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Brass band, string groups and music technology

Photo: Get deaf-friendly advice on teaching brass and string instruments

For someone who plays a musical instrument, being part of an orchestra, band or musical group can be a very enjoyable activity. Orchestras especially are set up to be visual, with musicians positioned so that they can see the conductor. A deaf child or young person can use this to their advantage.

Here are some tips to ensure a deaf student is able to make the most out of group sessions.

Playing in a brass band, string group, orchestra or pop band

  • Make sure the child has had a chance to play on their own with a tutor and get used to the piece before it’s played within a bigger group. The different instrumental groups could also meet regularly to run through their own parts before they are introduced to the full orchestra.
  • Check if the child needs help to tune their instrument with the rest of the orchestra.
  • Consider the positioning of the child within their instrument group. Depending on their level of hearing, they may prefer to sit at one end of the group, closer or further away from neighbouring instrument groups. Ask the child if they would like to have someone positioned next to them, to relay information that is given out. Try not to move instrumental positions as it may take time for the child to get used to what they can hear in a new place.
  • Ensure the conductor is always on a raised platform so that they can be clearly seen. There should be no visual obstructions such as soloists or stage props.
  • The conductor should consider using a long baton, if they don’t already, to heighten the visual and help the child keep in time with the rest of the group.
  • Conducting should be consistent – if there are to be any changes to the conducting method or style, talk directly to the deaf child or young person.
  • A deaf soloist may need additional support with timing from the conductor. Allow time for clear discussion in advance to avoid miscommunication.

DJ’ing and music technology

DJ’ing and music technology are becoming increasingly popular – if a deaf child or young person expresses an interest there are a few things you may want to consider:

  • Give the child an opportunity to use headphones or adapters to connect to their hearing aid or cochlear implant as well as the speakers, so that they can still be part of the group but will not experience any background noise.
  • Encourage the child to put their hands on the speakers to feel the vibrations from the beat of the music. Some children may be nervous about whether it is safe to do so, so clarify where it is safe to touch prior to the activity.
  • Most deaf DJs prefer to use software that is designed to be visual such as ‘Serato Scratch Live’ rather than using old style mixers.
  • Lots of music technology software will have a visual element – particularly around programming rhythms where the act of pressing the keys on a keyboard or drum machine will create a sound as well as a pattern on the screen – enabling the rhythm or musical sequence to be both seen and heard. You can also consider using music technology that incorporates visual feedback elements with lights on a grid, for example Novation’s Launchpad or Yamaha’s Tenori-on.