Guitar lessons for Deaf students – my experience and some useful resources

I’ve enjoyed teaching BSL (British Sign Language) guitar lessons at Heathlands School, St Albans for over half a year now and it has been very rewarding and creative work. Therefore I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what I’ve learnt so far and share resources that I hope will be useful for aspiring Deaf musicians.

Music Visualisation Software ‘Whitecap’

Although many Deaf people have some degree of hearing and can enjoy music through sound, I was keen from the start to make lessons highly visual. This would hopefully give students the fullest experience possible.

As a hearing person and BSL student, I have sometimes had to discover the best teaching approaches through trial and error.

Fortunately my students are very enthusiastic and vocal about what excites them most! Their feedback has been invaluable in giving me a clear idea of which approaches work best.

Finally, I’m sure that the list below is also very relevant to hearing students! I have definitely enjoyed using these resources in my spare time as well.

 

1. Sound/Music Visualisers

From the start I was keen to find software that would translate sound into exciting and meaningful visuals. I imagined fiery red patterns accompanying Rock power chords and beautiful serene colours moving with the sound of pretty fingerstyle guitar.

It was a little trickier finding something as perfect in reality, but one App I do recommend is Whitecap Platinum. This software uses your computer’s microphone to translate sound into very expressive and varied visuals. Shapes move with both the volume and pitch of the guitar and there are plenty of shapes to choose from. I would still like to see a clearer representation of pitch in a music visualiser, but Whitecap definitely seems like one of the best for the moment.

Rocksmith software in action

2. Rocksmith

Rocksmith was a revelation for my students! For those who have played the video game ‘Guitar Hero’, this software is very similar but is controlled with a real guitar. Students choose a song and then musical notes slide towards the screen and must be picked on the guitar at the right time.

Each string is shown with a distinct colour and the words for each song scroll past at the top of the screen. This means students can both ‘see’ their playing and sing along at the same time! This software has been a huge hit with my students and can be purchased for either PC or PS4 (make sure to buy the accompanying Real Tone Cable – required for playing the game).

3. Sign Song

This will already be familiar to many Deaf and hearing people and there are some fantastic examples of Sign Song already on Youtube. I found it most useful for the student to play guitar chords in time with my signing. This is an enjoyable way to play together at the same time and a good method for training a strong sense of rhythm.

4. Coloured strings with matching coloured TAB

This one is perhaps more useful for me as a teacher! I caused some confusion to begin with in lessons because I pointed at which guitar string should be played. Sometimes students misunderstood and thought I was referring to a fret rather than a string, or that I was asking them to perform a new technique. Whilst this may have something to do with my limitations in sign language (I’m still learning!), multi-coloured strings have been very useful for making things clearer; particularly with younger students.

It is quick and easy to refer to the ‘red string’ or the ‘yellow string’ and they look great too! The strings I use have the same colours as those used in the Rocksmith software and can be purchased here. I have also designed my own TAB paper with the same colours used (click below for an example)

5.Learn music that feels good (literally!)

An electric guitar may have a big sound, but a lot of the physical work happens on a small scale. Flashy guitar solos sound huge but are often played with tiny strokes of a plectrum. However, even subtle guitar techniques can have a very strong and satisfying feel to them.

For example ‘strumming’, in which the right hand rapidly brushes a plectrum across the strings, or ‘vibrato’, in which a string is bended up and down repeatedly, are both very expressive sensations. For beginning students strumming simple chord progressions is a nice way to use big and exciting movements – particularly if they are interested in Rock music. Strumming through a powerful Rock guitar riff is one of the great pleasures of electric guitar. See below for a few of my lesson handouts that are especially tactile!

 

 

Solo jazz clip – ‘Georgia On My Mind’

I have been working on several solo jazz arrangements recently, in particular with one of my favourite songs of all time: ‘Georgia On My Mind’. I’ve always loved this melody and have really enjoyed the challenge of bringing all the different lines together into a solo arrangement. It’s still a work in progress so more to come!

BSL Music Tuition (Deaf Students Welcome!)

PLEASE TURN ON SUBTITLES IF REQUIRED. This is a BSL video that I have created to let Deaf students know that they are welcome in my music lessons. My main teaching areas are guitar, bass and music production and I am currently a level 4 BSL student.

I have been teaching, composing and performing music for over ten years. However, as I am new to teaching Deaf students I am offering the 1st lesson free so students can check that they are happy first (afterwards the fee is £30 per hour or £15 per half hour).

For more details please explore my website and you can contact me via: lessons@tomhunt.co.uk or tom@tomhunt.co.uk.

Music Production tuition with new Rockschool syllabus

I am pleased to say that in addition to my normal music production tuition, I now offer training in grades 1-5 of Rockschool Music Production – the world’s first graded syllabus of its kind!

The syllabus is very comprehensive and most importantly enjoyable. It covers a variety of skills and knowledge, from working with virtual instruments and editing samples/loops, to miking up guitars, vocals etc. and mixing and editing audio – all the skills you need to bring your ideas to life! To find out more about the syllabus check out: https://www.rslawards.com/music/music-production

To read more about my music production tuition, rates, times etc., check out the following page of my website: Music Production

 

 

My student Ryan’s compositions (part 2)

My work with Roman Fields School student Ryan (who has only just finished GCSEs) is always so exciting – he seems to never stop coming up with new ideas for songs and has already created 4 tracks this term for his demo CD. One of his top influences is the Hard Rock band Avenged Sevenfold, although his music shows inspiration from other styles too including Orchestral/Classical music and a little touch of Jazz!

Although I’ve already shared one of his songs, the other 3 are far too good to stay hidden away. So here are all of his songs so far – enjoy and please share around!

‘Architect of Decay’

 

‘Dusk til Dawn’

 

‘Blinded by Reality’

 

‘Poisoned by Words’

 

My student Ryan’s fantastic new composition…

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of my job is teaching at Roman Fields School in Hemel Hempstead. I currently work several times a week there with two very talented students, who both love to turn up their guitars nice and loud and play rock music – always a good thing!

One of these students, Ryan, who is currently taking his GCSEs, has been learning music production with me and has been working on a variety of hard-rock inspired compositions. This week we ‘mixed down’ his latest track and it’s seriously impressive! Please click on this link to have a listen: ‘Blinded By Reality’

Ryan has only been playing for just over 2 years and has already come such a long way in that short amount of time. Check out his solo in the track above (2:24 minutes in) to see what I mean – Steve Vai would be proud!

Please ‘like’ and/or ‘share’ his video and look out for more of his tracks on Youtube soon…

 

 

 

New songs on the way…

Having been sitting on a few new songs for a while, I’m pleased to say that I’ve finally recorded them in a way that I’m happy with.  The first song I’ve put online (which is in the ‘Listen’ section of this website) is called ‘The Kindness of Strangers’.

It’s written about the various hiking trips and adventures I’ve been on over the last several years and the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. I’ve been fortunate enough to trek/mountain climb in beautiful regions including New Zealand, Scotland and England’s Lake District. For me going off into wild areas like these, with only the strangers I meet as my companions, is an act of trust.

Tom Hunt above the clouds

The first time I’d ever been above the clouds (without a plane) – Fiordland, New Zealand 2008.

I’m grateful that  this trust has been rewarded with some great friends – the sort of people that look out for one another. Perhaps being in potentially dangerous (albeit extremely beautiful) environments, brings out the best nature of many people. The quiet beauty of such regions also has a way of putting smiles on people’s faces!

Whatever the reason, these good people are the inspiration for ‘The Kindness of Strangers’. Look out for the next song coming very soon…