Sounding Out

A toolkit for music practitioners
working with deaf students

My Favourite Food Is...


This activity allows the children to build and memorise a rhythmic sequence using sign language, body percussion and drums.

Some deaf children may feel apprehensive about the idea of making music, so it is really important to start with something that can make everyone feel comfortable. A simple conversation in which everyone says their names and their favourite food is a great ice breaker and way to learn something about each student, before embarking on a music program with them.

Multimodal and intermodal musical game:

• Voice
• Sign language
• Body percussion
• Drum circle and other instruments
• Songwriting


Supporting the development of proprioception.
Improvement of memory skills, flexibility and inhibitionof impulses.

Sequence of names and food signs created during the first session of Sounding Out at Blanche Nevile secondary school.

Step 1. Voice and Sign Language






The teacher introduces themselves and tells the class what their favourite food is.

The teacher asks the group to sign all together.

Introducing the concept of unison - tutti.

Teacher: ‘Hello, my name is Katie. My favourite food is cherries. What is the sign for cherries?’
The group signs cherries.

Teacher: ‘Great! Shall we all sign cherries together?
On my count: 1-2-3-4 CHERRIES!’
Everybody signs together.


We paid attention to the musical reaction of the students as an indicator of how much experience they might have had of working together in a coordinated musical action.

Some of the children might use their voice whilst signing their favourite food, others may not.


Always count in the beats on your ­fingers. Keep the pulse with your whole body.


The teacher introduces the concept of tempo and changing speed.

Speed – Tempo.

Teacher: ‘Shall we do it faster?’ / ‘Now slower!’


We monitored the children’s understanding of changing speed.


Use signs or gestures to represent fast and slow.


The teacher asks if one of the children would like to lead the group.

Development of basic conducting skills.
Improvement of children’s ability to adjust to a new tempo.

Teacher: ‘Would somebody like to be the teacher
and count the beats in for the rest of the group?’
‘Can you lead the group faster/slower?’


The children’s ability to communicate with the group using movements.
Whether they could maintain a constant pulse, or if they changed it without realising.
If the children counted in with the same speed as modelled by teachers before (internalisation of rhythm and pulsation).


Be prepared to support the child who decides to lead in this stage, conducting with them.


In turn, everyone chooses their favourite food and demonstrates the sign to
accompany it, eventually the group will use this to create a sequence based on a four beat rhythm.

Development of the habit of looking at the conductor/

facilitator of the group so they can play all together.
Development of the sense of playing with a common pulse.
Work on keeping the new speed once it has been

‘1-2-3-4 Pizza/ 1-2-3-4 Cake/1-2-3-4 Apple’ - Etc.
‘Now faster’


Some children might be very keen to sign the name of the food they are most excited about (eg. ice-cream/pizza), but they must wait until the circle reaches that person. This helps improve their inhibition skills (EF).

This step gives you an opportunity to discover the communication preferences of the children (whether they are completely non verbal or if they also use spoken language in addition to sign language).

Note the reaction and creativity of the children when they are given the chance to choose their favourite food.


Some of the children might want to go through the whole sequence of signs in front of the rest of the group. Try to gently encourage this as this is a great opportunity to help develop their self-esteem.

Step 2. Body Percussion





Now the teacher substitutes counting the beats on their fingers for hand claps.

The clapping can be changed to stomping, snapping fingers or other movements of body percussion.

Make sure that you still count in with your fingers in order to establish the beat.

• The teacher asks the children to stomp their feet to the beat.

This combination of movement in the upper and lower parts of the body helps the development of motor coordination.

Introducing the first movements that produce sound.

‘Let’s clap our hands four times before signing
cherries. Ready?’
‘1-2-3-4 Clap clap clap clap Cherries/ clap clap
clap clap Cake/ clap clap clap clap Apple etc.’


The reaction of the children when their attention has been moved explicitly to the musical aspects of the game, for the first time in the lesson.


Be aware that the difference between loud and soft may be difficult for some of the children who might not know how to change the volume of their clapping. You might need to explain and show the difference between loud and soft, using big gestures, facial expressions and sign language to support the musical concepts.


The teacher introduces the concept of volume.

Volume – Dynamics

Teacher: ‘Shall we clap loud?’ / ‘Now soft’


The quality of the movements and the quality sound that the children produce.


The alternation between clapping rhythmically, the movements of the signs, and the use of voice helps children to develop their coordination.

Step 3. With Drums





Working on playing in unison.

‘Now, instead of clapping we will play the drums -
just four hits (demonstrate) and then the sign of the
food (demonstrate)’.

The teacher creates a circle of drums and moves the activity from body percussion to
instrumental (the clapping becomes hits on the drums).


Sometimes children with HA react to new sounds saying ‘it’s too loud’ or ‘it hurts’.
It’s always important to ask for the children’s feedback when introducing new musical instruments, helping them to recognise the source of any discomfort, checking the volume of their HA or suggesting they move a little further away from the origin of the sound (see Introduction - Using instruments).

The alternation between drums and sign language requires a lot of concentration and flexibility (EF).

Step 4. Moving Around the Circle





For this next part all of the children stand up and get ready to march around the circle. The teacher counts four beats as the children march around the drums.
After these four beats the group play four more counts on the drums, followed by the food sign.

Working on playing in unison.
In this stage the children will have to switch from one task to another:
• reaching the next drum in time, supporting the development of proprioception
• marching to the beat
• playing the drums
• recalling the sequence;
• paying attention to the teacher who is facilitating.


Standing up and marching around the drums will help refocus the children's attention after they have been sitting during the first part of the session.


Remember to indicate the direction in which the group will march before starting the activity.
Keep the pulse by indicating the beats using your fingers and emphasise the beat with your whole body as you move to the next drum.

Step 5. Play Instruments to Accompany the Music Game





Depending on the musical instrument that you or your colleagues can play, add other
instruments to the music, creating a richer musical environment.

Then ask the children to take the lead, counting the beats in.

Piano, Drums, Voice and Sign language.

If you have another instrument such as a guitar or a ukulele, support the steps of the activity with the harmony: the movement between tonic and dominant can guide the children through their tasks.

C Major chord
F Major chord
G Major chord
C Major chord

Then again from the beginning.


How the children react when they have the opportunity to lead.
You can take the time to support each student in conducting the group using their body, gestures and the signs.


Most of the deaf children love to conduct the group: they can express themselves through the use of the gestures and signs, which are already part of their daily life.

Being in the centre of the circle is also a great opportunity to develop self-esteem and confidence.

This is now a very complex game so take your time and support your students while they learn the rules of the activity.

Different Final Option - Singing, No Instruments





Create the lyrics for the activity.

Children create the lyrics for the first two bars, before the food sign. The teacher can create a melody for the new lyrics or can ask the students to do it themselves.*

Example of a song created by a group of oral deaf children in Year 3.


By this point in the activity the pulse is stable and well established. Now the children can start thinking and creating in a musical way. They need to take into consideration the number of beats they can use for the lyrics and choose the best combination of words to create a good sentence.

Through this activity children work on concepts such as relating syllables to beats and using rhyme in connection with the music.

In our session, we needed to change the movements of the activity to be able to fit the lyrics that the students had created.

Be prepared to be flexible in this step and follow the students’ creativity.


Help the students through the process by writing down the number of beats for the song and the words they are choosing for their lyrics.

*Children’s pitch perception and accurate production in singing might need time to develop, especially if they are not used to using their voice. It’s important to let them sing even if they’re not accurate. The practice will help them to become more familiar with their voice and eventually to improve.

This is also an activity that creates a space for collaboration and team working:
• opens communication;
• brainstorming ideas as a group;
• working together lets students discover the talents of their schoolmates;
• establishes strong relationships;
• teaches conflict resolution skills.

Songwriting (and composition) in a group helps to develop EF skills and requires planning and negotiation between the students to come up with an original piece.

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