Singing, choir practice and sign song
Many deaf children and young people enjoy singing, are able to sing in tune and would like to sing in a choir. There are many ways you can make singing lessons and choir practice deaf-friendly to support a deaf child to take part.
With the right adjustments and adaptations, deaf children and young people can attend singing lessons and thrive with their singing practice. Here are some tips to make singing lessons deaf-friendly for your deaf students.
Ask young deaf children who are learning about singing for the first time to feel their throat and diaphragm when they sing, so they can get a sense of how it feels.
Check which octave on a keyboard the child can hear most comfortably. The accompanying music may need to be altered depending on whether they have better low or high frequency hearing.
Listening conditions and communication
Make sure the acoustics of the room are good. If the room has an echo it will be more difficult to pitch the tune.
Think about the way you communicate – don’t forget that lipreading whilst someone is singing is much harder.
Try and make sure the first beat of each bar is strong, to aid timing. Try playing the whole chord as well as the single note. Having the harmonics sometimes helps pitch accuracy.
Consider using a guitar or saxophone instead of a piano to accompany the singer because clean and sharp sounds can help a deaf person hear the tune. Percussive and staccato notes are also sometimes easier to hear.
Some deaf children use hearing aids. Hearing aids compress high-frequency sounds into a lower frequency and more audible hearing range.
If a deaf singer is unable to reproduce high frequencies accurately, they may be better suited to another vocal classification (soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, and bass) or a lower octave could be used.
Even if a deaf child or young person has had lots of singing lessons and practice, joining and taking part in a choir may feel daunting. Some deaf children and young people may be self-conscious about their voices. Assess their part in the group depending on their strengths.
Other deaf children may want the social benefits of being involved in a choir but prefer to lip-sync rather than use their voice. Let them and don't draw attention to the fact they are doing so. In time they may feel more comfortable and want to start singing themselves.
If you conduct a choir, here are some tips to make your choir deaf-friendly and accessible.
- Give a deaf singer a chance to sing on their own first to get used to what they can hear and feel in their bodies, before introducing them to a group choir.
- Suggest that they watch their co-singer’s breathing patterns out of the corner of their eye to ensure they come in together and remain in time with the group.
- A deaf singer could use a microphone as they may struggle to know if their volume is right and how to adapt accordingly while keeping their voice steady.
- Place deaf singers near the front of the group so they can see the conductor clearly and can follow their demonstrations of the pitch with their hands and the rhythm.
Sign song artists around the UK are becoming more popular. Sign song is when someone uses sign language instead of singing the words and as it can be very visual, performances are often stunning to watch.
Sign song could add a new visual dimension to your singing group or you could consider setting up a sign song group, which will also give hearing children the opportunity to learn some signs.
Here are some tips to incorporate sign song into your lesson.
- Try to ensure the signing represents the meaning of the lyrics – you don’t need to sign each word.
- Use signs that fit in time to the music and that flow well together.
- Use facial expressions to mirror what is being signed and in place of tempo and tone.
- Look at alternative translations to suit the group you are working with, for example, a more simplistic version for younger children.
To see sign song in action, visit Inspiration Creative Thanet on YouTube to watch host, Zoe, sign and sometimes sing popular songs.