Describing Musical Examples with Text and Alt Text

Areas Assisted:

  • Visual Impairment

Possible Applications:

  • Theory/Analysis/Pedagogy

As discussed in our resource on Accessible Images and Alt Text, meaningful alt text provides a ready means for screen reader users to understand the contents of a given image. Since one of the most common displays of notation in music courses is done using images of scores and excerpts, alt text is another useful tool. Using International Standards Notation, Interval notation, and similar text-based notation typically used for theory/analysis, this method can be used to provide meaningful data for small musical excerpts.


Musical scale from C4 to C5 displaying alt text using international standards notation

Word image editor with intervals using international standards notation for a sample of Berg's Violin Concerto

How to Write Musical Alt Text for Screen Readers

When writing alt text, you may have to adjust the text as if It were read aloud. This will compensate for the common translation errors that screen readers have with music. Below are some common Issues and the Solutions we suggest:

  • Issue: Special characters like sharps and flats may be read as “number sign” or “b”
    • Solution: Write accidentals with their verbal representations: Sharp, Flat, Natural, etc.
      • Ex. “C-Sharp” as opposed to C#
  • Issue: Screen readers often don’t distinguish upper-case and lower-case characters.
    • Solution: Write intervals verbally such as “Major second interval” as opposed to M2 (screen readers typically won’t distinguish as an upper-case M)
  • Issue: Depending on setting, many screen readers skip certain special characters and punctuation.
    • Solution: Write out the notation or analysis elements verbally, as if it was read aloud.
      • Ex: Write scale degrees using text like “Scale Degree 2” rather than using carets over the numbers which may not be read.
      • Ex. Write out chords or Roman numeral analysis verbally (C minor, or Half-diminished seventh two) to avoid relying on symbols or numbers that may not be read appropriately for the musical setting.

Things to Consider with Text and Alt Text

  • Best practice recommends concise alt text, so the process will likely work best for small excerpts of music.
  • Since alt text should be concise, consider the most important information that you wish to convey in any given example. For lengthier examples requiring descriptive text, consider a word document with the descriptive text, or exploring the other options listed in this page.
  • This approach will work best for simple music and small excerpts as opposed to extensive or dense scores.