Music and the Deaf:
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Signing Songs Discussion
Music and the
By Rachael Gross
Being a music major I have found music very
interesting. So I decided to expand my knowledge of music and find
out how the Deaf and hard of hearing go about listening to music. I
learned that in fact some Deaf can and do enjoy music and play
Music, I believe, is a universal language. No matter
where you live, gender, age, hearing, Deaf or hard of hearing,
everyone can enjoy music. This to me is one of the things that makes
music so beautiful.
A very common question that arises when you talk
about music and the Deaf is whether or not they can enjoy music.
Well they can. They may not be able to hear but they can feel. When
I was going through my music and aural theory classes, my teachers
very often said, “You need to feel the music. It needs to run
through your body and not just through your brain and ears”. I think
that this is something that a Deaf or hard of hearing person can do
better. Why do I believe this? I believe this because they are so
used to feeling sounds. The sense of touch or feel is more developed
in them than in a hearing person. I also learned that when one sense
is lacking the other senses make up for it. How are they able to
feel music? They feel music through vibrations. “Deaf students
showed brain activity in a golf ball-sized area, the auditory
cortex, otherwise usually only active during auditory stimulation.
The people with normal hearing did not show such brain activity”
(University of Washington).
Usually when we talk about music and the Deaf many
times Beethoven comes into the picture. He was an amazing composer
who later in his life became Deaf. It is said that he became Deaf
because his father beat him on the head. Nonetheless, he was a
phenomenal composer who wrote symphonies when Deaf. He did have an
advantage that some Deaf people do not. He once could hear and was
able to know what his music sounded like without actually having to
hear it. Although he could do this, he also depended on vibrations
that the piano gave when he was playing it. So just like how
Beethoven felt vibrations through the piano, the Deaf can feel
vibrations through the floor, wall or an instrument. As long as they
can feel vibrations they can feel the rhythm of music and enjoy
music just like hearing people.
"The perception of the musical vibrations by the Deaf
is likely every bit as real as the equivalent sounds, since they are
ultimately processed in the same part of the brain” (WebMD). Not
only can they feel rhythm they can also sometimes tell pitch.
Depending on where the note vibrates in their body they can tell
whether the pitch is high or low. "The low sounds I feel mainly in
my legs and feet and high sounds might be particular places on my
face, neck and chest"(Duchene). They may not be able to hear an
exact pitch but they are able to have a general idea through the
feeling of vibration.
Not only can they feel vibrations they can also play
instruments. They are able to learn music theory as long as you tap
the rhythm out. That way they are able to read music. There are many
programs out there for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing to
join. They can join in their own orchestra just like everyone else.
As you can see, not only can hearing people hear
music and enjoy it but also Deaf and hard of hearing. Not only can
they enjoy music they can also play and possibly write their own
music. There are many other artists out there that are Deaf and have
composed many spectacular pieces and you never know who the next may
be. Music is a universal language and will continue to be for a long
Duchene, Lisa. “Why are some Deaf people able to play instruments”.
Research Penn State. The Pennsylvania State University. 2007.
Pennsylvania State University. 3 January 2013. <http://www.rps.psu.edu/probing/Deaf.html>.
University Of Washington. "Brains Of Deaf People Rewire To "Hear"
Music." ScienceDaily, 28 Nov. 2001. Web. 3 Jan. 2013.
WebMD Health News. “Deaf People Can ‘Feel’ Music”. WebMD. 3 January
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