At the end of last semester, the large-print music binder I use for my school pep band fell apart. While the binder lasted me three semesters, I decided that I would redesign the way I organize my music and make it easier to use. Read on to learn all about my large-print music binder.
My old binder
My previous music binder measured 11 x 17 inches and was easily over 100 pages. The music dangled from the top of the stand, with the front cover flipped over the front of the stand, and sometimes multiple stands were required to balance the book and keep it from sinking. This was because the book weighed over ten pounds, and kept growing over the course of the semester, to the point where it would take three people to help flip the book to the other side of the page. While the book was definitely usable, I knew there had to be a better way to store my music.
My section and I discovered that a trash can was the perfect height to support music during sectionals
Why not use digital music?
While I have used my iPad to read music for concert band (read more about concert band and low vision here), I would not be able to do that for pep band for several reasons. First, I wear sunglasses when playing due to the lights in the arena, and it's difficult to read backlit devices while wearing dark sunglasses. Second, I would not be able to quickly navigate between pieces given the high amount of songs in the book- if my band director told us to jump from song 3 to song 35, I would not be able to do that in less than two minutes. And third, I did not feel comfortable with having my iPad on the music stand with so many people jumping, moving around, and dancing. For those reasons, I knew I would need a physical copy of my music, and I couldn't rely on digital copies alone.
Requirements for a new binder
I knew that I wanted my next music binder to be different, but I wasn't quite sure how. I started talking to friends and mentors, who helped me think of ideas. Ideally, I wanted a book that could fit on the stand, or at least that didn't require multiple stands. My music needed to be enlarged to at least 250% (the equivalent of size 24 font), with some pieces needing to be larger if there are complex rhythms or multiple note changes. Lastly, I wanted something that was at least half of the weight of my old music binder, and that I could use independently. One of my mentors then showed me how they had enlarged music for students with vision impairments in an 11 x 14 book, and I immediately started thinking of how I could adapt the design to accommodate the large amount of music in my binder.
A piano book for a musician with low vision, enlarged 250%
Choosing my new binder
So I decided I wanted an 11 x 14 binder, but that was very difficult to find. I probably checked every office supply store around Washington DC, and I still couldn't find what I wanted. Luckily, my mom found a website called Keep Filing which had the exact binder I wanted, as well as plastic sheet protectors for my music. We bought the combination set of the binder and 75 sheet protectors, which is currently on the website for about $70. The binder by itself costs $18. Get the link for the combination set here and the binder only here.
Digitally enlarging music
My band program keeps a Google Drive updated with copies of all of the sheet music in our binders, so that musicians can easily print out extra copies or practice at home. I downloaded all of the music we had played in the last year, and then used the methods I outline in my post about enlarging music using Microsoft Publisher or Microsoft PowerPoint. Read my post on how to digitally enlarge music here. This entire process probably took less than three hours.
An example of how the finished music looks in PowerPoint, zoomed out to show the page size. This file is around 85% of the total music for the book
While it's hard to find an 11 x 14 inch binder, it's even harder to print music on 11 x 14 inch paper. Because of this, I had my music printed on 11 x 17 inch standard computer paper, ensuring that the music fit on the page without scaling. This means there is about three inches of blank white space at either the top or bottom of the page, so I had someone cut the music down to size, or I would fold down the top of the page to fit in the sheet protector. Only one piece was slightly cut off, which I fixed by drawing the remaining notes using permanent marker. I chose not to print music double-sided because the order of music changes frequently.
Assembling the binder
After putting the music pages in order, along with drawing the song numbers on top of the page, I started to assemble the binder. I tried to minimize the amounts of page turns needed for songs, putting music pages side-by-side. Because I had cut the music down to size, the pages easily slid into the sheet protectors, making my job much easier. I managed to get the 80+ song binder organized in about 45 minutes right before an event.
Debuting the new binder
The first night I used my new music binder, it felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders, or rather off my music stand. While I still needed help carrying my music since I play a large instrument, I was so excited that I could independently turn pages with one hand, instead of needing other people to help me with it. I also didn't have to bend over to read music at the bottom of the page anymore. The book also only weighed about five pounds, and while I needed a sturdy stand to balance it, I didn't need to use more than one stand. Everybody in a five foot radius knew how excited I was to have a new book, and the person next to me probably got tired of hearing me say things like "look, I can turn pages with only one hand! Isn't that fantastic?!" (Sorry about that, J)
Photo taken while standing on a chair to show accurate size of binder. If you look in the bottom left corner, you can see the old book sitting in a chair
Creating your own binder
While this binder system works for me, low vision is a very broad term, and no two people have the exact same preferences for print materials or assistive technology. Here are five questions to ask when creating your own music binder or other music storage system:
- How many pages will I need?
- Can the binder be used independently?
- What are the requirements for print materials, like font size and paper color?
- Should I use digital music or physical copies?
- Will this work with my instrument?
While my old binder was good, my new music binder has been even better, and I am so glad that I have been able to use it in band. Being in band has benefitted me more than I ever imagined it would (read ten reasons why students with disabilities should join band here), and I am grateful for the inclusive environment that our band program strives to create and maintain.