Signing Music

Signed music is visually enchanting. It is also a great way to practice sign language. Adults quickly learn to enjoy signing music, and it is good exercise too. Children learn to love it because it's fun, and at the same time, it improves motor skills. In addition, signing the words to a song enhances memory skills for young and old alike. Once a child or adult signs a song, she easily remembers the lyrics and rarely forgets them.

When you approach the idea of signing music, it is best to do first things first. The first thing you need to do is select an appropriate song for your maiden voyage. You will play and sign your song many, many times before you satisfactorily sign it, so consider choosing a song that you enjoy hearing each time it plays.

It is best if you select one for which you already know the lyrics. You don't want to learn how to form new signs and try to memorize new lyrics at the same time. The lyrics should be simple with clear meanings. Conceptual songs are difficult to translate from English to sign language, and for the novice signer, this will pose an additional problem. Therefore, it is a good idea to keep it simple.

Your song should not be excessively slow or fast, as these types of tempos require a high level of control while moving the signs to the music. Also, try to select a song that has repeating lyrics. The repetition will assist you in controlling the signs and, at the same time, build your rhythm.

To wrap it all up for you in one statement: select a song you enjoy, one with simple lyrics you know, and one that has a moderate tempo. Place these considerations at the top of your list, and you will be well on your way to signing a good song.

On May 7, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was performed in Vienna. Beethoven by this time was completely deaf and could not conduct the premiere. He did, however, stand next to the conductor. At the end of the performance, he remained unaware of the applause of the emotional audience until a soloist had him turn to face them.

Translating to Signs

Once you've chosen a song, you'll then need to look at the lyrics carefully and begin the process of translating them from English to signs.

  • Write down all the lyrics, line by line.

  • Omit all the small words, such as “a,” “the,” “is,” and “of.”

  • Write the approximate sign equivalents of the words or concepts of the lyrics.

Go with the Flow

The translation of a song may require a few attempts before it is just right. Once you have mastered the appropriate signs, you can begin to connect them with the rhythm of the song. The time you put into this mode of signing will really show. Here are six helpful tips:

  1. When translating the lyrics from English to signs, always think of what the lyrics are really trying to convey.

  2. When practicing, sign your song three times in a row, take a break, and start over again.

  3. Feet should be slightly apart, never together, thereby giving you the ability to flex and flow with the music.

  4. Always use appropriate facial expressions and body language that matches the lyrics.

  5. Never drop your hands to your sides while signing your song. Doing so stops the music visually.

  6. Sign your song with the music, never without.

Phyllis Frelich won the Tony Award for Best Actress in the Broadway play Children of a Lesser God. Miss Frelich is profoundly deaf. In 1991, she also became the first deaf person to be elected to the Screen Actors Guild Board in Hollywood.

Don't be discouraged if you cannot fully sign your song in the first few attempts. Practice your song repeatedly and you will get there. The time you put into it will give you the desired results. Try to make the learning process and the practice all part of the fun of signing a song.

Practicing and learning new signs for music builds confidence in your new signing abilities. The simplicity of learning to sign a song will also stimulate you, perhaps without realizing it, into applying many of the basic principles of ASL. These principles range from translating English to signs, applying facial expressions, and using body language.

MUSIC, SONG: To sign “music” or “song,” sweep your right “flat” hand from the fingertips of your left open palm all the way up your arm and back down. This sweeping movement can be made several times and it can also be formed in a figure eight.

Heart and Soul

Religious hymns and songs expressed with the added element of sign language are powerful. They seem to help lift one's faith. The signs for heaven, soul, and angel are remarkably beautiful.

HEAVEN: Use “flat” hands, palms facing each other, Cross your hands and arms above your head in an arched movement and spread your arms open.

ANGEL: Place fingertips of both “bent” hands on your shoulders, then twist forward and out off your shoulders, imitating wings.

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