‘How can D/deaf people hear music’… ‘D/deaf people must really miss music’…
These questions and phrases are commonly asked and is a common myth I’d like to dispel in this blog.
Any D/deaf person, regardless of their level of hearing loss can experience or ‘hear’ music, they might just access it differently to the way hearing people do.
People with mild to severe hearing loss may have some existing hearing which enables them to listen to music like their hearing peers either playing audio out loud or through headphones. Some might require a slightly higher volume – hopefully keeping within the safe decibel level!
(For more information on decibel levels, I recommend checking out Decibel Squad which discusses safe sound levels for everyone, especially in public places)
Those with severe-profound deafness may be able to use assistive devices connected to their hearing technologies to hear music or can access it in other ways which I’ve listed below.
Some D/deaf people are born with deafness, or grew up with it from a young age so if they’ve never heard or experienced music, how can they miss it?
For those who have hearing loss which deteriorates over time, I can’t speak for them, but it must be hard losing out on music, as people say it can be beautiful. I hope this blog can suggest ideas for different ways of accessing it to bring joy back in their lives again.
How I access music
I was born profoundly deaf, so I’ve never known what it’s like to be ‘hearing’ or what music sounds like. Without my hearing aids, I can hear loud sounds very quietly and general sounds I can’t hear at all. If I’m at a concert or in a nightclub and take my hearing aids out, it’s often that loud that I can hear it faintly… it sounds echoey and bass-heavy!
With music, I can hear it whilst wearing my hearing aids, but I need a little increase in volume and lyrics to understand what’s being said/to know what song is playing. It’s the same concept with lipreading; without lyrics, I know there is sound, but I can’t pick out what is being sung.
I love music, but I struggle to hear high-pitched songs, for example Sam Smith, Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift – mostly female singers I find it hard to listen to. I love low-pitched tunes like Adele, Olly Murs, Ed Sheeran, quite often male/boy band singers.
I can’t hear the different levels of tones and pitch, similarly I can never tell if X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent singers are off-tune! That’s also a reason why I can’t sing…
Learning the lyrics
To access any song, I need lyrics if not it just sounds like a babble of words. If there’s a tune I like the sound of, or one by my favourite singers, the first thing I do is search for the lyrics. It’s a combination of playing the song on a loop/on a regular basis and reading the lyrics over and over to understand and learn the words.
My music taste is so out of date, so please don’t criticise! It takes a while to learn songs and by the time I have, there’s a new song out in the charts!
I find it so useful when I see Sign Supported English (SSE) signed music videos or using a SSE interpreter at concerts as it helps me learn the song quicker because they sign the word in the order it’s sung and it’s so visual, which is better and quicker to pick up than reading words.
*Disclaimer: I know there’s been controversy over this recently, but I’d like to clarify. For British Sign Language (BSL) videos, they translate the meaning of the song rather than word for word, which is great for BSL users as it’s their language structure.
For myself who speaks English as my first language and sign language second, it’s visual and helpful to watch SSE songs or use SSE interpreters as it follows the English structure which makes sense to me.
Therefore, SSE performers are super beneficial for me and I find it sad that SSE performers are being criticised. Unfortunately, the Deaf community views it differently, but I wish they could bear in mind the views of deaf SSE users*
What assistive devices are available?
Firstly, what is accessible for you depends on the level of hearing loss, I suggest chatting with your audiologist to see what they recommend. If you can use assistive devices, there are a few options on the market.
You can get Direct Input Leads which plug into the bottom of your hearing aids and are inserted into your phone/device like normal headphones. This is my favourite piece of technology which I use when I’m on the go, especially during long travel journeys.
There are streaming devices on the market such as the Compilot which I use occasionally. These depend on the level of hearing loss and which hearing technologies you have. They stream music wirelessly to your hearing devices using Bluetooth.
Other devices feature Ear Hooks or neck loops and so on, it just takes a bit of research to find the product best for you.
What song’s playing?
There are apps available which are brilliant for recognising songs that are being played, whether on the radio or at festivals, in bars and so on. They work as audio recognition which listens to the song and if it’s clear enough it tells you the name of the song and who sang it. Sometimes it matches the audio to lyrics on screen so you can follow it.
My Top 3 Favourite Apps are:
How can I access music?
If D/deaf people can’t hear the music, there are other ways of being able to access it in an enjoyable way, it’s simply utilising the other senses that they have.
Feel the beat
Most Deaf people can feel the vibrations of music through their body, from quieter sounds feeling quite sensitive vibrations to loud music transformed to heavy bass. Some can hold a balloon and feel the vibrations, others can put their hands on the speakers or access sound through vibrations travelling through the floor (some go without wearing shoes to feel it better like famous deaf percussionist; Evelyn Glennie)
There are awesome vibrating products that connect directly to the music, like Subpac backpacks or Cutecircuit jackets (expensive) but if you have an opportunity to try, it’s a surreal alternative way of feeling the beat through the front and back of your body, almost a transformational experience!
Sign Language Interpreters
If you’re at a concert, a great way of accessing it is by requesting a Sign Language interpreter (this must be done way in advance due to bookings/ learning the lyrics/translating the songs and so on). Interpreters can either be stood on the stage or near you in the crowd and gives an almost instant translation to what’s being sang. If requested by a D/deaf person, they have a right to access a service so the concert/venue/band should provide one.
All about the visuals
It’s not always the beat that Deaf people can use, the visuals are great too! I’ve experienced coordinating light shows and immersive subtitles at concerts in the past, both specially done by the production companies.
The coordinating light show incorporates various coloured and timed lighting in sync with the music, colours used to depend on the mood of the song and the pace of lighting representing whether it was a slow/fast song. It’s incredible!
Immersive subtitles are a way of incorporating subtitles into the set, either words on the big screen or popping up on various parts of the stage but in a cool way so people think it’s part of the show, but it’s actually providing access to those who need it.
Famous deaf musicians
Looking for some inspiration? There are so many well-known musicians with a hearing loss in today’s society, as well as famous ones from the past. Here’s a couple of awesome modern musicians that are worth checking out!
Mandy Harvey – Singer
Evelyn Glennie – Percussionist
Sean Forbes – Rapper
Signkid – Hip Hop Artist (videos with BSL)
Ruth Montgomery – Flautist
Signmark – Rapper
Jerrica Patton – Musician
Lady Geraldine Elliot – Musician
I’d love to hear your experiences of accessing music, please do share them in the comments below!