Many Deaf/Hard of Hearing (D/HH) individuals have successfully participated in instrumental music programs for over 100 years. In spite of proven success, however, many directors are reluctant to involve students with hearing loss in school bands and orchestras. Reasons may include a lack of knowledge regarding the needs and capabilities of these learners, or the fear that D/HH musicians will negatively impact the performance quality of the ensemble. By becoming familiar with the characteristics and abilities of D/HH students, as well as methods for instructing these individuals, music educators will be better prepared to serve this population. This article provides information related to teaching D/HH students in the instrumental music classroom. Terminology describing hearing loss, necessary modifications to the physical environment, alternative teaching strategies, and appropriate instrument selection are all discussed.

Students with impaired hearing have found success participating in school bands and orchestras for over 100 years. Many reports from the early 1900s and before tell of military bands organized for the training of deaf musicians (Edwards, 1974). Fred Fancher, a deaf bandmaster from Tennessee, led such an organization from 1923-1942 at the Illinois School for the Deaf located in Jacksonville. Taught to perform with a high degree of precision and expression, this ensemble presented concerts in many towns and cities throughout the United States. Boumehim Kryl, a professional bandmaster and cornet soloist, remarked at the exceptional quality of the music, not only from the standpoint of the musicians not being able to hear, but also the fact that they were of such a young age (Sheldon, 1997).

Deaf and hard of hearing students in today’s schools continue to be involved in instrumental music. Folts (as cited by Atterbury, 1990; and Zinar, 1987) described the successful integration of five profoundly deaf children into a beginning band program in Edgemont, New York. Instructional methods were modified to teach playing technique and pitch recognition through visual cues and tactile stimulation. Robbins and Robbins (1980) also effectively taught instrumental music to hearing impaired students at the New York State School for the Deaf. They suggested that requirements for learning an instrument are similar for both hearing, and hearing impaired children: good teaching, consistent practice, and positive support.

In spite of evidence that students with impaired hearing can become successful musicians, some instrumental instructors might still be reluctant to actively recruit these individuals. Reasons may include a lack of familiarity with the musical capabilities of deaf learners (Darrow & Gfeller, 1991), or the fear that these musicians will negatively impact performance quality (Sheldon, 1997). This article will address these concerns as well as discuss ways of successfully including deaf and hard of hearing students in the instrumental music program.