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Musical instruments

Photo: Learning to play an instrument can have many benefits for deaf young people.

It’s a misconception that you cannot play, participate in or enjoy music if you’re deaf and lots of deaf people do so on a daily basis. Learning to play an instrument can have many benefits for deaf young people. As well as discovering a new way to enjoy music using vibrations, the visual aspect and performance value of playing music can increase confidence, encourage learning about emotions and help your child develop fine motor skills.

Joab (14) has no hearing in his left ear. This hasn’t stopped him from channelling his passion for music and learning to play the drums and piano.

“Music’s my getaway. Whenever I’m feeling down or stressed, I play some music or the drums. Playing music offers a whole new side of life that you get to involve yourself in. The experiences you get don’t just help you become a better musician; they help you with confidence too.”

If your child has shown an interest in learning a musical instrument, here are some helpful tips to make sure they learn to play music in a supportive and accessible environment.

Meet tutors in advance

You and your child should meet with the tutor before booking lessons to make sure they’re aware of your child’s deafness and what they will need to do to support them. It’s also a good way to check your child feels happy and comfortable with their potential tutor.

It’s a good idea to share our tips on how to make music deaf-friendly with your child’s tutor. We also provide information, resources and training to organisations, it focuses on the small and simple steps they can take in order to be deaf-friendly. For more information, contact us at [email protected].

Linda is mum to Jessica (11), who is moderately deaf.

“Jess plays the clarinet. It’s time consuming but I always look into deaf music groups for her and search for tips online to help her pass exams.”

Communication support

Making sure the right communication support is in place for your child during their lessons is really important. Here are some useful tips.

  • Ask your child to discuss how they would like to communicate with their tutor and what the best way to get their attention before speaking or signing is.
  • When the tutor is delivering instructions make sure they face your child and check they’ve understood. They also need to do this before your child starts playing. Make sure they know not to move around while talking or demonstrating.
  • You and the tutor should avoid talking while your child is performing.

Use visual or physical cues

It’s helpful for your child to have visual cues as much as possible. For example, counting with fingers, eye contact and facial expressions, where appropriate.

Your child can also establish the beat through vibration or visual cues. For example, clapping, head nods or tapping your feet or hands on the table.

If your child is stuck when learning an instrument, ask the tutor to try explaining things in a different way, such as writing them down or using pictures.

Myles, who is profoundly deaf.

“I’ve been musical for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I was lucky to have a small window of sound when using hearing aids. I experimented with the cello, piano, trumpet, drums and saxophone before settling on the guitar aged 14. I was drawn to the tactile and visual elements of music, for example the feeling of pressing down the keys on a grand piano.”

Reduce background noise

Background noise can make it difficult for your child to hear their instrument.

To reduce this, ask the tutor if they can teach or practice with your child in rooms that have no echo, are away from loud noises or groups of people playing or practicing and have no background music.

Take a look at our tips on acoustics, good acoustics for your child’s listening may not be the same as good acoustics for music so it is worth sharing these tips with your child’s tutor.

Consider the size of lessons

Consider whether it would benefit your child if they attended a one-on-one or small group lesson. This can help with distractions and background noise.

Be aware that different hearing aids and cochlear implants vary in how they read frequencies. This may affect the sound for your child and you can speak to your audiologist for more information.

Cam (16), who is moderately to severely deaf, studied music for GCSE.

“The music department obviously knew that I was deaf and I told them I was going to need some extra support. I said, ‘I can’t hear half the stuff you’re playing on the speakers.’ So, in lessons when they play things through speakers, they’ll play it to the class and then they play it to me separately using my ComPilot streamer. This means I get to experience the same sound extremes as the rest of my class.”

Encourage practice

For anyone learning to play an instrument, practice makes perfect. Practising gives your child the chance to cover anything they may have found difficult or missed during lessons.

Finding the right environment for your child to practice is really important. This means using a room that’s quiet with little background noise.

Vijeeth (16) is moderately to severely deaf in both ears. He started learning to play the guitar when he was eight.

“I’d definitely encourage other young people with a hearing loss to learn music. As long as they practice regularly, they’ll improve and have fun. It’s a good skill, and you’ll shock lots of people!”

Music exams and adjustments

If your child is taking music exams, for example for GCSEs or grades, their tutor needs to make sure adjustments are in place for them. Talk to your child’s teacher to discuss any changes your child needs so they’re not at a disadvantage. This could include checking they can hear the music, clarifying instructions or using a different room.

Adjustments have given Joab (14) the best chance to show off his skills during exams.

“I had to have the speaker on my left-hand side and we’ve had sound checks to make sure I can hear the music I’m playing along to. Music teachers too have had to learn to be patient and repeat instructions when necessary.”