Music For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

0 Comments 20 July 2015

For those of us who are not deaf or hard of hearing, it is difficult to imagine music without the audio aspect. It’s easy to assume that deaf and hard of hearing people are excluded from the world of music, a place many people call home. Yet isn’t music so much more than just sound? It’s vibrations, it’s atmosphere, it’s visual, it’s connectedness between people, a full body experience, you might say, and there is no reason why the deaf and hard of hearing community cannot be a part of that experience.

There are a range of ways that deaf and hard of hearing people can experience and participate in music. One is vibrations. People who are deaf or hard of hearing have been shown to have a heightened sense of touch and perception of vibrations and it has even been found that deaf people sense vibrations in the same part of the brain that hearing people use for hearing, simulating a similar experience.

Evelyn Glennie is the world’s first full-time soloist percussionist and she uses vibrations to ‘feel’ sound through her body. She has learnt to interpret sound differently than just through her ears and in doing so creates incredible percussion pieces. Throughout her career she has won many awards, including three GRAMMYS and a Polar music prize. She plays about one-hundred concerts per year, touring the US, Europe and Asia, as well as being involved in media and film productions. She is officially a Dame and has played at the opening ceremony at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Most people with hearing impairments can hear some sound and can sometimes hear even more if they have a cochlea implant or a hearing aid. However, these devices are not perfect and they may only allow certain pitches to be heard, cause issues with background noise or distort sounds and music. This may mean that some songs sound different or distorted and can be discouraging for listeners.

It is also important to make music more accessible and enjoyable for the deaf and hard of hearing, by providing captions and lyrics for apps, videos and live performances, to incorporate a visual aspect. Sean Forbes is a hip-hop artist/lyricist/percussionist who is doing just that. He has been deaf from birth and makes hip-hop music videos and does live performances which he accompanies with both sign language and captions. His music is accessible to everyone, regardless of hearing abilities and provides an entry point into the music world which may not have been previously realised.

We go to concerts because of the atmosphere, the vibrations, the lights, the vibes, the sights and the people. We go to concerts to feel a part of something, to be united in a contract sealed when the very first note is sung, strummed or played. And yes, deaf and hard of hearing people experience music differently than the hearing world, but that’s not to say that that experience isn’t just as valuable. Music is more than perfectly detecting sound waves as they hit your eardrum, and can be inclusive of, and embraced by, more than just the hearing community.

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