Writing about World Music

Section F, Fall 2016

Deaf Perception of Music

Many hearing people have the notion that deaf people are unable to enjoy music. However, this notion is false. Deaf people experience music in a non conventional way–visually and physically. There is a physical aspect to all music as you can feel the rhythm and the vibration which allows deaf people to experience the music. There are several Deaf organizations that facilitate the music experiences. One such organization is the Chicago Deaf and Hard Of Hearing Cultural Center, which aims to network and connect the communities of the hearing, the hard of hearing, and the deaf. Music in general is felt physically–the booming of the bass, the drums. In places where the music is loud, one can feel the ground vibrating and the body pulsing with the music. For deaf people, these sensations are even more developed than for hearing people ans this is how they “tune in” to music and what comprises their musical experience. The Deaf community also expresses songs visually in order to enhance the experience of those who cannot hear the music.

This article delves deeper into music in the deaf community and discusses an interesting story of a particular musician.



  1. As a student that studied ASL and deaf culture in high school for three years, I really love this post! Part of our curriculum in high school was learning about deaf celebrities, including Sean Forbes, and we even got to watch some of his rap videos in class. I find his music awesome and very entertaining. Another section of our curriculum one year was learning the structure of the ear and all the functions of its parts. In this I learned about sound and how we perceive sound, and thus how deaf people are able to perceive sound without hearing. We also learned about the heightened sense of touch that deaf people have, which allows them to feel sound vibrations to a greater extent than hearing people. In class we had a ‘voices-off’ immersive environment that allowed for a very different vibe in class, and when we got to upper level ASL, we even watched a few videos in sign without sound or subtitles to get a feel for how the videos were made to be viewed. Sadly, the one thing we all wanted to be able to do but were never able to do in school was to wear soundproof headphones for a day and experience a day of school with no sound–we tried to get the school to allow us to at least wear the soundproof headphones in class to get a feel or at least listen to music or watch a movie with them on to experience listening without sound.

    Overall, I just really enjoyed this post, because I know how often people simply assume that deaf people can’t experience or enjoy music, and this is completely false. I really enjoyed the attached article and its included interview material with Sean Forbes. Thank you for sharing it!

  2. This post reminds me of an interesting article that I read a few days ago from the website fivethirtyeight.com. The article talks about some of the loudest sounds in the world and how they could kill you on the spot if you are close enough to the source. Sometimes, it can be hard to realize that sound is completely mechanical, meaning that air molecules physically vibrate to create the sounds we hear. If a sound becomes loud enough, it can rupture our eardrums or even kill us from sheer impact energy! Deaf people, while they might not be able to hear precise treble pitches, can still feel the literal energy in air from music. Once a sound goes above a certain volume, ears can become sort of irrelevant; large bass drops or explosions are felt throughout one’s body, especially in the chest. I have included the link to this very interesting and relatively short article. Read it if you’re interested on finding out more about the loudest sound in the world!


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