American Sign Language (ASL) is used by deaf people in America as their primary method of communication. ASL is a visual language, incorporating hand signs, facial expressions and body language. Signing songs in ASL is a beautiful method of performing music, with the added benefit of giving deaf people the opportunity to view an interpreted song. Performing songs in ASL is particularly common in church groups, school assemblies, and within the deaf community. Learning to sign a song in ASL is similar to learning a dance; it requires preparation and practice to do it correctly and with skill.
Choose the song you wish to learn in ASL. Songs with shorter musical interludes will be less awkward to perform.
Write or print out the song lyrics on a piece of paper. This will be useful if you work with a deaf person to learn the ASL component.
Find a fluent ASL user, preferably a deaf person, to teach you the song. If an ASL user is not available, you can learn the song from an existing DVD or website. (See Resources.) However, this may limit your song choice.
Identify the signs you have been taught, so you learn their meaning independently of the song. Practice the song slowly until you have it memorized.
Continue with regular practice until you are able to sign the full song along with the music, to the correct tempo. Practice will give you the confidence to perform the song in front of an audience.
During the musical interlude, feel free to include body movements or signed words, although no lyrics are sung. Signing a song should be viewed as an interpretive performance.
Contact your local deaf school for information on ASL users who might be willing to work with you. (See Resources.)
ASL grammar is different than that of spoken English. For this reason, it is not always possible to directly translate song lyrics to ASL. This is why an ASL user is the best resource to initially teach you the song in ASL.
Lauren Fitzpatrick was the official blogger for Busabout Europe in 2008, and has contributed to Transitions Abroad. Her subjects of interest include international work and travel, fitness, and deaf culture. She holds a Master of Arts in travel writing from Kingston University and a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Indiana University.