The Sign Language of Music: Musical Shaping Gestures (MSGs) in Rehearsal Talk by Performers with Hearing Impairments


  • Robert Fulford
  • Jane Ginsborg



communication, cross-modal, deafness, shaping, gesture


The first part of this paper reviews literature on the use of gesture in musical contexts and reports an investigation of the gestures (spontaneous gesticulation) made by musicians with different levels of hearing impairment in rehearsal talk. Profoundly deaf musicians, who were also users of British Sign Language, were found to produce significantly more gestures than moderately deaf and hearing musicians. Analysis also revealed the presence of underlying spatial and cross-modal associations in the gestural representations produced by all the musicians. The second part of the paper discusses the results of the study and addresses some wider theoretical questions. First, a classification of ‘musical shaping gestures’ (MSGs) according to existing taxonomies is attempted. Second, the question of how a standardised ‘sign language of music’ could be formed is addressed and, finally, the potential uses of such a system are considered.