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Tips on Teaching Music to Students With Hearing Loss

Children who are deaf or hard of hearing have just as much capacity to enjoy and appreciate music as their peers without hearing impairments. Music instructors who will be teaching lessons to students who have hearing loss may need to alter their approach, but this does not mean that these students cannot become proficient musicians.

The Benefits of Music Lessons for Children with Hearing Loss

Teachers frequently refer to music as a “universal language.” This universality means t hat music has the ability to reach anyone regardless of any impairments they may have. In fact, most instructors probably would argue that music is a totally natural language that compels anyone who experiences it to clap, snap, tap their feet, dance or sing.

Many of these responses are considered natural because they are involuntary. This is true even in the case of people who have hearing loss.

Accordingly, music instruction is critical for all kids so that each one of them has the opportunity to experience the fun, learning, relaxation and exercise that come with music.

When children with hearing loss take music lessons, they experience benefits like:

  • Sharpening their listening skills
  • Improving their ability to recognize speech and speak themselves
  • Building their understanding of language, which supports efforts to speak, write and read
  • Enhance thinking skills through repetition of patterns
  • Learning that they can make music

With so many benefits to be gained, it’s clear that music instruction is just as critical for kids with hearing loss as it is for others in their age group.

How Can Music Instructor Make Lessons More Accessible for Deaf Students?

Sometimes, all that is required is a few minor adjustments. Here are some basic steps for introducing music to a student with hearing loss:

  • Understand the stigma that is attached to hearing loss
  • Understand how severe your student’s hearing loss is
  • Familiarize yourself with how the student’s hearing loss affects their ability to hear their instrument
  • Choose a sensible repertoire
  • Implement helpful practice strategies

Let’s examine each of these steps a little more closely.

1. Understand the Stigma Attached to Hearing Loss

People who have hearing loss, especially if the impairment is relatively minimal, may try to hide or disguise their condition. This most frequently happens because the individual fears that their hearing loss may limit them from being able to make their dreams come true.

As a music instructor, it is crucial that you understand that a stigma often goes hand-in-hand with hearing loss. This may mean that you need to reassure your student that he is not defined by his hearing loss. Be certain to point out the student’s good technique, musicality or other characteristic of their playing that is worthy of admiration.

2. Understand How Severe Your Student’s Hearing Loss Is

Hearing loss may range anywhere from mild to profound. Those considered to have mild hearing loss miss out on about 25 decibels of sound. Then, there are people who have moderate or severe hearing loss. People with profound hearing loss have a loss of more than 90 decibels.

It’s important for music instructors to know and understand just how severe their student’s hearing loss is. A student who has mild hearing loss will not need as many accommodations as one that has profound hearing loss.

Before beginning lessons, it may be worthwhile to discuss with your students and their parents the profile of the hearing loss. This means asking questions about whether the hearing loss is more severe at high or low frequencies. On the other hand, the loss may be across the board. Ask your student if she uses hearing aids. If so, then it’s critical to understand that most hearing aids have a default setting that is designed to maximize conversation. Many hearing aid models also have a music setting that enables them to hear uncompressed tones outside of typical conversation range.

You also may encourage your student to work with their audiologist to turn down the volume on the hearing aid’s music setting. A reduction of three, six and eight decibels may be appropriate, and the audiologist may have helpful experience with this.

3. Familiarize Yourself with How the Student’s Hearing Loss Affects Their Ability to Hear Their Instrument

If your student has an audiogram that he can bring to his lessons, that could be extremely helpful. An audiogram assists you to compare your student’s hearing loss to the common frequencies on his instrument of choice.

Piano teachers may find it useful to reference this chart which discloses the frequency of each of the piano’s keys so that you can determine which notes your student hears.

4. Choose a Sensible Repertoire

Now that you and your student have a greater understanding of precisely where your student’s hearing loss is, you can choose songs that will be easier for her to understand and master. As an example, a student with hearing loss in the high-frequency range may have excessive difficulty with pieces that stay in the high octaves. Conversely, a student with low-frequency hearing loss could have difficulty with compositions in the bass range.

Of course, students with hearing loss are not precluded from playing any compositions. However, it is wise to understand your student’s hearing loss and how this might affect their ability to succeed with a certain piece. Some students will definitely want to wade into deeper water.

5. Implement Helpful Practice Strategies

When your student is working on a composition that has passages that fall in the range of her hearing loss, then it may be helpful to ask her to practice them in a different octave. Pianists with hearing loss frequently succeed with this technique.

To make it work, they practice the passage in a lower octave while singing the melody. At the same time, they ring the notes in their mind. The result is that they are able to memorize the melody so that they can sing it anywhere. Practicing this multiple times makes it possible to eventually play the passage in the correct octave even without accurately hearing each note.

Additional Tips for Success

Remember that every student is unique, and that includes your students with hearing loss. Accordingly, it is sensible to ask each student how they would like you to communicate with them. They may be adept at reading lips as long as you enunciate carefully. Nonetheless, it can be enormously helpful to learn some sign language to facilitate efficient communication.

It also makes sense to eliminate background noise during lessons as much as possible. Background noise can be especially disruptive for students with hearing loss.

When you are communicating with a student who is deaf or hard of hearing, be certain to use strong facial expression and your arms and hands so that your communication style has an enhanced visual component.

Before your student begins playing a piece, give them any instructions that they may need and establish the beat. It can be quite difficult for students who are hard of hearing to hear your conversational tone and the music at the same time.

Be sure that you understand the student’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. Each device has different capabilities, and these may affect how well your student hears certain tones and notes.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Remember that there have been famous musicians and composers throughout history who have had varying degrees of hearing loss. This did not mean that they could not be successful, and that remains true for today’s music students as well. Tell students about Ludwig van Beethoven and how he began losing his hearing when he was in his 20s. This in no way impaired his ability to be one of the greatest western composers that the world has ever known. Even some of the most successful recording artists of the 20th and 21st centuries have struggled with hearing loss.

Focus on Music Students with Hearing Loss

At Prodigies, we firmly believe that every individual has the right to learn more about and enjoy music. That is why we have produced many video lessons, all of which are accompanied by sign language. This makes it possible for everyone to participate and learn. The result is that we all get to enjoy music together.

With our dedication to making certain that everyone has equal access to a musical education, Prodigies is leading the way for families to appreciate and play music in their own homes or at school.

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