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Singing, choir practice and sign song

Photo: Understand how to make singing inclusive for deaf students

Many deaf children and young people enjoy singing and are able to sing in tune. There are many ways you can support a deaf child to take part.

Learning to sing and singing in a choir

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Give the child 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • You could suggest that a deaf child watches their co-singer’s breathing patterns out of the corner of their eye to ensure they all come in together and remain in time with everyone else.
  • Consider using a microphone for a deaf singer as a deaf child may struggle to know if their volume is right and how to adapt accordingly while keeping their voice steady.
  • Consider asking someone to stand opposite the child whilst they are singing to demonstrate the pitch with their hands and keep the rhythm by conducting throughout.
  • 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. Consider allowing this, and do not draw attention to the fact they are doing so.
  • Some children use hearing aids which compress high-frequency sounds into the child’s lower frequency and more audible hearing range. If a child is unable to reproduce high frequencies accurately, consider whether they would be better suited to another vocal classification or whether a lower octave could be used. 

Sign song

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 The Daily Sign on YouTube to watch host, Libbey, sign to popular music.