Also see: Music and the Deaf
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Music for People of the Eye
For a hearing person, music is auditory.
It is sound. It can be broken down more precisely into melody,
harmony, rhythm, words sung or heard, but basically it is the sound
of a particular genre of music that makes you respond either
positively or negatively to it. For individuals in the Deaf
community, who are unable to hear these sounds, music is a much more
physical and visual experience. Contrary to common thought and
despite the differences in how it is perceived, non-hearing
individuals can receive enjoyment from music.
Everyone has heard that music can be felt
by the deaf, the vibrations coming through a speaker, a wooden floor
or chair. We now know that it is more than just vibrations that
make music enjoyable to the Deaf community.
Dr. Karns and colleagues, at the
University of Oregon, Eugene, used MRIs to study and compare the
brains of hearing and deaf people. His research showed a difference
in the brains of non-hearing individuals compared to their hearing
counterparts. The auditory cortex, the hearing part of the brain, of
the deaf participants responded to touch and vision stimuli. In
hearing individuals this part of the brain is reserved for auditory
processing. (Karnes, 2012).
In 2001, Dr. Shibata, University of
Rochester School of Medicine in NY, conducted research studies that
looked scientifically at how deaf individuals perceive music. His
research showed that deaf individuals sense vibrations in the same
part of the brain that hearing individuals use to hear. He reported
that since the area of the brain where both the vibrations and sound
were processed by the individuals in the study, hearing and deaf,
the perception of the vibrations by the deaf are as real as the
sounds are to the hearing. (Graham, 2001).
Based on the above stated research along
with the knowledge that ASL is much more than movements of the hands
and rather a multi sensory language, using the hands, eyes, face,
expressions and body to convey meaning, it would make sense that
music would be interpreted and enjoyed most as a multi-sensory
There are now music videos being produced
specifically for the deaf so they can experience music more fully.
ASL is matched along with visual cues, lights, facial emotions and
body language to songs to clarify the emotions and convey meaning.
This allows the Deaf community to enjoy music in a way that enhances
the experience. New businesses are taking popular songs and
converting them into a rich, multi-sensory experience for deaf
individuals. Music interpreters are also being seen at concerts
more frequently, allowing individuals who are deaf to more fully
enjoy the music.
In the European Deaf community, concerts,
Deaf Raves, are growing in popularity (Cornier, 2011). Night clubs
and other venues open their doors to the deaf community where they
turn up the volume and the bass to allow for throbbing beats to be
felt throughout the body. ASL music interpreters and varied
lighting are also sometimes used to help express meaning of the
music and to allow for a deeper more meaningful experience.
New technology is being experimented with
that allows the sensations and vibrations of sound and music to be
more easily felt. There are now devices that can attach on a piece
of furniture allowing the individual seated there to feel the
various effects of the music. Portable variations are being
developed that would allow a deaf individual to wear it in a night
club or concert so they could better “hear/feel” the music.
Like all pleasures in life, some are
enjoyed more by some individuals than others. Not all hearing
individuals love music and the same applies in the Deaf community.
However, being deaf does not exclude one from appreciating and
Just as ASL is a very unique and distinct language
compared to the English language with its own rules and nuances, the
way that an individual who is deaf enjoys music is different as
well, but no less as real.
Cornier, Zoe. (2011, Nov.16). Sencity: more than
a Deaf rave. New Internationalist blog. Internationalist blog.
Retrieved 28, June, 2013: <http://newint.org/blog/2011/11/16/sencity-deaf-music-event/>
Graham, Sarah. (2001, November 28). Brain scans
show deaf subjects “hear” vibrations. Scientific America. Nature
Publishing. Retrieved 27 June, 2013: <www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=brain-scans-show-deaf-sub>.
Karnes, Christina. (2012, July 11). Altered
cross-modal processing in the primary
auditory cortex of congenitally deaf adults: a visual-somatosensory
fMRI study with a double -flash illusion.The Journal of
Neuroscience. Society for Neuroscience. Retrieved 28, June, 2013:
Lindsley, Kathy. (2008, March 12). Hearing loss
hasn’t kept Sean Forbes out of the
music industry. University News. Rochester Institute of
Technology. Retrieved 27, June 2013: <http://www.rit.edu/news/story.php?id=46036>
University Of Washington (2001, November 28).
Brains of deaf people rewire to "hear"
music. ScienceDaily. Retrieved 1,July 2013:
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