Deaf pupils get a feel for mu­sic with hands and feet


Derby Telegraph - - News - By SARAH NEW­TON

DEAF chil­dren in Derby have been tak­ing part in a pi­o­neer­ing re­search project which has al­lowed them to ac­cess mu­sic though their hands and feet.

The mu­sic depart­ment at The Royal School for the Deaf Derby, in Ash­bourne Road, was ap­proached by the Univer­sity of Liver­pool acous­tics re­search unit to help with a ground-break­ing project.

They wanted chil­dren aged be­tween five and 11 to try out their lat­est tech­nol­ogy – vi­bro­tac­tile equip­ment – in an ed­u­ca­tional set­ting to see if it im­proved their abil­ity to un­der­stand mu­sic.

The tech­nol­ogy has been loaned to the school and the re­sults have been breath-tak­ing, with chil­dren able to feel the dif­fer­ence be­tween high and low notes, fol­low­ing rhythms and cre­at­ing mu­sic on dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments col­lec­tively.

The school has been so im­pressed that it is hop­ing to raise money so they can buy their own vi­bro­tac­tile equip­ment, although the cost runs into thou­sands of pounds.

Mu­sic is nor­mally de­liv­ered to the brain through vi­bra­tions in the ear, but this tech­nol­ogy uses vi­bra­tions through the skin to al­low a per­son to per­ceive mu­sic.

Chil­dren at the school have been able to play dif­fer­ent kinds of elec­tri­cal in­stru­ments and feel the sounds by plac­ing their hands and bare feet on mech­a­nisms called shak­ers.

Mu­sic teacher Matthew Tay­lor said: “We were ap­proached by the univer­sity two years ago, so I went to Liver­pool to see how it works and whether I thought our chil­dren, who are mostly pro­foundly deaf, would ben­e­fit from it.

“It is ex­tremely hard to ex­plain mu­sic to some­one who has never heard sound, so I was keen to see how the equip­ment would work in the class­room – and it has cer­tainly given our chil­dren greater ac­cess to what I am try­ing to teach them.

“They are able to dis­tin­guish high, low and medium notes as each fre­quency vi­brates in a dif­fer­ent way, and it also al­lows them to ‘feel’ their own voices by us­ing a mi­cro­phone, which was in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing for them. It’s im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine hav­ing lit­tle idea of the sound

that comes out of your own mouth – but sud­denly feel­ing the noise is in­cred­i­ble for them.

“By feel­ing the vi­bra­tions it ac­tu­ally al­lows us to play to­gether and then we are able to start mak­ing some mu­sic col­lec­tively which is in­cred­i­ble and very mov­ing for ev­ery­one in­volved.

“I’ve no­ticed a great kind of im­prove­ment in en­gage­ment in lessons from stu­dents. They are gen­uinely in­ter­ested in us­ing the equip­ment, of­ten shoes and socks are off be­fore the lessons starts, and a lot of the team­work we’re see­ing is im­pres­sive, too.”

Sound is made up of vi­bra­tions which when they are or­ga­nized and given a pitch, they be­come mu­sic. In deaf peo­ple the brain adapts to in­ter­pret sound and mu­sic in a way other than through mes­sages from the ears.

Since the deaf lack one of the five senses, their other senses, through brain plas­tic­ity, work to­gether to make up for the loss of hear­ing. There­fore, the part of the brain that rec­og­nizes tac­tile, or touch, feed­back works harder in deaf peo­ple mak­ing them more re­cep­tive to the vi­bra­tions from the mu­sic.

Not only has the ex­per­i­ment al­lowed chil­dren at the school to ac­cess mu­sic, it has also al­lowed them to ac­cess emo­tions and staff say the equip­ment could also be used to aid well­be­ing.

Mr Tay­lor added: “Mu­sic can be a pow­er­ful tool in arous­ing emo­tion and lis­ten­ers will as­so­ciate ba­sic or pri­mary emo­tions such as hap­pi­ness, sad­ness, fear, and anger to mu­si­cal com­po­si­tions.

“This has been more dif­fi­cult for deaf chil­dren but thanks to the tech­nol­ogy some of the pupils are able to pick up the in­fer­ence of mu­sic.

“The equip­ment could cer­tainly be use­ful for well­be­ing or mu­sic ther­apy classes as an­other method for our chil­dren to ex­press them­selves.” The school al­ready has a keen sign­ing choir and the sat­is­fac­tion of feel­ing vi­bra­tions, and be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate through mu­sic, has given chil­dren at the school enor­mous plea­sure.

Head teacher He­len Shep­herd said: “Although our stu­dents are deaf they are keen mu­sic mak­ers and this equip­ment means that deaf­ness is cer­tainly not a bar­rier to mak­ing or ap­pre­ci­at­ing mu­sic.

“We have worked hard to help our pupils learn to ap­pre­ci­ate mu­si­cal­ity in a mul­ti­tude of ways, through vi­bra­tions, ges­tures, body move­ments, rhythms and even by read­ing mu­sic on the printed page. But it has been in­cred­i­ble to watch the chil­dren light up dur­ing lessons with the vi­bro­tac­tile equip­ment and see­ing them able to ac­cess mu­sic in this way has been re­ally very spe­cial.

“A hear­ing mum told me how proud she was that her child sang into a mi­cro­phone. It made her cry and it was emo­tional for her to watch. When the whole group were work­ing to­gether we saw a lot more in­ter­ac­tion, tak­ing in turns, fo­cussing on the teacher, sit­ting down, they were in­ter­ested in learn­ing about high and low pitch and un­der­stand­ing the dif­fer­ence. So­cial in­ter­ac­tion be­tween pupils has im­proved.

“Mu­sic is all around us and to those of us who can hear life with­out mu­sic is in­con­ceiv­able. We are very grate­ful to Univer­sity of Liver­pool for in­clud­ing our pupils in this pow­er­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.”

In sync... Pupils use the univer­sity kit to ex­pe­ri­ence mu­sic through touch

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