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Visually-impaired musicians' lives: Trajectories of musical practice, participation and learning

Dr. David Baker (Principal Investigator) and Professor Lucy Green (Co-Investigator and Mentor)
UCL Institute of Education

What is the "Visually-impaired musicians' lives" (VIML) research project?

The term "visually impaired" denotes people who are blind or have conditions resulting in various degrees of partial sightedness. Among these people, there are amateur and professional instrumentalists and singers, composers and music teachers, to name a few, who experience music uniquely across their lives and approach music-making in distinct and fascinating ways. "Visually-impaired musicians' lives" (VIML) is a two-year research project at the UCL Institute of Education (formerly known as the Institute of Education, University of London) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which is investigating the experiences of this important socio-musical group. This is taking place within the university's International Music Education Research Centre (iMerc) with the support of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and Royal Academy of Music (RAM), London.

According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), there are 2 million sight-impaired people in the UK (equating to one person in 30) and, with the ageing population, it is anticipated that this number will increase. Currently, approximately 700 visually-impaired (VI) adults are known by the RNIB to be professional or amateur musicians, and music-making has long been recognised as a viable and potentially life-enhancing activity for VI people. Yet there has been little or no research on their musical practices, participation and learning experiences. Our primary research question is:

What are the experiences of VI musicians across the life course in relation to:

  1. their learning practices, both as children and into adult life, including how, for example a blind musician prepares for a concert;
  2. their involvement with different musical styles, instruments, practices and roles;
  3. their acceptance or marginalisation within professional, amateur and educational musical communities;
  4. opportunities and barriers they perceive in relation to personal development and participation throughout the life-course, and their adaptive strategies to benefiting from, or overcoming these.

Our secondary questions are:

  1. What are the implications of the findings for the musical community, including employers of musicians such as orchestras, and educational providers such as conservatoires and schools, for meeting the needs of VI musicians?
  2. How do the findings contribute to the continuing debate about the benefits of lifelong musical engagement, particularly in relation to the projected increase in age of the population, and the likelihood of gradual sight-loss in musicians of older age?
  3. What can be learned from VI musicians' lives to increase inclusion, including maintaining the participation of those dealing with the deterioration of sight?

Are you a visually-impaired person who is an instrumentalist, singer or composer (amateur or professional)? Are you a visually-impaired music teacher or, perhaps, sighted and working with visually-impaired learners? Are you involved in music and visual impairment in some other way? Please help us!

If you are a visually-impaired instrumentalist, singer or composer (amateur or professional), music teacher, or musician of any kind (living anywhere in or outside the United Kingdom), we would like to hear from you. We would like to know more about your musical practices, participation and learning experiences.

Your opinions are extremely valuable to us. Dr. David Baker has conducted detailed interviews across 2013 and 2014 with visually-impaired (VI) instrumentalists, singers, composers (both amateurs and professionals) and VI music teachers. Our research builds on a successful pilot study, which was published in the British Journal of Music Education. There is a link below to an online questionnaire. This is entirely confidential. Please do help us by completing it. Please remember that it does not matter if you are a beginner instrumentalist or singer, or new to music-making; please just get in touch!

CONFERENCE, 10–11 March 2015

A two-day "Visually-impaired musicians' lives" (VIML) London conference took place on 10–11 March 2015, where there were guest speakers on topics of music and visual impairment, musical performances, and we reported on our findings. Information is available from our Conferences and outreach events page.

Keeping in touch

For anyone interested in keeping in touch following the conference and/or participation in our research, Peter Bosher has kindly created an e-mail group. You can join the group by sending a message to viml-request@freelists.org with "subscribe" in the subject field, or by visiting the e-mail group page. Once subscribed, you post to the group using the address viml@freelists.org


With the kind support of Dr. Anthony Gritten (Head of Undergraduate Programmes, Royal Academy of Music) and Julian West (Head of Open Academy), we created some musical outreach events with the Open Academy in November 2014 that engaged visually-impaired children with music conservatoire students from this world-renowned institution.

Connect to our blog

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Connect to our blog. We welcome your remarks.

Take our survey


There are two ways to complete the survey:

  1. Please access the online version by clicking the link below
  2. Alternatively, contact us and we will arrange to gather the information from you by telephone or Skype

When completing the online survey, please click "Next" after answering the required questions on each page. At that point, your answers will be saved, but you can still return to the document at a later date to modify them; however, if you do not complete the survey in one go (and revisit it at another time via the link), you will need to start again from the first page, which will appear blank. Please do not use the "Back" and "Forward" arrows of your web browser to navigate. Instead, click "Prev" and "Next". The survey consists of six pages. When you have completed the last page, please click "Done". Your answers will be saved, you will be redirected to this homepage, and you will no longer be able to return to the survey.

Take the VIML survey now

James Risdon (RNIB) has kindly tested our online questionnaire using the JAWS and NVDA screen readers. However, if you experience any technical problems relating to it, please let us know.

How to make contact

Use our contact form

Alternatively, please send an e-mail to david.baker@ioe.ac.uk

Call David Baker on 01753 524740 if you would like to join our project, want to know more, or experience problems with accessing the information on this website.

Our postal address is:

Dr. David Baker
"VI musicians" (VIML), Room 628A
Department of Culture Communication and Media
UCL Institute of Education
20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL

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US blues and rock musician, Joey Stuckey kindly dedicated his song "Blind man drivin" as our conference theme. He spoke and performed at our London conference, 10–11 March 2015. Visit our conference page for the music video of "Blind man drivin".

Find out more about the two-day London conference we hosted.

Meet the Inner Vision Orchestra and watch the trailer of a film being made about them with audio description.

Some accessibility options

Users not using specialised magnification software can increase the text size either by clicking the "AAA" image below or by pressing ALT-X and, then, by clicking "Zoom".

An image that can be clicked to increase the font size for partially sighted people
Click the image above to increase the font size

Set the font to its default size

A high contrast version of this website can normally be obtained by pressing ALT, left-SHIFT and PRINT SCREEN simultaneously. This high contrast effect is turned off in the same manner. Windows users can also change the appearance of web pages in the CONTROL PANEL by selecting "Appearance", then "Display" and "Change colour scheme". This might be appropriate for those with colour blindness.

Read more about web accessibility and accessibility myths (from the RNIB).

We have made every effort to ensure this website is accessible to Screen Reader users through the kind testing of our partners at the RNIB. However, if you experience problems, please do send your comments to David Baker.

Getting help with sight loss

If you need advice on coping with sight loss, call the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Helpline on 0303 123 9999. The RNIB can also be contacted at helpline@rnib.org.uk You might also contact Action for Blind People.

Sighted visitors

Sighted visitors can find out more about the Assistive Technologies (ATs) used by visually-impaired people, including those used for music, by visiting our news and information page.

Institute of Education and iMerc

Logo: International Music Education Research CentreThe Institute of Education brings together one of the largest groupings of music education researchers in the world, as well as offering courses in music education at PGCE, MA, EdD and MPhil/PhD levels. All staff are also members of the research centre "iMerc": The International Music Education Research Centre.

Thanks to our RNIB and Royal Academy of Music partners

Our sincere gratitude goes to our partners at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, particularly Sally Zimmermann, Music Advisor and James Risdon, Music Officer, who have kindly helped us with facilitating this investigation.

We are also grateful to Dr. Timothy Jones (Deputy Principal, Programmes and Research, Royal Academy of Music) and Dr. Anthony Gritten (Head of Undergraduate Programmes) for supporting the project.