Music: Are Deaf People Listening?

Are Deaf people really into music? Here’s my experience.

I love music. Sometimes people are puzzled by this and want to know what I hear. As I do in non-musical situations, I hear stuff but can’t always make out speech. Which means for music, I don’t understand the words unless I know the song ahead of time. I’ve spent a lot of time with written lyrics and listening to songs over time. So, when I want to hear a song, I want it accessible as possible to me. Ideally, I want to FEEL it as well as hear it so I want it to have a huge presence. But the last thing I want to do is have a conversation while the music is playing. If it becomes necessary to turn my attention from the music, then I shut it off.

This is because there’s no way for a Deaf person to passively listen to music. It’s pretty much all or nothing. The listening space has to be just so. Paying good attention, reading lyrics, sitting on the speaker, blasting the car stereo, optimal acoustics, in the moment, emotionally invested, visiting the dark side of the moon, what have you – the whole nine.

Either we’re tuned in like this, or we are tuned out. Deaf appreciation of elevator music is truly a rarity.

Some Deaf people are into music. Others are not. One’s actual hearing level and musical inclinations are some factors that might make up one’s interest level. Just like some people are dancers while others clearly have other callings.

I have an eclectic taste in music. I don’t care about what’s trendy or new. My musical vocabulary directly reflects how I came to access that song and how much I was able to commit to my process of listening. I have a shameless love of 70s music that comes from the monster stereo playing in my house when I was a kid (that could probably be heard down the block), and a taste for 80s music which comes from basically being a teenager in the 80s. Piano soloists, New Age-y CDs with Rock B-sides, Red Hot Chili Peppers were what various roommates played. I love music that reflects my spirit, lyrics that are simple yet dig deep. As a Deaf person, I love music that consumes me. Enormous sound. Strong bass, a thumping beat. I like it LOUD.

By the way, I’d just like to thank my wonderful roommates and neighbors over the years for not killing me.

Yes, you can FEEL this music. Anyone that has ever gotten near a big old speaker in Best Buy, gone to a rock concert or even out for a night dancing understands this. Musicians do not bat an eye at this bit of info as most understand that music is not simply a singular acoustical experience. All music can be felt in some way, with the heavy bass and driving beats most obvious and accessible to all for their kinesthetic strength.

Experienced this way, music is quite dynamic and profound. And if it hits the right channels with someone, they are drawn to it. Just like me and a disco ball.

More challenging is a song sung A cappella (without instrumental accompaniment) or one with acoustical strings such as a (non-electric) guitar or violin only. Since I do hear some high pitch sounds (a bit unusual among those with hearing loss) and use a hearing aid, I appreciate these songs too but with considerable more effort and attention to detail being necessary on my part. That’s just me though.

Familiarity is everything. To get what I have from certain pieces of music requires this active listening process. Over and over. Following lyrics, placement, acoustics, headphones even. As I get older my level of interest and patience for that process usually leads me to songs I know and want to listen to rather than new stuff, maximizing my time spent, basically.

That’s really my excuse for never having heard a Britney Spears song. I just never got around to it.

I find it odd that it’s implied I’m missing something in music. On the contrary, I have such a rich relationship which each song I do know, having spent so much time with it. Simply put: I’d rather have a few close friends rather than hundreds of acquaintances I know only slightly.

So, in addition to everything else, it comes down to priorities: I need to be inclined to invest the time. And when I do, chances are I want to visit with an old friend.

So, no. I’m not missing a thing.

Deaf people who like music have very individual experiences.

It’s important to know that our engagement with it is not lacking, but can be enhanced and much more profound.



6 thoughts on “Music: Are Deaf People Listening?

  1. Jennifer – I am your mother’s friend – we worked at imagine ent. together… she sent me this article that you wrote and wanted to tell you that i think it is wonderful…

    best, rose

  2. Hi Jennifer
    I was your mothers best friend in high school
    We keep in touch although we live on opposite ends of the country
    She is soooooo proud of you.
    I feel very lucky that she shares you, your beautiful children & your accomplishments with me

    1. Thank you Kate!! She’s mentioned you fondly many times. Seems like you two had a blast together. Thanks again for the sweet comments, means a lot 🙂

  3. I don’t know your mother but great article. I am Deaf and Musician. People assume Deaf means hearing nothing, so then I tell them, well ok then, Im hard of hearing, feel better ? 😉

    1. Thanks David! And yes, exactly. I find people honestly don’t think about it until they meet a Deaf person. Wha-la: our role – enlightening them. 🙂

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