Working with deaf and hearing impaired children - Recent project

A very enjoyable project exploring sound, music and vibration with deaf and hearing impaired children and adults.

I enjoyed working with my colleagues from the NMPAT inclusion team and with the children, support staff and volunteers who attended our music project.  I was genuinely nervous about this workshop prior to the day, I have worked with deaf children before on several projects, very well supported by former ACE deaf audience development officer Ian Carpenter, but this was a long time ago. We decided for this project to work in ‘zones’ and take the children round a variety of activities that were both sonically and visually interesting

We experimented with using balloons to help feel vibrations and all enjoyed this very much, particularly holding the balloon against our chests and leaning on the timpani’s and other drums. We tried a range of instruments including stringed instruments, a range of percussion, organ, piano and the tuba (great for putting hand in the end and feeling the vibrations and also getting the sound with ‘buzzing’ lips was fun) The adults in the group were very helpful and expressed enjoyment, told us about what they could or could not hear of feel and also supported us and the children brilliantly. We all felt that we were learning and experimenting and enjoying together.

The children enjoyed the day, although were very tired at the end of it and we agreed that a shorter day would be better another time. Although we used the last part of the workshop to ‘chill’ in the chill out zone and write a musical story together.

Some interesting discoveries were:

One person could ‘hear’ the flute and enjoyed this

One person was excited about the fact that low frequencies appeared ‘high’ to him and high frequencies did not register at all

We recorded vocal sounds and looked at the wave forms created from this as an additional point of interest and exploration

Visual aspect to the project through different zones and places decorated worked well

Good pace of activities – some time for solo instruments and some group work

Balloons help to amplify vibrations and it was interesting and fun to experiment with this

Simple rhythms allowed some to engage with drum patterns as when there was a lot of beats (and vibrations) this obscured the pattern and it became ‘noise’

We created a range of music together, starting the day with a 'happy' improv using guitars, drums, flute and other instruments, we moved onto using large drums and working with some signals (stop, slow, start, fast) and we also found the pulse or heartbeat together. We went onto explore African drums and rhythms and played a peice together, two children particularly enjoyed the 'balaphon's' or wooden xylophones and they performed this happily to the group in the afternoon. We spent time during the afternoon exploring individual sounds of a range of instruments and also experiencing DJ decks, story music and song writing. Overall the feedback from the participants (in particular supporting staff) was that we had provided a very enjoyable and interesting project. The CEO of the organisation said that the work had made her realise that 'music was for deaf children' 

A personal piece of happiness: I am able to sign a little as I have a family member who is profoundly deaf and enjoyed chatting in sign with the group (with support from patient participants and interpreter!) I was pleased that for the first time I was told my sign was ‘good’ and not as my more fluent family often tease me ‘rubbish and slow!’ but mostly I was pleased that a simple skill such as some basic polite signs helped to start the day in a relaxed way and one of the volunteers commented that he was surprised and pleased that a musician could sign.



438 reads


Julie Wright's picture

Hi Kate
You seem to have covered everything we did!
I think what Joanna, CEO, actually meant was that our pilot project was so successful that, with the very positive feedback from participants and the great range of photographs and video we took, she had no doubt that parents and families of deaf children would become more persuaded that "music was for deaf children", something she, herself, was already quite convinced about. This was confirmed by Olive's mother, who was absolutely delighted with what she saw when she collected her daughter and niece, and was signposted to various further activities that the children could access through the more general music programme provided by NMPAT. Take up for the project was disappointing in terms of numbers, but as Joanna had said, many families felt music wasn't for deaf people... as we all know, music is for everyone!

KateR-zoladay's picture

thank you Julie, that is a clear explanation and very true

anita holford's picture

Thanks for sharing this Kate, the following blogs from Music4U may also be of interest to you:

Listening bus -

Early years and deafness -

Emily Crossland's picture

Thanks for this Anita. And thanks Kate, always good to read about other musicians' and organisations' experiences (and such positive and rich ones too!). You might also be interested to know that Music4U has got another conference, focusing on the impact music can have on the wellbeing of deaf young people, coming up on 27th Feb 2015. If you're interested, there's an early bird offer on until 12th January, with more info here:

Ali Harmer's picture

I plan to add to the Network soon some learning from a current project with deaf children down in Gloucestershire. Before we started I was warned about the possibility of positve antagonism from deaf families regarding musical interventions. Forewarned, we did our utmost to be well-informed as opposed to well-meaning. So far, all reaction has been overwhelmingly positive but it's early days yet!

I think I'd hesitate to agree with the rather lovely statement "music is for everyone". I'd be happier with "there is something in music for everyone". The word "Music" conjurs up unicorns, rainbows and chocolate drops for some people but a reminder of horrible failure, beastly teachers and unrelated noises for others. We must tread (sing and play) with care!'s picture

Hi Ali,

I have two sons who have severe and moderate hearing loss. One likes Rock music the other insists on Classic FM in the car..It's quite an eclectic playlist!

I'm sure you'll find that the reaction to your work continues to be overwhelmingly positive and find it hard to understand why families of deaf children would be antagonistic towards you.

I do remember feeling quite annoyed following a school project about sound that my son was sent out into the school playground to listen to distant leaves rustle and birds tweeting with the rest of his class. Hearing aids are tuned for conversation in quite confined spaces so being outside is a challenge for him anyway. Asking him to comment on sounds that he couldn't hear rather than helping him define the sounds that he could made him feel different and very aware of his disability.

I'm sure that's what other families of deaf children would like to avoid rather than be convinced that music was for deaf children. Remove the fear of leaving the children exposed and isolated and I'm sure you'll be pushing against an open door.

My son's teacher didn't give his hearing loss any thought whatsoever, he was always going to fail.
I don't fully know what he can and can't hear/feel but as a parent I'd welcome any fun, musical activity that didn't just throw him in with children who aren't deaf and expect him to cope..He's done that for long enough.
Well done everyone :)

Emily Crossland's picture

This was really interesting to read. The anecdote about the outdoor listening exercise really highlighted for me how important it is for educators/facilitators to treat all experiences as valuable. That listening exercise could have been a great opportunity to explore how we all interpret sounds differently and that there is no 'right answer' to how we experience our world. Thanks for sharing.