Disability History Month 2018

Did you know that music is also experienced by senses other than hearing? 

With the official theme of UK Disability History Month 2018 this year being Disability and Music, we caught up with our Department of Music to see what work they're doing on this theme.

Our academics and students in the Department of Music have been carrying out various research projects and initiatives looking into supporting people with a hearing impairment to better experience and enjoy music listening and performance.

Their research is showing that despite the barriers those with a hearing impairment face in terms of listening and performing music, music is experienced by senses other than hearing and this can unlock new and profound enjoyment in music.

Dr Renee Timmers is a Reader in Psychology of Music and has supervised research projects developed by PhD and Masters students on music and hearing impairments.

Her research investigates the expression and perception of emotions in music and music performance, including exploring the role of acoustic and musical cues in emotional communication. She also looks at how senses other than hearing are involved in music perception and performance. In particular, the relationships between music and movement, music and colour, or music and tactile or touch sensations.

Below are three more case studies from students in the department.

music group


Breaking down barriers to musical performance

The Department of Music has led projects to help improve access for hearing impaired people to performing music.

MA student Gail Dudson runs a singing and signing choir for children with a hearing impairment. She wrote her dissertation Great Singing, Great Signing on enabling hearing impaired young people to engage, participate and ultimately enjoy performing music. Her research revealed that the experience of music through physical movements and coordinated actions as part of a group all give us enjoyment and make us feel part of something.

Although young hearing impaired people perceive a barrier to performing and singing, they have positively engaged with performing as part of a singing and signing ensemble. Their memorisation and signing skills have improved as part of learning and memorising new words and actions in a choir. Based on her findings Yorkshire Youth & Music created a national summit to discuss developing a comprehensive guide to good practice.

In collaboration with Arts In Health at the Northern General Hospital, the Department has run workshops for local people with hearing impairments, including those who have played music in the past before hearing loss. Composers Thomas Sherman and Joe Harrison-Greaves ran the workshops with the support of student volunteers who helped out by actively participating in the music making workshops. The workshops reveal how those with a hearing impairment can still derive real pleasure from music-making and that by employing new strategies can successfully play all kinds of instruments, not just visual ones such as piano.

The project is working towards a public performance on Thursday 21 March 2019 at BLOC projects space in Sheffield City Centre. Participants will perform and there will be opportunities for audience participation.

More about singing and signing


Information guide on music and hearing impairment

MA student Sera Bird did a Music and Hearing Impairment placement in the Department. As part of her placement she created an information guide and resource for staff and students. The aim was to improve awareness around strategies and approaches to supporting those with a hearing impairment and explore the current or potential role of music in the lives of those with hearing loss. The guide also provides information for students and staff interested in teaching hearing-impaired music students or understanding their own hearing loss in terms of music.

Read Music and Hearing Impairment Guide (PDF,680KB)


Helping those with a hearing impairment experience emotion in music

PhD student Tim Metcalfe researched the way in which people with a hearing impairment who use a cochlear implant perceive emotion in speech and music, and whether training methods can be developed to facilitate the processing and enjoyment of emotional expressions.

The project consisted of various studies combining both listening tests with computer modelling. Participants were given brief excerpts of emotional speech and music, on which they had to make judgements about the emotions conveyed by each, and received feedback on their accuracy. The computer model then predicted what strategies the hearing-impaired listeners were using to identify emotions.

The research can be used in the rehabilitation of patients with cochlear implants and can contribute to improving the functioning of cochlear implants themselves, whilst also offering insights into auditory emotion perception more generally.

The student, Tim Metcalfe did a placement at Starkey which develops hearing technologies. He currently works at Aucoda.

Find out more about Tim's research