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Making music deaf-friendly

Photo: Hitting the right note

Deaf children and young people enjoy listening to music with their friends as much as hearing children and young people. When teaching a music lesson, remember that as with hearing people, a deaf child’s perception of music will vary greatly and they may prefer certain types of music to others.

When teaching music to a deaf young person, be mindful of the small yet effective adaptations listed below.

Deaf-friendly music

Watch our video about deaf-friendly music

Music in the early years (0–5) 

  • A child may be more likely to give music a go if they have been exposed to it at home.
  • As with hearing children you can use music in small groups to teach children to be aware of others and wait for responses. This might include children learning to wait their turn before playing an instrument or using other sounds as a cue for making a sound themselves.
  • Try a variety of sounds over several sessions to see how the children you are working with react. Some children are sensitive to certain pitches or tones.
  • Vibrations can be overwhelming at first so experiment carefully. Children will show you what they like.
  • Encourage rhythm building first, like clapping and stamping. Very young babies respond to rhythm and pulse naturally.
  • Use clear and simple gestures to assist with communication. Lots of eye contact and facial expressions can also assist.
  • Many deaf children learn by watching and doing – so be as hands on as possible.
  • Keep active, walk or bounce around the room to rhythms and change the speed frequently to keep things interesting.
  • Gently encourage participation and listening. Listening to music in an informal setting, such as through a personal music player, may come independently at school age.

General music lessons and listening to music 

  • Start with simple pieces of music, with a clear melody or just one or two instruments. Gradually introduce pieces with more instruments.
  • Where possible, use rooms with soft furnishings that do not have an echo or background noise.
  • If you’re using a CD player or music dock, check with the child that the volume is at a comfortable level for them.
  • Avoid talking while the music is playing and be careful of background music that may make it difficult for a child to hear what else is happening.
  • If the music you are listening to has lyrics, ask the child if it would be helpful to have them printed onto a piece of paper or displayed on a screen before you listen to the piece.
  • Deaf children and young people may need to have the lyrics repeated several more times that you are used to, before they are able to learn them by heart.
  • Look for smart phone apps such as Shazam and Sound Hound that help identify what music is being played. These apps sometimes provide the lyrics too. You can find out more about apps that are useful for deaf children and young people in our technology section.
  • When your students are learning about composition, think about the environment where they will be listening to them. If others are creating different pieces it may be worth splitting students into several rooms, or asking students to be quiet while they take it in turns to listen to their compositions.