How a Collar Could Help Deaf People "Hear" Music

Most of us assume deaf people can't register sound, let alone enjoy Rachmaninoff. Wrong. A conceptual device from German designer Frederik Podzuweit taps into the deaf's ability to feel music.

Music for Deaf People collar

Most of us assume deaf people can't register sound, let alone enjoy Rachmaninoff. Wrong. A conceptual device from German designer Frederik Podzuweit taps into the deaf's ability to feel music.

Music for Deaf People is a collar that converts auditory input into vibrations, triggering the same sound-processing brain regions in those with full hearing. So instead of listening through your ears, you effectively listen through your skin. The collar has a special membrane substance, which responds to electricity, dispatching the vibrations of whatever you're playing--be it Sinatra or Sepultura--to your neck, shoulders, and collarbone. Adjustable, it fits snugly around your neck so you could theoretically wear it jogging or at the gym--never mind that it looks like something straight out of a Stormtrooper's closet. (Nerds probably think that's a good thing.)

To the uninitiated, it might seem like a nonstarter, a pointless gadget resigned to the annals of air-conditioned T-shirts and ShamWow! Why would deaf people want to "hear" music? The answer, of course, is for the same reason everyone else does: Music is one of life's enduring pleasures.

Music for Deaf People collar

There's a lot of fascinating research into how deaf people experience music. Researchers at Ryerson University designed a chair that transmits musical vibrations along the back, turning sound into a sort of multi-sensory cheesecake. One person described it like this: “The first time I used the chair, I was blown away by the amount of information I could get about music from the vibrations. For the first time in my life, I could feel sad or happy because of how the music vibrations felt on my skin. I never felt those kinds of feelings before when music was played."


Music for Deaf People collar

It's even possible, in certain cases, that deaf people experience music more powerfully because they can't hear; as Oliver Sacks tells it in Musicophilia, the auditory cortex might become extra-sensitive when hearing slips. Beethoven, you'll recall, was completely deaf when he composed his dazzling Symphony No. 9.

The main drawback we see in Music for Deaf People is that the collar seems terribly uncomfortable. On hot days, a big hunk of plastic is the last thing you want around your neck. Would the concept work just as well around your wrist or your bicep? If anyone has any ideas, we're all, um, ears.
Music for Deaf People

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8 Comments

  • Nick

    I work with people with disabilities - I would love to have an opportunity to try out this idea with my clients. Have you done any trials? If you are looking for volunteers please do not hesitate to contact me.

  • Austin2222

    maybe something that's on the person's hand would be even better. It would be more convenient (more comfortable) and plus, the hand has much more nerve ending than the neck does. (Do you guys think that would be better?)

  • Jordan vendy

    might i sujest and ir reciever built into the collar for anything such as an ipod or other such nonsence and possibly like and rf or even a simple audio tranmitter for tv installations etc.. would be very easy to do 

  • Matty

    been watching the market for a while for a music 'app' for the deaf. Being profoundly deaf myself, since age 3, this is something i'd be excited about...sad to see this product not actually being manuafactured. Just IMAGINE the possibilities for the hearing folks as well...touch & vibration is a sense oft overlooked. if anyone has a product available for testing or purchase, please let me know! i'll gladly be a human trial as well.

  • softwarecandy

    This sounds like a incredible invention. Do you happen to know whether this works with speech as well? That is, can deaf people use this to "hear" (and understand) what others tell them?

  • reggie

    that is LONG overdue........there really needs to be a real time speech to text ap available for the deaf to undy wherever they go and whatever they do!

  • Reggie

    that said, I'd love to buy this music collar for the deaf for music for my dear deaf friend so let me know when it's being manufactured plz and try to keep the costs affodable, so many can enjoy......sell on VOLUME :)  thanks.