My music life began at a very young age. I was played lots of different music. From about the age of four I bashed out little tunes on a keyboard. I was largely self-taught with some help from my granddad and dad. Music has always been in my life, but sometimes it wasn’t all enjoyable. All my experiences within the music world have influenced me in an ultimately positive way, but it took a while to get there.
Music At School 8 - 9 Years Old
The age of eight is really the first memory I have of music in school. Up to that point I’d listened to nearly everything from jazz to Gregorian chant, classical to rock and roll, opera to heavy metal…and pretty much everything in between. To say I was sheltered in my musical experiences is woefully short of the mark. Sadly though my enjoyment of music was rapidly curtailed. We only got to sing hymns, we never listened to anything different - it was always religious (which isn’t a problem at all, but I would have liked some variety).
I started having guitar lessons at that age but rather than being encouraged to practise by the teachers I was more or less bullied into it. It was never explained to me why practising was important; it was just expected. I never subscribed (even then) to the “Because I said so” school of thought. It may be something to do with living on the spectrum but I’ve always wanted an explanation as to why something needs to be done…even now. Sadly for me, because I didn’t practise the guitar lessons were knocked on the head. It was a real shame because the guitar teacher was brilliant and got me. He was also into conjuring which gave me a sense of belonging.
Why I teach music #1 - I want to share my love of music with everyone and anyone who’ll listen.
Why I teach music #2 - I want to make practise an enjoyable experience and explain why.
Music At School 9 - 12 Years Old
When I was nine a breath of fresh air joined the school. The most amazing pianist who got us singing all sorts of songs from musicals, films, television shows and loads more besides. He did a music quiz which I won and I got a prize of a short biography of Elgar (which I still have to this day). Kerry was flamboyant with his delivery and playing and he was a true inspiration to me and reignited my spark for music. He was super encouraging and gave me confidence with my singing by asking me to singing solos in choir and for a recording the school were doing (and yes I still have that tape too). He was so passionate about music!
The headmaster of the junior school wouldn’t let anyone play the piano unless they had music in front of them. Now as a self-taught person I could not read music properly. Everything had been just letters or “blobs with letters” in them. I would occasionally pick up a guitar and strum some chords or play some melody, but I wasn’t having any lessons. So in order to play the piano I’d just pop a random book on the music desk and play whatever I wanted. I only got caught out once. I just wanted to play all sorts of music and instruments, I enjoyed experimenting…and still do. It was just unfortunate that that wasn’t allowed or encouraged.
Why I teach music #3 - I want to inspire people to make music by being passionate about it.
Why I teach music #4 - I believe that everyone should be allowed to make the music they want to make. I will always give a solid foundation so a student knows what they’re doing, but ultimately experimentation is to be encouraged.
Music At School 13 - 15 Years Old
When I was 13 I started having piano lessons. My first teacher got me. He asked me what my experience was and I told him I was largely self-taught with a little bit of help from dad and granddad. He asked me to play him something so I did…from memory. He was impressed. He understood that I had a natural ability for the instrument, but also knew that I didn’t know how to read music. His answer to that was to give me really straightforward, beginners stuff to learn the theory but he would also give me challenging stuff to learn by rote. Solfeggietto (CPE Bach) Mozart’s Fantasia in Dm, Chopin’s Prelude in A.
Sadly this amazing teacher left the school after only one or two terms. His replacement left a lot to be desired! Suddenly all this enjoyment I got in playing piano went. I remember once she wrote in a report that I “…would do much better if he concentrated on the task in hand rather than barging out these well known tunes!” She made me do a grade 2 exam which I passed (missing a merit by 4 points). I wanted to go on to grade 3 but she said I wasn’t ready or good enough. So I bought the book, chose my own pieces and taught myself everything I needed to do. I booked one lesson with my old guitar teacher just to make sure all was on track. I did the exam and passed (missing a merit by 2 points). When I told my piano teacher her only response was “If you’d have had me you’d have got your merit!”
Why I teach music #5 - I want to encourage students to play the music they want to play. It doesn’t matter whether I like the piece or not as long as the student is making music and developing.
Why I teach music #6 - I believe exams can be hugely beneficial as they can give you a goal to work towards. But they aren’t for everyone. I will support anyone wanting to do an exam (and all my students have passed with distinction) but I will never force them on anyone. And if a student decided to work on one themselves and passed I’d be overjoyed for them!
Music At School 15-18
The head of music did not like me. Even though I practically lived in the music department at break times, playing piano and guitar, he didn’t think I was any good. He wouldn’t let me do GCSE music, instead taking me through music theory - which I am now truly grateful for. When I didn’t get the grades I needed to do a year of retakes. During that year I was allowed to finally do GCSE music - in a year! I passed the exam. It took me a year to pass Music and Spanish, two years to pass French and Environmental Science, and three years to pass Maths and English! I wanted to do Latin as well, but the school wouldn’t let me…so I taught myself a little bit.
When I (finally) finished my GCSEs I decided to go to a local college (as opposed to the private school I’d been attending since the age of eight) to do my A-levels. I was one of only three people doing A-Level music and because I was so keen to play different instruments the head of music asked me if I’d ever played double bass. I said no (though I had plucked a string of the double bass my granddad’s next door neighbour had). She asked if I’d be interested and I said if she’d give me a term of lessons I would see how I got on. Amazingly she did and I did! I ended up joining the strings orchestra, the concert band, starting my own jazz band and singing in the choir.
Why I teach music #7 - In this day and age education seems to be about statistics rather than…education! If someone comes to me with a passion for music and wants to develop I am not going to turn them away and crush their dreams. I will do anything in my power to make it happen.
Why I teach music #8 - I think it’s great if someone wants to learn more than one instrument. Of course there is a danger one could spread oneself too thinly, but there are plenty of hugely successful multi-instrumentalists out there, so why not be versatile.
The truth is, there are many, many more reasons why I teach music and who knows maybe I’ll revisit this topic again for my “tween years”. I get so much pleasure from seeing the eyes light up when a student finally masters a thing with which they’ve struggled. I get excited when I see the light-bulb moment and the penny finally dropping. I celebrate with my students when they pass their exam with flying colours, even more so when they don’t believe they have it in them. I promised myself I would never be one of those teachers who was in it for all the wrong reasons and who’s passion had clearly evaporated. I promised myself that I would encourage each and every one of my students and that they would all be my favourite. I promised myself that everyone knew they had the right to make music and I would help them do so. I would like to think that thus far, I’ve succeeded.