Are your Specs Holding You Back?

Submitted by Jon Nelson, Madison New Horizons Band, Madison WI

One of the most common complaints of senior musicians is, “Why are the notes so small?” And it is true, with each passing year it seems that the notes on the page are getting smaller and smaller. Is this some conspiracy of publishers to save ink? Probably not but it may be your glasses.

If you wear progressive lenses like I do, you may find that reading down a sheet of music while playing your instrument is difficult. This is because your eyes are trying to focus on something at a short fixed distance (your music stand) while passing from your distance prescription through to your reading prescription. It is further complicated because your ability to move your head up and down can be limited because of how you hold your instrument. Because the music is actually at a mid-distance range, it can be slightly out of focus most of the time. Couple that with tiny type, not only are the notes hard to keep in focus, but accidentals become really difficult to read. A fuzzy sharp sign is almost indistinguishable from a fuzzy natural sign. But they don’t sound the same.

Music Glasses may do the Trick!

What you may need is a different pair of glasses. I have music glasses that are still progressive, but the correction runs from my mid-vision prescription to my reading prescription. This keeps the music in focus from top to bottom and the reading prescription lets me do things up close, like adjusting my reed.

Admittedly the conductor is a little fuzzy but it doesn’t keep me from keeping him in my peripheral vision. All in all, my music glasses have made playing everything from my saxophones to my piano a much more comfortable (and accurate) experience.

Patricia Skidmore of the Western University New Horizon Band, in London, Ontario, Canada tells this story of saving her “aging” musical career…

Not long ago, I was ready to give up entirely. Playing the trombone with my New Horizon Band had once been a delight. When I began to learn my long nosed instrument three years ago, I relished the challenge, loved my sprightly young instructors and was awestruck by my Beginner Band mates. Progress was slow but steady. I climbed up into the Intermediate Band. I was cheeky enough to accompany them on a tour to Poland, knowing when to play and when to just look like I was playing.

About a year ago, I noticed that the sheet music was poorly printed, the images not quite sharp enough. Then I noticed fuzziness no matter which printer had provided the copies. Off to the optometrist for new glasses. But they did not solve the problem. Memorize the music. But I’m a senior. One day at my euchre group, I admitted I might have to set aside my musical buddy, not because of the arthritis that had ended my knitting and painting, but because straining to see my music was too taxing. My partner at the card table proposed a new, strange kind of glasses. They could have a universal focal point, spread throughout each lens, instead of one focal area.”

“What made you think of that?” I asked. “I’m a retired optometrist. I bet it can be done,” she replied. Taking the idea to my eye doctor, along with my trombone and music stand and music, I showed him the problem of viewing music at an angle to make room for the slide to expand. He got it. He calculated awhile and drafted a prescription for the particularly strong “omni-lenses.” The optician at Walmart was intrigued and cooperative. One week later, holding my breath in hope, I set up for a practice session with my new inexpensive specs on my nose. Voila! Perfect vision and almost perfect music. Now I’m aiming for that Advanced Band someday.