If the student realizes that two notes in a measure are in the wrong places, he or she can simply pick them up and switch them to the right locations. With this intuitive system, rhythmic dictation is now a breeze!

The LEGO system can be an excellent way to teach young blind children about musical notes and their durations. By using this method, children can learn the ways that notes can be connected to form various kinds of melodies.

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