Music and the Deaf

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At first, it may seem that the experience of music is as alien to the world of the Deaf as, say, the experience of deep sea life is to birds.

However, just as there are birds which catch fish in the sea, there is contact between the world of the Deaf and the world of music. And I am not speaking only about Beethoven (who was late-deafened adult anyway).

There are hearing people who are "tone-deaf" and are unable to appreciate music. There are hard-of-hearing people who can, with proper amplification, fully enjoy music. People who are profoundly or totally deaf can nevertheless feel the vibrations if they stand next to speakers or stand on a vibrating floor.

There are also types of music which are not based upon sounds - like Sign Language based singing, or presentations which use all kinds of moving light patterns.

On the other hand, the ability to appreciate music is very individualistic. Schools who do not make music classes fully elective for hearing impaired children, usually do them disservice, in my opinion.

Five types of music

William 'Bill' Harkness says at 11 Dec 1995:

There's ear music, eye music, and skin musics. (Actually there's 5 types of musics, one pertaining to our senses). Although the hearing people are only familiar with one type of music, the ear music. It's amazing that the hearing people think that we, the DEAF, can't enjoy the sheer of music when in fact they're only confined themselves into thinking that there's only one type of music and we're "lacking" as non-functional in this aspect because we can't hear the "ear" music as well as they can.

Hearing Impairment Affects Preferences

Some deaf persons develop inner rhythm, which allows them to dance to music even if they don't hear the music.

Other deaf persons prefer drums to piano or guitar.

Where are the Lyrics?

Some hearing-impaired persons notice that when they listen to music, they can get out of it only the lovely background sounds, but not the lyrics. Someone who noticed this advises that it is better not to use hearing aid, as it helps only a little bit. By the way, his favorite kind of music is New Age, which frequently involves NO lyrics.

Candace Krepel said at 27 Nov 1995:
Maybe this is another area where deaf need to have some hearing perspective. I am hearing, and quite often I can't tell what the lyrics of a song are. It depends on the mixing in production. When a song is recorded, each part is recorded by a separate microphone (keyboard, drums, guitar, horn, lead voice, backup voices, etc.). The volume of each part is adjusted when the final recording is made, so that the final product may sound quite different than a live performance of the same piece.

It is definitely not just you, or just deaf. A lot of songs are almost impossible to make out. Even if you *can* stand your teen's taste in music <g>.

A Rock Band of Deafies

Steve Hamerdinger remembers (according to a posting made to DEAF-L at 19 Nov 1995) that there used to be a group of deafies at Gally in the early 70's called "Cadillac Eddie and the Rabble Rousers" and they had a fair rock band.

Music is taught in schools of the Deaf

The Mary Hare Grammar School (in UK), pioneered in making music part of the regular curriculum of deaf education in UK in the mid Seventies.


No discussion of the subject of music and the deaf is complete without mentioning Beethoven, the most famous deaf musician. Personally, I don't like people holding him as a role model of what deaf persons can achieve. This is because he was late-deafened adult and could hear, learn and appreciate music for several, several years before losing his hearing.

Children who were born deaf or got deafened before learning everything about music simply don't have the background which Beethoven had and utilized to write his music. It is matter of gamble to make them aspire to achieve what Beethoven achieved.

I prefer that deaf Nobel prize winners be used as role models instead. This kind of aspiration is more flexible in that it does not depend upon any particular background for success.

This Web site has a page containing Beethoven jokes.

Last update date: 
1997 Apr 28