Braille Byzantine Music Notation Exercises

Exercise Book

Introduction

  This online exercise book teaches all the symbols of Braille Byzantine Music notation by presenting them in 200 exercises with recordings for each one. The first 160 exercises are simple lessons taken from the book Melodic Exercises by Ioannis Margaziotis in Greek, and the final 40 exercises are hymns from the Anastasimatarion with gradually increasing difficulty. After completing all the exercises in this online book, you will have mastered all aspects of Braille Byzantine notation and will be able to chant with ease the music for any hymn in any mode.

  At the bottom of each page in this online exercise book is a link to a web page containing the table of contents to facilitate navigation.

  The symbols of Braille Byzantine Music Notation are written in ASCII code in these pages with the SimBraille font. This means that if you are using a refreshable braille display that converts everything into Grade 2 braille, it will probably try to convert those music symbols erroneously. (For example, the letter "s" by itself will probably be converted to "so.") To avoid this there are two solutions:
  Solution 1: Use your refreshable braille display for reading only the text explanations in these pages, and have a hard copy of just the exercises by embossing this brf file which contains only the exercises.
  Solution 2: Download the four brf files containing the entire exercise book, and download this 100-megabyte zip file containing all the audio recordings of the exercises.

  If you would like to have a hard copy of a brf files but don't have a braille printer, you can order a copy from us. Or if you have a refreshable braille display, you could use it to go through the brf files you downloaded, without embossing them. The brf format of this book consists of the following four downloadable files:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Reference Manual

 

Basics

   According to the rules of Braille Byzantine Music notation, all braille characters preceded by a line break or a space represent the letters comprising the words of the hymn. A braille hyphen is placed after the final letter of each syllable and is followed by all the braille characters that represent the notes associated with that syllable. Since, however, the purpose of these exercises is merely to introduce the basic symbols of Braille Byzantine Music notation, almost all of the first 121 exercises have no words associated with the music symbols. Thus, unless otherwise specified, in the first 121 exercises all braille characters preceded by a line break or a space do NOT represent the words to be chanted but the symbols of Byzantine Music notation.

   We recommend saying the "solfege" name of each note (i.e., "Nee," "Pa," etc.) while chanting its pitch. Doing so will not only ingrain in your memory the sound associated with each note, but it will also help you realize when you have made a mistake if you reach a martyria that does not match the name of the note you are chanting. We have intentionally placed the recordings after each exercise rather than before them. This is because the recordings are analogous to the solution of a problem; peeking at the solution of a problem ahead of time minimizes the benefit you would receive by struggling through the problem on your own.

   The sheer number of different symbols frequently intimidates beginners and sometimes discourages them from even trying to learn Byzantine Music notation. The experience of many people, however, has shown that learning Byzantine Music notation is by no means an insurmountable task. Moreover, Braille Byzantine Music notation is even easier to learn than Byzantine Music notation for the sighted, due to its straightforward and highly logical organization.

   Please contact us if you have any questions.

 

Scale

 

   The scale in Byzantine music is as follows: Nee, Pa, Vou, Ga, Di, Ke, Zo, Nee. The names of these notes should be learned along with their corresponding pitches. This corresponds to the Western music scale: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do. Even though the absolute pitch of Nee in the following recordings is usually C, this is not imperative. Chanters are free to transpose the scales to a key that allows them to chant the highest and lowest notes of a hymn without difficulty.

 

Martyrias

 

   In Byzantine Music notation, the symbols that describe the melody indicate relative pitches, not absolute pitches. In other words, Byzantine Music notation indicates the pitch of a note in terms of how many steps in the scale higher or lower it is than the previous note, rather than indicating its absolute pitch. Most singers find this to be a more intuitive way of executing vocal music. One drawback of relative pitches, however, is that if chanters make a mistake (for example, if they accidentally ascend four steps when the music says to ascend five steps) all subsequent pitches will be off. In order to help chanters correct themselves, "martryias" (pronounced "mar-tee-REE!-ah") are inserted peridoically throughout the hymn. They function as indicators that inform chanters at what pitch and in what scale they should be at a particular point. As a reference for later, the complete list of martyrias and an explanation of their components is presented in the martyrias section of the Reference Manual

    Since the following exercises use only the diatonic scale, we will list only the diatonic martyrias here. The diatonic scale is essentially identical to a scale of C major, where Nee is C, Pa is D, etc. It is not completely identical, however, because the pitch of Vou should be 33 cents (i.e., one-third of a half-step) lower than the pitch of E, and the pitch of Zo (without a flat) should be 33 cents lower than the pitch of B. Since these microtones are a part of the tradition of Byzantine music, we believe that students should try to implement them even though these microscopic differences in pitch are almost imperceptible. But since chanting with these precise microtones can be extremely difficult for students who are not accustomed to them, we suggest that beginners concentrate on learning the macroscopic aspects of Byzantine music first, and then try to deal with the microscopic issues later. Besides, some disagreement prevails amongst the different "schools" of Byzantine music regarding the precise size of these microtones. For example, Constantine Katsoulis of blessed memory (who chants the recordings for each exercise) tends to chant the pitch of Vou slightly higher than other chanters would.

    Martyrias are always preceded and followed by an empty braille cell. For the first few martyrias below, following the braille symbols in ASCII code we have written out the dot numbers of each so that you can verify that your refreshable braille display is showing those characters correctly.

Low Di   ^D8  (dots 45, dots 145 [delta], dots 236)

Low Ke   ^K9  (dots 45, dots 13 [kappa], dots 35)   

Zo   _Z0  (dots 456, dots 1356 [zeta], dots 356)

Nee:   _N4  (dots 456, dots 1345 [nu], dots 256)

Vou:   _B6  (dots 456, dots 12 [beta], dots 235)

   The reason why the second symbol of the marytria for "Vou" is a braille "b" and not a "v" is because in Greek, "Vou" is written as: beta-omicron-ypsilon. The letter "beta" is pronounced like a "v" in Modern Greek.

Ga:   _G7

Di:   _D8

Ke:   _K9

High Zo:   "Z0

High Nee:   "N7

High Pa:   "P5

High Vou:   "B6

    As you have noticed, the first of the three braille characters comprising a martyria indicates the octave (i.e., low, middle, or high); the second of the three characters is the first letter of the name of the note; and the third character indicates the "relative pitch," i.e., what the intervals are between it and the other notes in the scale above and below it. The concept of "relative pitch" comes into play when melodies transpose. This will be discussed in more detail in section g of Chapter 8. Until then it is not necessary to pay much attention to the third character in the marytria.

    Martyrias are not chanted but are merely indicators telling you where you should be. Since they are usually inserted at the end of a melodic phrase in a real hymn, it is usually convenient to take a breath at a martyria. But in these exercises (most of which are not real hymns), the martyrias have been inserted in positions that are somewhat arbitrary.

   You are now ready to begin with Chapter One: Quantitative Symbols.

   Table of Contents