FreeDots User Guide

Mario Lang


Permission to use, copy, modify and distribute this document for any purpose and without fee is hereby granted in perpetuity, provided that the above copyright notice and this paragraph appear in all copies.


FreeDots provides a way for blind individuals to access scanned sheet music in a convenient format (braille music notation).

This book serves as an introduction to braille music notation for those readers that are not familiar with it yet. It is also the User's Manual for FreeDots.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction to braille music notation
1. Simple monophonic melodies
Notes and rests
II. Obtaining MusicXML scores
2. What is MusicXML?
3. How to create MusicXML scores?
4. MusicXML on the Internet
III. Using FreeDots
5. Overview
6. The Menu bar
A. Frequently Asked Questions
B. Traditional UNIX manual pages
freedots — convert MusicXML to braille music notation

List of Tables

1.1. Note and rest symbols
1.2. Octave marks

List of Examples

1.1. Example 1-2 from the new international manual of braille music notation
1.2. Example 1-11 from the new international manual of braille music notation

Part I. Introduction to braille music notation

Braille music notation is an internationally accepted standard for expressing musical ideas in tactile readable form.

Since FreeDots is mostly useless to a user who does not know braille music notation, the first part of this book is dedicated to teaching the very basics of braille music notation. If you are already familiar with the international braille music notation standard, you can safely skip over this section.

Chapter 1. Simple monophonic melodies

Table of Contents

Notes and rests

Notes and rests

The characters for the notes are formed from dots 1, 2, 4, and 5. The absence or presence of dots 3 and/or 6 determines the note values. Each note or rest has two value possibilities.

Table 1.1. Note and rest symbols

Note value C D E F G A B rest
wholes or 16ths
halves or 32nds
quarters or 64ths
eighths or 128ths

For dotted notes, dot 3 represents each print dot following a note. It is placed immediately after the braille note. No other sign comes between the note and its dot(s). Dotted rests are treated the same as dotted notes.

Example 1.1. Example 1-2 from the new international manual of braille music notation



Click here to listen to this example

Octave marks, rather than clefs on a staff, indicate specific pitch locations in braille music. Octaves are numbered from one to seven, beginning with the lowest C on the normal, seven-octave piano. Each octave begins on C and includes all the notes up to, but not including, the next C above. The fourth octave begins on the "middle C" of the piano.

The octave mark is placed immediately before the note to which it applies with no intervening signs. The following table shows the octave marks from 1 to 7 placed before quarter-note C.

Table 1.2. Octave marks

Example Description
⠈⠹ contra
⠘⠹ great
⠸⠹ small
⠐⠹ one-lined
⠨⠹ two-lined
⠰⠹ three-lined
⠠⠹ four-lined

The first note of a piece must be preceded by its octave mark. For the succeeding notes the following rules apply:

  1. if the next note forms an ascending or descending second or third, it does not receive an octave mark even if it is in a different octave.

  2. if it forms an ascending or descending fourth or fifth, it only receives an octave mark if it is in a different octave from the preceding note.

  3. if it forms a sixth or more, it must always have its own octave mark.

These rules are illustrated in the following example from the “Cologne Key” of 1888.

Example 1.2. Example 1-11 from the new international manual of braille music notation

  ⠨⠏⠱⠹ ⠪⠨⠕⠹ ⠪⠨⠏⠱ ⠝⠻⠫ ⠱⠗⠻ ⠫⠹⠨⠪⠨⠹ 
⠚⠙⠑⠋⠛⠓⠊⠚ ⠝⠥⠣⠅ 


Click here to listen to this example

Part II. Obtaining MusicXML scores

FreeDots is not a full optical music recognition solution. To be able to read sheet music, you will first need to obtain the music you want to read with FreeDots in MusicXML format.

The following chapters are concerned with how and where you can obtain sheet music in MusicXML.

Chapter 2. What is MusicXML?

MusicXML is a XML based file format for storing musical notation. It is being developed by Recordare LLC.

Chapter 3. How to create MusicXML scores?

MusicXML is now supported by almost all commercial applications dealing with musical scores in one way or another. There are basically two ways to obtain a score in MusicXML format. Either you already have it in some computerized form, then you need to investigate how to convert your data to MusicXML. Many commercial notation editors offer a way to export to MusicXML these days. If you have the music on paper, you need some optical music recognition software to scan and recognize your music.

A list of applications that allow to save or export to MusicXML format can be found here.

Chapter 4. MusicXML on the Internet

Since MusicXML is increasingly being used as an interchange format between different music notation software, it is increasingly being used as the canonical format to distribute musical notation over the Internet.

Therefore, there is a chance that the music you are looking for is already available on the Internet in MusicXML format.

Below is a list of some Internet resources that offer MusicXML files for download.

Hausmusik Notenregal

A repository of scores in various formats, including MusicXML, from “Verein zur Förderung der Hausmusik” in Switzerland.


Wikifonia is a collection of Lead Sheets (lyrics, melody and chords) of pop songs.

Peter J Billam's arrangements of JS Bach for recorder

Peter J Billam provides a few of his arrangements for recorder in MusicXML format for free.

Part III. Using FreeDots

Now that we have acquainted ourselves with braille music notation and know how to obtain MusicXML documents we can go on and examine in detail how FreeDots can be used to automatically transcribe scanned sheet music to braille music notation.

Table of Contents

5. Overview
6. The Menu bar

Chapter 5. Overview

The user interface of FreeDots closely resembles a typical editor application. At the top is a menu bar for convenient access to the most used actions. The main part of the application is a text edit window which contains the result of transcribing the currently opened MusicXML file to braille music notation.

You can use the caret to navigate inside the resulting braille music document as in other editing applications. The caret position is context sensitive. For instance, if you move the caret the status area will automatically be updated with textual information about the braille symbol currently underneath the caret.

FreeDots also offers the possibility to play back the score currently opened. During playback, the caret position will update synchronous to the music. Additionally, there is the possibility to play individual parts of a score, or just a single note.

Chapter 6. The Menu bar

This list briefly describes the actions available in the FreeDots menu.

FileOpen (Ctrl+o)

Open a MusicXML document.

FilePlay score (Ctrl+p)

Start playback of the whole score.

FileSave as MIDI

Export the currently opened MusicXML to a standard MIDI file.


Exit FreeDots

Library (Alt+l)

For your convenience, FreeDots ships with a few, freely distributable scores. This menu allows you to choose one of the prepackaged scores for transcription and/or playback.

Appendix A. Frequently Asked Questions

A.1. General Information
A.1.1. Does FreeDots work on Windows™?
A.1.2. Why can't I read the default output of FreeDots on Linux™ with BRLTTY?

A.1. General Information

A.1.1. Does FreeDots work on Windows™?
A.1.2. Why can't I read the default output of FreeDots on Linux™ with BRLTTY?


Does FreeDots work on Windows™?

Yes. You will need to install Java 1.6. For proper accessibility support you will also need the Java-Access-Bridge installed. An installer for FreeDots on Windows™ is currently not available, but could be built. Volunteers for maintaining a Windows™ version of FreeDots are very welcome!


Why can't I read the default output of FreeDots on Linux™ with BRLTTY?

FreeDots uses Unicode by default to output braille and text such that sighted and blind users can read the output without major confusion.

However, the Unicode braille row is only supported by the braille display driver BRLTTY on Linux since release 3.10. You will also need the braille fonts provided on

Appendix B. Traditional UNIX manual pages

Table of Contents

freedots — convert MusicXML to braille music notation


freedots — convert MusicXML to braille music notation


freedots [-nw] [[-p] | [--play]] [[-w COLUMNS] | [--width COLUMNS]] [[-h LINES] | [--height LINES]] [-msm visual|NUMBER] {MusicXML file}


FreeDots converts MusicXML files to braille music notation.


FreeDots always expects a MusicXML input file on the command line.


Do not start the graphical user interface (batch processing).

-p, --play

Play music in addition to converting it to braille.

-w, --width

Set the desired amount of braille cells used horizontally.

The default is 32.