Can Deaf People Hear Music? (Answer: Yes, They Can)

photo of Sean Forbes, deaf musician and cofounder of DPAN (The Deaf Performing Arts Network)
 

Hearing people always assume that there is only one way to enjoy music, and that is by listening/ hearing to it. In a world dominated and driven by able bodied privilege, that assumption is prevalent, and when a deaf person shows up at a concert, heads turn. However, deaf people can enjoy music in ways that differ from how hearing people enjoy music, but they can definitely derive pleasure out of it. 

 
First of all, deafness does not mean that someone does not hear anything at all – there are varying levels of deafness. Second, deaf people can feel the vibrations produced by the music being played and consume those vibrations through their body. The humming sound produced by picking a bass string or the boom of the drums can be felt very easily by them. The lyrics evoke different types of feelings, and the combination of vibrations and lyrics is how deaf people enjoy music. Someone who wears hearing aids or Cochrane implants may have some enhanced levels of hearings but for those who don’t, they turn up the volume so they can feel the vibrations from beats and bass more strongly as they read the lyrics.

Watch the video below to see how a deaf person how she hears and experiences music.
 
 
Concerts for deaf people are a different experience. Typically the music at concerts is very loud, and that can damage hearing aids and someone’s hearing. In such a situation, deaf people turn off their hearing aids which may make them hear music even less but then they enjoy the music through amplified vibrations being produced by large speakers around them. It is also common  for bands/ musicians to have sign language interpreters who sign song lyrics for their deaf audience. This way, deaf people feel the music and also get to know the words to the songs!
 
Here’s an example of a sign language interpreter at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert.

However, deaf people don’t have to just depend upon vibrations and sign language interpreters to enjoy music. D-PAN (The Deaf Performing Arts Network), is a not for profit that strives to make music and music culture more accessible to deaf people. D-PAN recreates music videos of popular songs, and these videos have deaf and hard of hearing actors who express song lyrics through ASL. D-PAN does a great job of including an audience (deaf people) in an art form that primarily caters to a hearing audience, as well as give recognition to deaf and hard of hearing artists everywhere.
 
 
 
But wait, there’s more! Here’s Sean Forbes, co-founder of D-PAN, a deaf musician himself, singing and also signing the words in this video.

 
 

In essence, yes, deaf people can not only hear but also create music. The way they interact with and consume music is different  – they feel vibrations from the music, they read signs from sign language interpreters at concerts,  and not for profits like D-PAN make sure music and music culture is accessible to deaf people.

As Sean says in his video above, “Something inside me is so intense, evidently it is bringing out my sixth sense”.

Additional readings: Gapers Block, Quora, D-PAN 
Image Source: Watchloud

9 Comments

  1. I saw a headphone here > http://www.giftick.com/raj/78/ which says deaf people can hear from it. I don't believe this. But they say this headphone is fitted on cheekbones instead of ear and sound signals are passed through vibration of cheekbones. Do you guys think this is worth trying for deaf people?

  2. If a piece of music is entirely translated into a form accessible by another sense, can people who are deaf learn to experience the music through this means?
    Do you know of any research related to this question?

    For an example (there are many) of such a translation, see:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fT4KjUwL3lE

    I think that sign language tends to demonstrate that it is possible to translate the input from auditory to visual and still end up with something meaningful. Actually, the existence and effectiveness of sign language hints at the possibility of translating something even more basic than information to another sense- that is- meaning.
    Thanks

    Jim

  3. There is an android app that goes by the name of VibePlayer. This app has a technology that allows people to create vibration data for sound in audio / video files. People can use this app to create vibration data and deaf people can benefit from that, I guess.

    • Have other modalities besides tactile vibration been investigated for the purpose of ‘translating’ music for the deaf into information accessible through other senses?
      There are already videos on youtube that translate in a note-by-note fashion music into a moving visual format replete with color, shape, and interpretative groupings of notes. To me, this seems like a promising avenue of approach to the problem. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddbxFi3-UO4
      Clearly, all the information is present in the visual form. (Maybe not so clear in the tactile/vibration mode.) The question is whether the brain is able to interpret stimuli presented in this fashion or whether the auditory channel is somehow a ‘privileged’ frame of reference.
      I would appreciate your reaction to the above.

      • This idea is interesting. It is not as tangible as using vibration. Though, imagine if both technologies were combined? That video with vibration data. So, more senses are involved. I think that would work. Though, the squares on the video would have to be bigger.

        • Sounds right! Now. Who’s going to do it?

          • Well, the app that allows for vibration is already available and you can create those bars videos using another tool. So, I guess it is about someone making the videos plus doing the vibrations for them.

          • Surely something which allowed the deaf to meaningfully experience music would be important- possibly making a significant improvement in the life of many people.

2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Chris Fonseca: Deaf Dance Instructor Empowering Other Deaf Dancers - Assistive Technology Blog
  2. Can you sing in sign language?

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