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How the deaf and hard of hearing experience music

how the deaf experience music
When someone thinks of music, they probably think about the sound. But while music is an acoustically dependent medium, it can also be enjoyed without hearing sound. For many people with hearing loss, music is experienced differently.

Whether it’s through vibrations, dance, sign language or rhythmic instruments, there are plenty of ways people with hearing loss benefit from the power of music.

How do deaf people enjoy music?

Hearing loss, or deafness affects each person differently. Some people with hearing loss may have trouble hearing certain tones or higher voicer. Others, including those who identify as Deaf, can access the full spectrum of sound through the beat.

Making Music Tangible

For eight years, The Mahler Orchestra have been introducing classical music to Deaf children as part of their ‘Feel the Music’ programme. They travel internationally to offer workshops where they enable children to engage with a full orchestra.

The musicians have found out-of-the-box ways to make the experience tangible for the children. The kids can touch different parts of the instruments – literally feeling the sound waves the music produces – and learn how to watch the movements of the musicians to understand the rhythm and emotion of the music.

“The kids can touch different parts of the instruments – literally feeling the sound waves the music produces…”

By the end of the session, they even have a chance to conduct the orchestra themselves.

“It’s really interesting to see then if a child discovers the possibilities of communication within, what he or she can do with gestures, and with the face, and looking at certain groups of instruments,” says pianist Leif Ove, on the organization’s website.

It’s a wonderfully enriching experience for Deaf children to learn music. It can teach them skills that affect other areas of life, as music is, ultimately, about communication. Through music, we can learn to express ourselves and be understood by others.

Read more: Can My Child Learn to Play an Instrument with their Hearing Loss?

The “feeling” of music

People have always found creative solutions to feel a stronger connection with music.

Beethoven famously held a pencil in his mouth and touched the other end to his piano so that he could feel the vibrations of the notes. Many artists perform barefoot so that they feel the vibrations through the floor. There are people who hold balloons and water bottles, and even get specific haircuts, because it affects how they feel the vibrations!

Recently, wearable vibrating devices are being used to help people have a full-body musical experience. With the right technology, music is infinitely more accessible.

My Life as a Teen Musician with Hearing Loss

In this video, Phonak hEARo, Finn, describes how he is able to play in big bands using a combination of Phonak technology and personal techniques such as developing a strong internal metronome.

Read more: Learning the Guitar with Hearing Loss

Music you can see 

Music isn’t only heard or felt. You can also see it.

Tallula Bourne, a Deaf choir master, runs weekly online AUSLAN (Australian Sign Language) classes.

“We end up taking on the mood of the song, the rhythm, the melody in our bodies, because that’s what AUSLAN is,” she says. “It’s about showing you what’s going on. It’s a really cool way to access music when you can’t hear it.”

Together they sing and dance through class. You can learn more about their organization on Facebook.

Have you experienced any good music lately?
Author Details
Sofia is a freelance writer and teacher. She is the founder of Embrace Yoga, where she offers accessible yoga and meditation classes. She grew up with unilateral sensorineural hearing loss, which became bilateral severe hearing loss in her adult life, and she has Meniere’s Disease. She wears a Phonak Nathos Auto M hearing aid. She is currently learning BSL.