Seeing and Feeling Music

This post is also available in Dutch.

Sinterklaas has arrived in the Netherlands, thus the time has come to hear Sinterklaas songs non-stop. Often it is assumed that deaf people can’t perceive music, but in fact they can.

 “Seeing music” Image courtesy of Pexels (CC0 1.0).

Sinterklaas songs and music, in general, is all around us and we can’t imagine a world without music. We hear music on the radio, over speakers in the supermarket, and on street corners when musicians play. For people who are deaf, there is a common misconception that they cannot enjoy music. Actually, this is not the case. Deaf people might experience music differently than hearing people, but they still enjoy it in a full capacity. get you into the right mood, watch this short clip in which Black Piet accompanies a Sinterklaas song with signs from Dutch Sign Language:

Deaf people hear vibrations
Before I compare music experiences between Deaf and hearing people let’s first have a look what music actually is. Music is sound and it is known that sounds are transmitted through mechanical vibrations in the air. When those vibrations differ in intensity and therefore in pitch, they become music. We then hear those music vibrations which will be processed by the brain. The end product is music as we know it. Deaf people feel those sound vibrations, for example, through a speaker or a vibrating floor. In fact, they feel it in the same part of the brain in which hearing people hear music. This means that for the brain, music is processed the same way no matter if you are deaf or hearing. Ear dropping, isn’t it?

Beyond vibrations
Next to feeling musical vibrations, deaf people can also access other elements of music such as lyrics or the mood transmitted by the singer’s voice through visual music. How did you like the Sinterklaas song interpretation above? This video is an example of a rough lyrical translation into Dutch Sign Language. However, visual music can be so much more. Have you ever looked up the lyrics of a song? When you just read them, they’re flat, stagnant, and lacking the mood, rhythm, etc. the song is meant to express. But add sound and a few instruments to the equation and you will experience overflowing emotion, lifting those words into a new meaning. That’s why many visual music interpreters try to express all layers that a given song has to offer. In fact, not only hearing people can interpret visual music. Check out this cool video made by my deaf colleague:

Did you like it? It is a great example of how many components of a song are visually conveyed. Even for hearing people you can hear aspects of the music you weren’t aware of before. So, the next time you hear a song, think about how your body responds along with your ears and you may discover a new world of music. So let’s face it, music is amazing and music is for everyone.

This blog was written by Francie Manhardt and edited by Cristiano Micheli and Monica Wagner

For more hands on information on visual music click here.

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