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Music in Sign Language

Two types of signed music are interpreting-based music and visual-vibrational music.

In interpreting-based music, an interpreter translates or interprets a song played by a band onstage or by audio. She or he faciliates from one language and culture to another (e.g. from English to ASL). On the other hand, visual-vibrational music is creatively composed by native signers in their own way of definition.

Hearing people perceive music through sound, whereas eyeing people perceive music through vibration. As a result of two different worlds of experiences between h-earing people and h-eyeing people, they convey a different concept of music.

Music to the Eyes

Despite the differences, signed music in both interpreted and visual music is musical to the eyes. It is quite mesmerizing the audience. Though interpreted music is sound-bound in the hearing culture, visual-sound music is based on vibration and is visually musical to the eyes rather than to the ears.

Gallaudet Bison Song: Example

The Bison Song is a traditional sports song for the Gallaudet University teams. It is traditionally played by a female and male in ASL in tune with the drum beats at games and some other spirited events.

More is Not Enough: Example

The video work More is Not Enough, created by media artist Jolanta Lapiak, is a mix of visual music, poetry, and storytelling based on the adapted Zen parable. This work consists of repetitions, rhythms and tones. Audio music was later added to it, in which the artist invited her fellow artist to play audio music in interpretation to the tones and movements of ASL.

Signing Song for Beginners

Singing a song in ASL can be quite challenging for English speakers who attempt to do a translation in ASL. It is not easier than trying to sing in spoken French, German or Hindi. However, it is a fun challenge. As inappropriate as it might be, many English speakers attempt to sing ASL in English grammar. It is like singing French, German or Japanese (vocabulary) in English grammar.

Christmas carols, religious songs, and the Star Spangled Banner anthem are the most common requests in the U.S. For assistance with singing to these songs, it is reasonable to seek a native signer in the local area, who might be willing to work together. It can be a positive bridge and exchange in language and culture between the vocal-auditory and the native visual-manual speakers.


One of ASL students asked this question: "What features of music are Deaf people most attracted to?"