Listening to music
Each child’s experience of music is unique and there are lots of different ways to engage with music. Which way is best will depend on your individual child, their type and level of deafness, the technology they use and their previous exposure to music.
Some deaf children may be able to use much of their residual hearing with the support of their hearing aids, cochlear implants or bone conduction hearing devices (BCHD). Others may be deaf in just one ear. This means that music enjoyment in many cases is not just about vibration and being visual, but hearing the music.
From using hearing technology to feeling vibrations, we explore how music can be enjoyed.
Just like their hearing friends, deaf children can enjoy and benefit from music in a variety of ways, such as:
- building skills in language, communication logic and creativity
- developing memory and cognitive development
- increasing confidence
- connecting with other people
- exploring emotions.
Katerina is mum to Ezekiel (1) who is moderately deaf.
“When he’s crying, I sing a Greek song to him and he won't look anywhere else but at me. He watches people’s mouths moving. With music, he just focuses a lot more. He seems to love it.”
There are lots of ways that deaf people can experience music:
- Through hearing technology
- Through vibration
- Through British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation
Through hearing technology
Children who use hearing technology may experience music differently to hearing people, particularly when it’s played out loud.
Hearing aids, cochlear implants and bone conduction hearing devices are designed primarily for amplifying speech and making it clearer. Because music has a greater range of pitches, intensities, and volume than speech, it can be difficult for children to hear exactly how music sounds through their hearing technology and so they may not experience music in the same way as a hearing person.
Many hearing technology users find it easier to listen to a solo performer, rather than lots of instruments or voices at once. This is because the way hearing aids and cochlear implants work makes it harder to focus on different sounds at once.
Most hearing aids and implants have multiple program capability. This means they can be programmed for various different settings, where the gain and output are set to work better for different situations. A music program, which keeps the device at a comfortable volume, can be created on many hearing aids and implants. Ask your child’s audiologist or Teacher of the Deaf for more information.
If your child wants to listen to music by themselves, they can stream music directly to their hearing technology. These days, many hearing aids include Bluetooth, which means they can connect directly to a smartphone, tablet or to a wide range of other devices.
For other modern hearing aids, cochlear implants and BCHDs that are unable to connect directly to a smartphone or other device, there is the need to use a streamer. This connects your hearing technology and the device you want to listen to, allowing you to listen to music directly through your hearing aid or cochlear implant. Some radio aids can also be used as a streamer.
We have more tips from our technology expert, Kim Hagan.
Jayden (18) is profoundly deaf.
“My cochlear implant made a huge difference. Before, I could only feel the kicks in the music but after, I could hear it more clearly and dance to the beat. Once I got my second implant at 11, I started noticing all the other instruments too.”
Sound is produced through vibrations moving through the air, or another medium – for example – a solid, liquid or gas. When these vibrations (or sound waves) reach a person’s ear, they vibrate through different parts of the ear and carry a signal to their brain, which processes it as a sound.
Depending on how their hearing loss affects them, parts of a deaf person’s ears may not be able to carry vibrations in the same way. However, they are still able to feel the vibration of the music with different parts of their bodies.
Different instruments, voices, volumes and pitches have different sound frequencies. Deaf people may be able to feel the vibrations of lower pitches or louder volumes much easier than higher or quieter sounds.
There are also different ways to feel the vibrations, such as feeling different surfaces or using various parts of the body. For example, some people may enjoy feeling the difference between standing on a concrete, wooden or grass flooring at a live event, or the contrast between feeling vibrations through their chair and putting their hands on a speaker.
Vibration is a different way to experience music but can be just as enjoyable.
Through British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation
These days, more and more live events are offering performances with live BSL interpretation. This includes live music concerts and theatre events, like plays, musicals, operas and pantomimes.
Throughout the performance, a live interpreter will interpret the lyrics and feel of the music through signing, body language and non-manual features. Depending on the venue, they may be stood on stage or in a theatre box, on a platform in the crowd, or shown on a large screen by the stage. Some venues reserve specific seats or space for BSL users, so that they can see the interpreter clearly. Contact your venue to find out if this is an option for you.
If a show offers shows with BSL interpretation, they should advertise on their website which performances will be signed. You can also contact interpretation companies, such as Performance Interpreting, who can help you liaise with the event organisers to arrange interpretation.
Marie is a BSL performance interpreter.
“People think it’s about sound, but it’s about the feeling you’re left with at the end of a song. We see people cry, laugh and dance at the shows and it’s beautiful to witness.”
Music can also be accessible for babies and toddlers aged 0 to 4 years, through BabyBeats™.
BabyBeats™ is an early year’s resource from Advanced Bionics. It’s an app so it’s easy to access and use, and filled with motivating and fun musical activities for babies and toddlers with hearing loss. It guides parents through activities to support listening and language skills, pre-reading skills, bonding, and social skills.
The BabyBeats™ app stimulates your baby’s senses through musical activities. It can be beneficial for children with a range of hearing devices. Using the app with a vibrating speaker can make it more relevant for profoundly deaf children.
Advanced Bionics occasionally run in-person group sessions with Teachers of the Deaf across the county. Find out if there's a session near you.
Katerina is mum to Ezekiel (1) who is moderately deaf.
“When you first get told your child is deaf, you do feel alone and think ‘Who do I ask?’ and ‘Who do I get advice from?’ Groups like this are what keep you from worrying a lot of the time. When you don’t have any deaf people in the family, they’re the best people to talk to.”
Deaf people are also able to enjoy performing music, through playing an instrument, singing (or sign singing) and DJing.
Vijay is dad to Vijeeth (16) who is moderately to severely deaf.
“I wanted Vijeeth to try as many things as possible so he can find things he enjoys – it’s important for children to have options. Music is what he’s chosen. His guitar playing challenges people’s perceptions of deafness and I hope it inspires other deaf young people to learn an instrument.”