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Guide

How to modify an instrument fingering chart for low vision

How to modify an instrument fingering chart in a physical or digital format for musicians with print disabilities.

When I was in middle school, I had trouble seeing the instrument fingering chart for clarinet due to all of the small symbols. Since I had no idea that I could modify an instrument fingering chart for low vision, I just tried to guess what the chart said or would strain my eyes to see it, which didn’t work out well for me. Years later, I received a request from a band director asking if there was a way to make an accessible fingering chart for visually impaired students, and I realized that this would have been an incredibly helpful resource for me when I was first learning clarinet and saxophone. Here are my tips for how to modify an instrument fingering chart for low vision, in honor of Music in Our Schools Month.

Should I create a physical or digital document?

There are a few different options for creating accessible fingering charts. One of the first questions that should be asked is if the diagrams should be printed as a physical copy or kept as a digital copy. I am personally a fan of all things digital since the text size can easily be modified for people with fluctuating eyesight, but physical copies can be helpful for students who want to have access to tactile images or something they can rest on their stand.

Related links

Find high-resolution images of instrument finger positions

One of the most important components of creating an accessible fingering chart is finding or creating high-resolution images of instrument finger positions. Luckily, these are easy to find online by searching for images that feature graphics of finger positions-some example queries include “clarinet fingering chart,” “clarinet fingering low e flat”, or similar. I recommend using the HD image filter in search tools to find the best graphics. Alternatively, users can scan in physical copies of fingering charts or draw their own fingering charts in a digital drawing program, but that might be time-consuming for more complex instruments.

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Modifying instrument finger position graphics

Here are a few options for modifying the graphics for digital or physical copies using Microsoft PowerPoint or any other software that allows for custom page sizes.

Option 1- Enlarging existing graphics, no modifications

For students that can see the graphics as they are, but need them to be enlarged, this is the quickest method to enlarge the graphics for the appropriate page size:

  1. Open up Microsoft PowerPoint
  2. Set a custom slide size of whatever paper size you need- I used 11 x 14
  3. Drag the image to fit on the page, taking care to avoid going outside the margins
  4. Repeat for additional images

Option 2- Modifying text of graphic, two page format

Many students may find certain color contrasts or fonts difficult to read, so another option is to modify the graphic to include accessible fonts or text sizes:

  1. Open up Microsoft PowerPoint
  2. Set a custom slide size of whatever paper size you need- I used 11 x 14
  3. Drag the image to fit on the page, taking care to avoid going outside the margins
  4. Write down the text in another program such as Microsoft Word- you’ll format it in step 6
  5. Crop the image so that only the diagram remains, and drag the image outward so that it expands to fit the page. You might need to put a white square over the remaining text
  6. In Microsoft Word, create a document with headings that shows the note, the octave for the note (or a phrase such as “middle C” for beginners”, and a text-based description of the finger positions. Use Heading 1 for the name and Heading 2 for all other sections. Make sure this page is the same size as the custom slide size
  7. For graphics that have additional labels, replace the text labels on the graphic with white textboxes that have large numbers. Write the corresponding labels in the Microsoft Word document

Option 3- Modifying color scheme

For students that have color deficiencies or need a higher contrast diagram, there are a few different image filters that can be used for the diagram. I decided to just use the pen tool to color over the darkened part, which took a while but was the best way to maintain the high resolution of the image. Alternatively, users can view the images with an inverted color scheme on their display.

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Adding additional multimedia files

For digital fingering charts, it can be helpful to add additional multimedia files so that users can get even more information when practicing or referencing notes. These can be added into a Word document using the Insert tab or with other digital tools, or saved in a folder with the other files. Microsoft Office Sway is also a great option, though there are limits on how many files can be added.

Some examples of additional multimedia files that can be added include:

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What to do with finished images

Put them in a binder

Students who are traveling to music lessons may benefit from having physical copies of the fingering chart in a binder. I have an 11 x 14 binder from Keep Filing that I use for my music that would be perfect for displaying fingering charts and music, as it can hold a lot of pages. I write more about my binder organization in my related post for my large print music binder.

Make images tactile

There are several different ways to add texture to these images to make them even easier to use. I recommend using two different textures- one for the shaded section, and one for the outlines as needed.

Color or no color?

When printing images, I recommend having the diagrams printed in color for best results. The main reason I have the diagrams across two pages is to help with organizing for printing and to ensure images are printed at their highest resolution.

Create a PDF

After creating all of the images in PowerPoint, I export them as PNG files and then add them to the Microsoft Word document after their text labels. After that, I save the Microsoft Word document as a PDF, which I then can save to my computer or send to my iPad. Alternatively, users can just keep the document as a Word file.

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Final thoughts

I wish that I had access to an accessible fingering chart when I was first learning clarinet, as I hadn’t realized how bad my vision really was until I was much older, and that the chart wasn’t blurry for all of my fellow musicians. I hope that this post on modifying instrument fingering charts for low vision is helpful for others!

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated August 2023

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