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Beethoven, Music and The Deaf:

By Renate Cooper




"Beethoven, music and the Deaf" is based on new ideas and technology. Technology today is enabling Deaf people to hear and enjoy music. Educational Institutions will soon have the opportunity to utilize new tools that will enable deaf students to hear, study and appreciate music. Beethoven used vibration to hear his music. A device allowing the Deaf to feel the vibrations of different instruments is now being developed. In addition there are new advancements in widening the frequency range for cochlear implants. With today's technology, music can and should be integrated into schools and should include deaf students in the curriculum. Educational Institutions need to be informed of the availability of these resources as they become available. Every student should be offered the same opportunities to experience the world and all it has to offer. Deaf students should not be an exception.


Beethoven, Music and The Deaf

A Brief Consideration of the Works and Struggles of Ludwig Van Beethoven 

Recently there was information on the radio regarding Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the greatest composers in history. The story talked about how he enjoyed going to the local spa. He loved the mineral water and mineral baths. When he died the family he lived with took a lock of his hair. It was passed down through generations until it was finally donated to a university. With new technologies, scientists have finally been able to determine how he died. He died, slowly, from lead poisoning. The report stated that the lead in his hair sample was many times higher than normal. This would explain the severe intestinal pain he lived with. His outbursts of rage and anger were also part of his reaction to the lead poisoning. And lastly, the poisoning was a contributing factor to his deafness. New technologies are also being developed to ensure music becomes part of the curriculum for the deaf and hard of hearing students.

When discussing music and deafness inevitably there is reference to Beethoven. He is not always considered the greatest role model for deaf persons because he was a great composer long before his hearing loss. He learned to appreciate music at a very young age and gave his first performance at age seven. Therefore his skills as a composer were engrained by the time he became deaf. The story that he cut the legs off his piano in order to feel the vibrations of his music has been heard over and over. If a man with his talent can hear music by the vibrations it creates, one wonders how someone profoundly or even totally deaf at an early age can learn to appreciate music without ever hearing it.

Think about what it would be like if you could not hear. What can we learn from Beethoven, his music and his deafness? After loosing his hearing Beethoven used books with blank pages to communicate with people. Imagine spending one day trying to communicate with everyone you came in contact with by writing. In today's society it would be almost impossible or at the very least extremely impractical. Hearing, on the other hand, is relevant to the situation. If one lives in a big city the noises of traffic, car horns, boom boxes, and sirens can be heard. It can be very distracting and very, very irritating. What is really happening? The big city noise is over powering the real sounds of nature. Someone living in the country can hear the sounds of crickets chirping, frogs croaking and birds singing. The sounds of rain and the silence of a falling snow are true sounds being missed by the deaf and hard of hearing. Music, in any genre should be heard and appreciated by everyone. There is no vibration like that which music creates.

There is some question as to whether or not deaf children should have the opportunity to have music as part of their curriculum.  There can be a relationship between music and the deaf. Many hearing people are tone deaf and it is sometimes difficult to hear all of the lyrics when listening to some music. With proper amplification, many hard-of-hearing people can enjoy music. In this author's opinion some music isn't worth listening to regardless of whether you can hear or not. People that are profoundly or totally deaf can appreciate music by standing next to speakers and feel the vibrations. Some enjoy the vibration of the drum rather than from piano or guitar. Many hearing people have rhythm with or with out music. The same is the case with the deaf. After all, people are people whether they can hear or not. By not giving deaf children the opportunity to learn and appreciate music you are creating a disservice to them. All children should be provided the same level of education. We need to expose our children to all life has to offer.

We do not have to expect our children to aspire to Beethoven's greatness, but we do need to allow them every opportunity to be the best at whatever it is they choose to be. Beethoven's father and grandfather were both professional musicians. His father was an alcoholic and forced Ludwig to practice long hours. Often Beethoven's father would drag him out of bed to practice piano or play for guests. Today's society will not tolerate such behavior. It would be assumed that Beethoven would have become a great composer regardless of his abusive childhood. He had the talent and passion. It is sad to know that one of the greatest composers in history could not hear his music. It is amazing to think he wrote some of the world's greatest compositions even though he could not hear a note. All children should have the same opportunity. If never given the opportunity, society may be missing out on another great composer.

There is a place for music in the deaf community. The appreciation for music is individual. Like any other area of study there may not be an interest, but there should always be the opportunity. Two hundred years after Beethoven sawed off the legs of his piano the technique he used to feel the vibrations of the music are slowly becoming available. There is a new device that allows deaf to feel music. The "Vibrato" speaker has finger pads that allow different instruments, rhythm and notes to be felt. Hopefully, this may allow deaf children the same opportunities to learn and appreciate music as mainstream students. The vibrato is being design to be connected to a computer enabling deaf people the ability to compose music. It will allow them the opportunity to be a part of music classes in a way that would not have been available to them previously. (BBC News)

There are other reports beginning to emerge regarding other research that will enable deaf students more opportunities to study and appreciate music. One study reported that scientists are  working on a cochlear implant that has a wider frequency range. This new, wider range of frequency will not only allow the deaf the ability to hear speech better but music as well. There is a new form of music becoming popular. "Deaf Raves" are becoming popular in London. It allows clubbers the ability to feel the vibrations through their bodies with heavy bass and rhythmic tracks. (BBC News) Deaf people lack tactile sensations and cannot easily perceive the sounds music produces. These new technologies will be a welcomed advancement to education and learning.

One local, Sacramento researcher, Gail Zimmerman, did an action research study about how music affected the classroom. The instructor played music first thing in the morning, as she prepared for her zero hour humanities class.  The student never noticed, or at least never said anything. The next morning was the same as she prepared for class. Except this time no music. The students filled the classroom without notice to the lack of music until one student walked in. What, no Bambi music?" The student was referring to the new age and classical music the instructor had been playing. She had an "Aha" moment. How does music affect learning? The instructor began to incorporate music into her classroom and her studies. There was discussion of music related to the topics of study. The students took on the challenge of finding music related to the classroom discussion. The students found it easy to locate songs with lyrics referencing peace, anti-war, patriotism and historical figures. Some of the students' comments compared listening to music the same as the teacher reading a poem. Music made a connection to the studies. Music helped them to understand concepts of literature not present previously. It helped connect ideas in forms other than written. Having music be a part of the classroom experience helped the students relax. They were calm. Adding music to the curriculum was a more colorful way of learning.

If one instructor can make a difference in the learning experience of one classroom of students imagine what learning would be like to millions of others, including Deaf students. The more opportunity we allow our children to experience the world around them, the more we can expect from them in the future. Imagine how many Beethoven's are out there waiting for someone to give them the opportunity to hear music. New technologies are just the beginning. Schools need to be educated about the new technologies becoming available to them so that deaf children, all children, can learn to love and appreciate music.



BBC News (Last updated 2005, Oct 26) Speakers allow Deaf to Feel Music, retrieved from website 05/09/2007


Capistrano School (2004-05) Ludwig van Beethoven, Capistrano Elementary School, retrieved from website, 05/09/2007


Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Ludwig van Beethoven, retrieved from website 05/09/2007 No website address available. Found through Google search; Beethoven, music, deaf


Zak, Omer (Last updated 1997, Apr. 28) Music and The Deaf, retrieved from website 05/09/2007


Zimmerman, Gail (2005) The Theme Song From Bambi: Using Popular Music to Enhance meanings and Ideas in the High School Literature Classes, website: Teacher Researchers, 05/09/2007 @


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