About this course – GarageBand songwriting for Deaf and HoH

The incredible benefit for deaf and hard of hearing people who write their own music is that you can tailor it to your specific range of hearing, creating the perfect accessible music just for you. 

If you have even a little or no hearing, it’s possible you will be able to enjoy music even if you can’t understand speech, and most conventional music sounds dreadful to you. If you have never accessed music before, you might wonder why you would want to. Hearing people love music for a reason – it can influence your mood.

  • If you are doing chores around the house, putting on some dance music can give you energy, inspire you to move, and make the housework so much more enjoyable.
  • If you are stressed and upset, relaxing music can help you calm down.
  • Sharing music with another person can create a special bond – there is a reason that many couples become attached to a song and call it ’our song,’ feeling that it represents their love.
  • Sharing music in a group can create a powerful feeling of connection to your community. This is why humans love gathering to dance to live bands, dance in groups around a camp fire, and sing together in church and choirs.
  • Songs (music with words) can also make you feel validated, understood and less alone, if you relate to the words because you have had the same experience. Sharing such a song with another person can be a way of communicating how you feel without needing to find the words to describe it.
  • If you enjoy dancing, you can make music with clearer beat that is easier to keep time with, and even work in specific cues to help you know when to do certain moves.
  • If you use Auslan, you might really enjoy signing along with songs and being creative in your expression of Auslan. Auslan is absolutely beautiful – visual poetry! – when put to music.

What if you have no hearing at all?

If you have no hearing at all, you may still be able to enjoy music via a sub-woofer. A sub-woofer is a type of music speaker that emits very low sound waves, so low that hearing people actually don’t hear them that well. They are popular because these sound waves create vibrations that we can feel. Even people who are totally deaf can feel the pumping vibrations of a sub-woofer. I believe this course can be used to adapt music for a sub-woofer, but I have not yet tested it myself. Soon, hopefully!

Is it hard to learn to write a song from scratch?

I think it’s like learning to cook. There are tools you need to be familiar with and ideas you need to understand, but it doesn’t take a lot of coaching to learn to cook eggs on toast. After that it’s a matter of how much further you want to go, and how fancy you want to become. For me, hearing many instruments at once is like listening to chaotic white noise, so I find that simple music is actually the most pleasing for me. With pretty basic music skills you can create a playlist of simple pieces that will give you pleasure to listen to. With just four lessons of this course, you should be at the eggs on toast stage.

Because it can be so enjoyable to share music, this course is geared towards helping you create music that sounds good to you, while also being acceptable to hearing people if you play it in public.

This course assumes you have no prior knowledge of music other than having seen/heard a song sung to you and seen a piano.

While this course is developed specifically for deaf and hard of hearing people, it is also perfectly suited to any hearing person who wishes to learn to write songs using GarageBand. Hearing people often understand musical ideas intuitively because they have heard them repeatedly, whereas for deaf and hard of hearing, they may need to be spelled out.

This course spells out everything. For that reason it may be useful for other groups such as those on the autism spectrum. This course can also be used by music professionals to guide in the creation of accessible music for deaf and hard of hearing clients. At the mainstream school I attended, my music teachers were unsure what to do with me, and as a result my music education was dismal. I hope that music teachers of deaf and hard of hearing students will make use of this course to provide an accessible music education. The course covers most aspects of grade 1-3 music theory.

In this course, I will teach you how to write a song or piece of music from scratch. I’ll focus on helping you create simple pieces that are enjoyable to listen to. The song will follow conventions, fit into a specific genre, and probably not be ground-breaking or amazing, though once you have the basic skills, who knows where you’ll go!

You will need:

  • A little bit of hearing or a sub-woofer. See your audiogram and how it relates to music for more details.
  • An Apple computer running GarageBand 10.3.4 or later. Earlier versions will work fine too though you may need to Google how to use some features as they change between versions. You could also use another DAW (music-making program), but you will have to look up how to use the various functions.
  • Basic computer skills.
  • Someone who can record vocals for you if you want to make songs with lyrics and cannot sing them yourself. If you have NDIS funding and one of your goals is to access music, NDIS may cover this. Or perhaps you can find a friend who enjoys singing that could do this for you.
  • Someone with a good ear who can listen to your music and hear if you have made mistakes. This is not necessary if you are going to be the only audience for your music.
  • Technology that will get the sounds from your computer into your ears at a decent volume. For me, that’s hearing aids and a device that plugs into my computer’s headphone jack and streams directly to my hearing aids. You could also attach an external speaker to your computer if the computer audio is too quiet – though you may drive everyone around you mad! If you need to, talk to your audiologist about what would work best for you.

For a person who can’t hear properly, is it really worth the hassle?

I think so, yes. When you go from almost no access to music to accessing even a very simple range of musical sounds, it can be exciting beyond belief.

Let me tell you what my Deaf friend Bethany said about her experience with music. Bethany doesn’t wear hearing aids and cannot hear music at all, but has still enjoyed it since she was a child thanks to watching her mum and me sign singing to her. Since she started going to underground queer nightclubs, she developed a love for techno music, because the volume is turned up so loud that she can feel the vibrations of the bass and the beats, and they are simple and easy to follow. She loves how it feels when the vibrations run through her body and that’s how she enjoys music best.

When she used NDIS funding to buy a sub-woofer, it pumped out dance beats and she found it exciting and energising to cook while playing dance music through it.

Since sub-woofers are designed to only emit very low sounds, hearing people like to pair them with a regular speaker, so they can also hear the rest of the music while feeling the vibrations of the sub-woofer. Bethany bought a sub-woofer that includes a regular speaker, because she said that otherwise her hearing friends complained that the sound was too boring. Only the lowest notes of the song can be felt through the sub-woofer, and often these are very repetitive. Interest is often added to the song through higher notes that are not felt through the sub-woofer.

The first thing you can take from this story is that if you are deaf and do not have access to music, then taking the step from no music to some music (as Bethany did when she started going to underground queer nightclubs and bought a sub-woofer) is very exciting. Even if it is music at a level that hearing people would describe as boring, it is still energising and wonderful to a person who has not been able to access music otherwise. Level one of this course will teach you how to break through from no music to some music, and this may turn out to be a wonderful addition to your life.

The other thing you can understand from this story is that when Bethany listens to the sub-woofer, she is only accessing part of the music, the lowest part that is converted into vibrations we can feel. Hearing people are experiencing another whole dimension, all the high notes and rhythms that Bethany cannot hear. Imagine if we could take the notes the hearing people can hear, and move them down into the range of the sub-woofer, so that Bethany could feel a much more complex arrangement of notes. Because Bethany listens to music that is designed for hearing people, she cannot do this. But if she took this course, she could learn how to adapt music specifically for her preferred range, that of the sub-woofer, and the music she listens to could become much more interesting.

Got any more questions about the course? Write them in the box below to email me.

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