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Deaf and Music

Have Hearing Loss, Will Play Guitar


Updated June 17, 2014

Evelyn Glennie

Evelyn Glennie

Photo: Frantzesco Kangaris / Getty Images

"Rhythm helps the children learn language," my child's teacher explained, when I expressed surprise that the deaf children were going to music classes. I shouldn't have been surprised. There are (and were) deaf musicians, and research has been done into music and the deaf.

The Deaf Musicians

Evelyn Glennie

Evelyn Glennie is perhaps the best known deaf musician internationally. Glennie, an award-winning percussionist, has performed almost everywhere, and has her own web site. She has even released albums. On the official Evelyn Glennie web site, she offers samples of her music and video clips, her concert schedules, an online newsletter, a photo gallery, and even a scholarship for hearing impaired students studying music. A well-known cochlear implant recipient, Caitlin Parton, was one of the Glennie scholarship winners.

There has been enough amazement on the part of reporters that a musician could be deaf, that Glennie was compelled to add an essay on her hearing loss by her husband to her web site. There is no mention of her hearing loss in the press pack, the press cuttings,or her biography on the site. The remainder of the site offers information on various products associated with Glennie.

Shawn Dale Barnett

Barnett was a deaf drummer, who owned his own record company and performed at both deaf and hearing functions. Among his many accomplishments, Barnett wrote a song for Gallaudet University students when one of the students was murdered in the Fall of 2000. Barnett passed away in February 2003.


Beethoven is perhaps the best known deaf musician no longer with us. Web sources on Beethoven and his hearing loss:

Letter from Beethoven about his deafness

Research and Publications

Quite a bit of research has been done into music and deafness. There was a conference proceeding on music for the deaf, with an accompanying bibliography. Also found were the following educational items:

From DeafEd.Net:

The publication Research and Issues in Music Education, volume 1, number 1, September 2003, carried the article Teaching instrumental music to deaf and hard of hearing students, which explains how music teachers can include deaf and hard of hearing students in school bands and orchestras.

In addition, the United Kingdom-based organization Music and the Deaf offers several publications, including materials useful for teachers, such as "All Join In: Musical Activities for Hearing Impaired Children, " and "Keys to Music: Unlocking the Music National Curriculum for Deaf Children."

Music certainly played a role in my childhood, though I never developed a real appreciation for it or a real understanding of it. I did try to learn to play the piano, but never progressed beyond the "Three Little Pigs."

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