(Cue six braille dots forming patterns and dancing) Welcome! To Dancing with the Dots! My name is Jose, and we’re going to, dive into a review of software that we can honestly say is one of a kind! In this first Atechability review, we will be looking at the Goodfeel suite from Dancing dots! This software is designed to create music notation for the blind and visually impaired. I would like to thank my friend and founder of Dancing Dots, Bill McCann for allowing me to review the software!
As mentioned above, this software is designed to create music scores for the blind and visually impaired. It consists of three components to allow the user to successfully create braille and print music scores. The components are called Lime, Goodfeel, and Sharpeye. These will be discussed below. There will also be a mini guide for all of these. This is NOT intended to be a full manual. It is only intended to be used as a starter. Before we get to that, though, let’s look at what you need to run the software successfully.
The software suite requires Windows XP or later to run. Sorry to all of you Mac folks. Currently, there is no support for the Mac OS operating system. You must also have a screen reader installed on the computer for this to talk to you. Remember, the screen reader reads the screen to you and can be controlled by the computer keyboard. The Goodfeel suite works with all major screen readers. HOWEVER, for the best experience, JAWS for Windows from Freedom Scientific is required. This will allow you to both hear the notes being read to you, and have them come out in braille music notation. Speaking of braille, if you plan to read the music in braille, as you use the Lime notation editor, you must also have a Braille display. The display is optional, but can come in handy if you would like to read/learn the braille music side. A Braille display is basically a braille screen that the blind use. It provides the information spoken out by the screen reader in text using this device. However, it only has one braille line, and no shapes or graphics can be produced. You can buy braille displays from a few companies, but here is my personal favorite, the Focus series. Dancing Dots also has the Canute 360, which is a recent multi-line braille display, which came out about a year ago. It provides a more efficient way to read multi-line braille music scores! Ask Dancing Dots about this display on your next purchase, and You can find out more about it here. Although not absolutely necessary, you should have a midi keyboard (also called a midi controller) and a midi software synthesizer for the best experience in order to compose and play back your compositions in Lime. The software synthe is only required if you got a midi keyboard with no built-in sounds. You can use the computer keyboard to do this, but the musical keyboard will work out much better. If the keyboard has built-in sounds, and you can connect it to the computer, it is the best experience when using Lime. Here is the page with the keyboards Dancing Dots distributes that work well with their software. Once you connect it to the computer and start the Lime component, it will detect it, and you can automatically start playing. The computer you are using should have at least four gigabytes of RAM or more. Twenty gigabytes of storage space can store the equivalent of multiple shelves of scores. A 500 gigabyte hard drive gives you the luxury of storing tons of music libraries! You can have different genres, or complexity of playing levels of music. (from beginner to professional.) The pieces do not take up even a megabyte of room, but you can never be too cautious. Especially if you are a musical arranger and have thousands of pieces living in a hard drive at once. You will also need a Scanner, if you wish to scan sheet music into the Lime program to read/have a print or braille copy. Any model will do, but keep in mind the setup process is different for each scanner. Here is one that I have and requires very minimal setup. Speaking of brailling out copies, you will also need a braille embosser. An embosser is very similar to a printer, except instead of printing ink, it prints dots on paper. More specifically, braille dots. No ink change required! Here is one of MANY kinds of embossers you can get. While having a braille embosser is a great idea, you can also read the Goodfeel format music scores on a braille note taker, if you have one. A braille note taker is a special computer for the blind with a braille keyboard and display. It is similar to a computer in behavior, but the applications are optimized for these devices. Here are some of many devices that support this functionality. You can also connect these to the computer, and you can use them as braille displays with the Lime notation editor, thanks to Goodfeel’s braille translation capability.
The software bundle is $1595, or you can also do monthly or yearly subscriptions. The monthly subscription is $99, while the yearly subscription is $799. However, don’t panic. You can request a two week trial run so you can see if you like it before you purchase.
If you have not done so, go ahead and download the latest version of the Goodfeel package, and install it. You will need to input a few details about you such as name, address, etcetera before downloading the software. There is one major, and one minor thing you need to do before you can even start playing with the software. If you are not comfortable installing or doing any of this by yourself, Dancing Dots can help you install the trial version and even show you the basics on the use of the software in a no-cost, brief online orientation session. Make sure you have a way to talk to them such as a phone or a chat program like Zoom, along with a way for them to get into your computer such as Teamviewer or JAWS Tandem, which comes with the JAWS screen reader.
First, you must ensure everything is checked and ready to go on the custom scripts to make Lime and other features speak and display braille correctly. To do this, under the Lime program group, find “Accessibility Options.” Make sure everything like Speech and braille is checked, and click “Okay.” Again, these should be on by default, but you can never be too cautious!
Once all is installed, locate the Dancing Dots Authorization Manager in your “Programs” folder. Once you open this program, go to the “File” menu, and select “Authorization…” and press “Enter” to open this dialog. Here, you have a couple of tabs we have to fill out. These will not go in a certain order, but these all must be completed. The first tab you will find is the Status tab, where you can see if everything is registered correctly. Nothing there you need to modify.
The License Tab
In this tab, you must check the box saying, “I agree to the software terms and conditions” (that nobody ever reads) box. This is the only option here, besides the license itself.
In here, is where you write your credentials such as name, address, and organization. For people who are blind and visually impaired, sometimes screen readers do not automatically read the fields of the registration info dialog. This lack of accessibility is beyond Dancing Dots’ control, since they license a third party application to go through the authorization process. So, below are the fields listed in order as they appear in the dialog so you can complete it independently.
- Full Name
- Organization (optional)
- Serial Number
- Street Address
- Apartment or suite Number
- City, State, and zip code, all in one field.
The final field in this tab subscribes you to a mailing list if you choose to check this box. However, as of this review, this feature may be removed because of some technical changes. On the “Serial Number” field, if you are seeking the two week free trial, type in “9200” into this box. Yes, you get a full two weeks to try everything out before you decide to buy! After that, the software will become mostly unuseable until you either buy it, or if you decide to uninstall it.
The Register Tab
Here, you must press the “Set License” button. You will then get a reference code that you must send to Dancing Dots in order to unlock the trial or full license you purchased. It is recommended you press the “Copy to Clipboard” button, and email it manually using your preferred email client. Once you do this, you will obtain another code you must copy and paste into another unlabeled field in this tab. It is after the, “Copy to Clipboard” option. Make sure you copy it EXACTLY as written. If done correctly, you can press the “Close” button. If you are wondering if you did it correctly, go back into the “Authorization” dialog, and find the status tab. If done correctly, it will say, “OK!” Now that we got all that taken care of, let’s get to each software component, and we will look at the basics.
Lime is the part of the software that you will use to create the music scores. Lime actually was a mainstream music transcription software, but Dancing Dots took over the development, and integrated the talking portion. These scripts are called Lime Aloud. Goodfeel here provides the braille portion in real time when using the software, and getting music translated into braille for embossing. Think of it as a word processor and virtual printer, but instead of text, you are writing and printing music. You can do almost EVERYTHING with music you can do with text, except change fonts and line spacing. In this review, it is assumed you know the basics of music, such as measures, beats, etcetera. To get started, connect your musical keyboard to the computer, if you have not done so, then launch Lime from the desktop shortcut.
Creating a New Piece
To create a new piece, click on “New,” or press “ALT+F,” then find “New.” Press “Enter” on this, and move through the dialog by hitting “Tab,” and complete the fields. You can adjust them according to your needs. You can change the number of measures, the time signature, the staff, and many other options. Here is a quick note about the staff selection. If you are creating a piece for an instrument such as a flute, clarinet, or a trumpet, you must select “Single Staff.” If You are creating a piano piece, you must select “Grand Staff.” for the blind and visually impaired users, you must press “Space” to check the button for the staff you want before pressing “Enter.” Once you are happy with all the options, you can press “Enter,” or find the “Okay” button. Then you will be ready to play! Once you press Enter, you will hear, “New piece,” followed by the titles of the part and piece. Then the number of sharps or flats. You will notice a blank screen once you press enter. The only thing that will be showing are the measures of the piece, and the software will stand by for further action.
Electronic Music File Imports
You can also import electronic music files into Lime directly. The formats supported are music XML, PDF, and other popular formats from other music transcription apps, such as the ones band and choir directors use to make the sheet music for students. To do this, find the import option in Lime’s file menu, and select the format from there. Find the file on the computer, and watch as it makes the music accessible! In this case, let’s say you made a new piece.
Note Entry Mode
“This is ridiculous! You said I was ready to play! I’m playing, and nothing is being written! I just hear the piano! I want a refund!” Calm down. It’s time to show you another feature on this part of the suite to make the magic start happening! In order to make notes, you must enable a feature called Note Entry Mode. When you first open the new piece, you are in Note Edit mode. Which means, you can edit existing notes but cannot input any new ones. For adding musical notes, you must toggle to Note Entry mode. To do this, press “Control+N.” You will then hear, “Note entry mode, Whole.” This means you can now begin to play, and any note that is played will be written onto your piece. Here, you can use either your computer keyboard, or musical keyboard to input notes. On the computer keyboard, use the home row to play notes. The octave starts on the letter A of the keyboard, and ends at the letter K. These keys are the white keys. The black keys are the W, E, T, Y, and U keys. Use the “Left Bracket” ([) and “Right Bracket” (]) keys to shift the onscreen keyboard down or up one octave. To switch through different note types, press the numbers on the number row. “1” for whole, “2” for half, “3” for quarter, etcetera. After you press the number, you can then press the note you want to be that value. For example, I want to do an eighth note D. I’ll press “4” for the eighth note entry, and then I press the note D on my musical keyboard. Once you press this, Lime will then tell you the note name and value, followed by the location of the cursor. For example, “Bar 1 beat 2, D, eighth.” Keep doing this until you are satisfied, and ready to show the world.
Alternatively, you can record your notes to make the process faster. To do this, press “Control+R.” Lime will be on the Record dialog box, focused on the beats per minute edit field. You can change how fast you want your metronome to go by typing in a number. Nothing will be recorded, until you play a note. Note entry mode is also disabled here. You will need a musical keyboard for this. The computer keyboard only works in manual Note Entry mode. Also, you are not able to go all “Mozart,” (cue his laugh from the movie) and create those complex piano riffs in this mode. You can only do certain note values. In this case, if the song is slow, it would be limited to whole, half, quarter, and eighth notes. When you are done recording, press “Enter” to stop and save your work.
I’m Done! Now What?
You can now save your piece in the usual way by finding the “Save Piece” option in the file menu, or you can press “Control+S.” It is recommended to hear the piece first prior to saving. It is just like checking your work in a word processor. To hear your piece, you need to first go to the beginning. To do this, Press “Control+G” for “Go to Bar.” You can go to any bar of your choosing here by typing in the number. In this case, we want Bar 1. Type that in, and press “Enter.” You will then hear, “Bar 1 beat 1.” You are at the beginning of your piece, and ready to hear it! Now, press “Control+H” to enter the “Hear,” dialog. Again, you change the playback beats per minute, and other settings here. But right now, we want the basics. So go ahead and press “Enter. Your piece should now start playing. Press “Escape” at any time to stop playback. You can then make changes to it, or get it ready to be brailled, or printed!
There are a few different ways to navigate a piece in Lime. Again, we are just covering the basics. To move forward or back by one note, press the “Right” arrow key to move forward, or “Left” arrow key to move one note back. As you do so, the screen reader will tell you each note you are moving past. If you do not hear anything, it means most likely there is a chord there, rather than a single note. Add the “Control” Key to these two commands to get the note for all parts of the piece played at once. That is, if you have more than one instrument part, it will play the note for all those instruments. If you have a braille display connected, the note you are on will start to blink. As you move, the cursor moves both visually and tactually. If you have multiple parts, such as a piano, band, or choral piece, you can navigate those by pressing the “Up” arrow key to move back a part, or you can press the “Down” arrow to move forward one part. For example, on a piano piece, let’s say you are at the second right hand part. If you press the “Down” arrow, you will then move to the first right hand, then second left hand, then first left hand. After that, it wraps around back to the second right hand. You can also use the number pad, (if you have a keyboard with one) to navigate. The “2” and “8” keys act as the “Down” and “Up” arrows, while the “4” and “6” act as the “Left” and “Right” arrows. Press “5” to hear the note you just moved to (the highlighted one) again. Use the “Control” key in the same way to hear all parts of the piece at once. “But I don’t want to hear the screen reader tell me every single note I move to with any of these navigation keys! I want it to shut up!” No problem! There is a nice mode that I personally like that’s called, Silenzio mode. (I honestly wish they called it, “Be quiet” mode, but that’s just the author’s opinion.) To activate this mode, press “Shift+Escape.” This will mute all that has to do with speech feedback when navigating by notes. Use the same command to turn this mode off. You can also navigate the piece with the braille display, if you have one connected by pressing its panning buttons. Most displays have these on the front, but others may have them on the sides of the display. Note, as you move, there is also a braille window on the screen that sighted individuals can examine. You can “Alt+Tab” to this window, and also move it by using the arrow keys. However, your screen reader will start speaking gibberish, so this is not recommended.
Some Status Keys
Here are a few keys you can press to get information on where you are on your piece as you review it. All these use the bottom row of letters on your keyboard to speak different parts.
- “Z”: describe the current highlighted note in the current part.
- “X”: reads annotation if one is highlighted. (For advanced users)
- “C”: reports system, staff, and clef
- “V”: voice name
- “B”: speaks bar and beat
- “N”: tells you if your are in note entry or note edit mode
- “M”: file name
- “Comma”: (,) plays current note in current voice
- “Period”: (.) plays all notes at the current part
I feel good about this piece
If your piece is ready to emboss, it is time to talk about another part of the software suite. It is called, Goodfeel! This component brailes out the piece on paper, so you can have a hard copy. To start this process, from Lime, go to the file menu, by pressing “Alt+F.” Find the option called, “Launch Goodfeel.” From here, you can change the basic embosser settings to make sure they are to your liking, and even have a preview on screen for teachers to examine before embossing it. Once you are ready, hit that magic “Emboss” button, and you will be equipped with the piece you just finished! You can also print out the piece by finding the “Print” option in Lime’s file menu. Remember, Goodfeel also is in charge of making the music show up in braille on the screen and braille display.
I have Sharp Eyes
Did your teacher give you a musical piece in print and tell you to have it ready by tomorrow? Well, this is where the third and final component of the software comes in! This program is known as SharpEye. This allows you to take sheet music, and scan it into the computer. Since the scanners are different, setting them up will not be covered here. After setting up your model of scanner, you can then put the sheet music into it while this program is running, and have it scanned. You can then have it open in LIME, and you are able to read it in braille. NOTE: like all optical character recognition (OCR) applications, it may be inaccurate on some parts of the sheet music. If you are blind, it is recommended you have a sighted individual look through the music with you, and correct anything that may be wrong. “But I am a VERY INDEPENDENT BLIND PERSON! How dare you talk down on me? I am going to cry to my YOUTube subscribers and anyone who listens to me, and tell them to do something about this! Nevermind my parents live with me! I don’t live with them, they live with me!” AGAIN, this is NOT talking down on your blindness. Computers are not that smart. So it is important for a sighted person to help you perfect the kinks in the music, unless you want to really humiliate yourself by playing/singing the wrong note at a performance. That will give you something to cry about on a storytime video.
The pros and cons
- Fully accessible music creation tools for the blind and sighted alike
- Able to have a braille or print copy of a musical piece.
- Works well with keyboards and many kinds of windows computers in general.
This con does not need a list. The only significant con is: if you use screen readers such as NVDA, (Non-Visual Desktop Access) or the built-in Narrator screen reader, you cannot get braille support. You must have a copy of JAWS for Windows in order for the best speech and braille experience. You can still use the talking portion, because it will use your computer’s built-in text-to-speech voice to tell you what is going on. In order for this to happen, in Lime, you must go into the “Edit” menu by pressing “Alt+e,” and find “Preferences.” In the “Preferences” menu, find “Lime Allowed” Preferences. Press “Enter” here, and locate, “Use JAWS for speaking.” Uncheck this box, and find “Okay.” Next time you are working with a piece, and you do not have JAWS loaded or installed, you will hear it using the built-in text-to-speech voice.
I give this product a 5 out of 5. This is the first and ONLY accessible music creation software for those people who would like to create accessible music scores. You have everything you need at your fingertips, (Literally) and if you have a question, Dancing Dots is pretty quick at responding. You can email them with any question you may have!
What I would Like to See
I would like to see this product come out on other platforms such as iOS and Mac OS in the future. However, I do understand the hardships of porting this over, especially given the complexity of the software itself. Other than that, this suite is complete and packed with features for the beginner, all the way up to the next new billboard charting musician! (Just don’t use autotune, please.)
Credits and closing remarks
Again, I would like to thank Dancing Dots for allowing me to review this software for Screenless Allies! I would also like to thank them for some clarifications and suggestions to make this review better! Thank you for making such an innovation in music for the blind, so they can independently create musical pieces and have braille/print copies for their bands. If you are looking for a full on music editor and accessible at that, Dancing Dots software is the way to go! Trust me. You will not regret it! If you want more information, check out their website! If you email them, tell them that Jose from Screenless Allies sent you! You may not get discounts, but it will let both them and I know that this review was helpful to you! Until the next review, happy composing!