Published April 12, 2013
Deaf Perception of Music
How the deaf community enjoys music.
Elisa Plance

Music is highly influential to young adults. Students walk down the quarter mile with their giant headphones on. They dance at parties to sometimes good DJ’s. And they attend concerts where the bass is so strong it hurts your chest. Now think about what these normal daily activities would be like if you couldn’t hear the music.

Of course, the musical experience for the Deaf and hard of hearing community varies from those who only listen occasionally to others who consider music to be a significant part of their lives.

Sadie Kulhanek, a first year Psychology major found that it depends on the individual. “Some deaf people don’t see the point of music, some only listen to it for the beat, and some love it and can’t live without it,” she said.

Joshua Williams, a first year Engineering major enjoys music in social settings more than for personal amusement. “I love feeling the bass and vibrations at parties but I never bother to try and hear music when I’m alone,” said Williams.

In the Deaf community, the musical experience differs depending on whether they just enjoy the bass and vibrations or listen to it through hearing aids or cochlear implants.

For Alex Saunders, a first year Electrical Engineering major, growing up he always used hearing aids. They allowed him to listen to and enjoy music but it wasn’t until he got his cochlear implant that his appreciation for music grew and became a part of his everyday life. He listens to Pandora on his phone while walking to class and turns on Spotify on his laptop when he gets back to his dorm.

“While I’m completely deaf, a cochlear implant gives me what I believe is somewhat close to hearing ability and allows me to enjoy music,” says Saunders.

But Saunders says the experience isn’t the same for every Deaf person. “As far as I know, completely deaf people can enjoy music too but it is mostly the vibrations from the bass and percussion instruments. Everybody has different tastes.”

Kulhanek enjoys all types of music and listens every day. “I’m a sucker for classic rock and old songs that have stories behind them, but I listen to all kinds,” said Kulhanek.

Although she thoroughly enjoys music, Kulhanek has trouble enjoying it where hearing people often have the most fun, at concerts. With the overwhelmingly loud crowd and the sometimes not-so-loud microphones on stage, this isn’t the ideal situation for someone who is hard of hearing. Kulhanek has been to one concert before, but couldn’t enjoy herself because all she could hear was the crowd and not the actual performance.

For Saunders, his experience at concerts, growing up in California, was very different. The big crowds were exciting and he loved going crowd surfing. For a hearing person, the loud bass might be problematic for your ears, but for Alex, it was easy for him to just turn his hearing aids down a notch.

Just like any other community, no two people are exactly the same nor have the same tastes or preferences. In the Deaf community, these preferences extend past what types of music people enjoy to the way they experience music and the setting.

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