What’s your musical ‘backstory’?

Sharon and I were chatting recently about the various events in our childhood and beyond that brought us, ultimately, to start teaching the piano.

It can be fascinating for us to recollect our first encounters with music.

It’s also inspiring for others to read about the influences, the opportunities, the choices and the chance encounters that we have made along the way. Sometimes there are similarities, other times big differences.

We’d love you to share some of your key memories of your musical backstory. Here’s my memories of the pivotal moments and people in my early musical life.


“You know Sally sings very loudly in assembly. We can always hear her sing the hymn above everybody else. Have you thought about her learning an instrument?”

These few words, spoken to my parents when I was just eight, were to change the course of my life.

Fairly soon after this conversation a piano arrived in our house and lessons were begun with Mrs May, a piano teacher at school. She was warm, kind and encouraging and very well qualified and experienced. I wanted to do my very best for her. I really loved going for my lessons, which by now were happening at her house and playing on her grand piano. If I close my eyes I can still remember the room and sitting on the piano bench feeling quite safe and cared for.

Mind you I always had my head in a book as a child and would ‘forget’ to go and practice. Luckily I had a mum who was very good at reminding me every day. If it hadn’t been for her persistence I’m not sure I would be where I am today.


Back at school things were less rosy as I was the only musician in the place – and that included the teachers! As I made quite rapid progress at the piano within 2-3 years I found myself adopting the role of ‘school pianist’. Playing the hymn for assembly every morning did wonders for my sight-reading!

Music lessons though were limited to ‘music appreciation’ with Mrs English playing a record of a famous piece for discussion. Can I remember any of the music we heard? I’m afraid not!


As there was nothing going on in school additional musical activity had to be found elsewhere. Luckily I lived in Coventry which had an active and healthy music service and just down the road was the fabulous Coventry School of Music headed up by John Dowding. It was there that my musical education really took shape with inspirational teachers and mind-expanding encounters on a regular basis.

Joining the local Youth Orchestra (and yes I played the violin as well) meant that for the first time I had a group of peers with whom I could enthuse about all things musical. My A level studies at the school also gave me my very first experience of singing in a choir. I still get goosebumps remembering the sheer thrill of opening my mouth to sing those first few choral bars of Handel’s Zadok the Priest!


Maybe I was fortunate to have the right set of circumstances and people fall into place. Someone who took the care to mention that I seemed to like singing; a warm and nurturing early teacher who knew what she was doing; a mum who was prepared to act as my time manager and some inspiring musical encounters.

All of us though have these sort of chance encounters along the way although we might not always recognise them as such.


Here’s some questions to get you thinking back – we’d love to hear your musical backstory and some of your early memories and stories.

  • Think back to the supportive musical environments that you encountered and describe what characterised them, based on your experiences.
  • What extracurricular music making were you involved in as a child and as a teenager?
  • Did you teach yourself anything at all?
  • What are your memories of classroom music?
  • What do you remember about your own piano teacher(s)? What were their teaching approaches? What impact did their teaching have on you?
  • What role did your parents play when you were learning the piano. Was it your mother or father who was most involved?
  • Have siblings, extended family, friends or spouse played a role in your musical development throughout the years?

To read more musical backstories we recommend Chances and Choices: exploring the impact of music education by Stephanie Pitts. CLICK HERE

What’s more you could add your story to the growing database CLICK HERE


  1. Quinton R Kennedy

    growing up all of my teachers were obsessed with forcing me to read
    and understand as much sheet music as possible. I never felt like I
    have the freedom to explore the way I truly wanted to. I think my
    musical backstory really helps to highlight why my wife’s teaching
    method works so while for me. she used the resources in videos in this
    series (Link) to help me visual memorize the keys I would be playing
    before I even approached the key board. with dance like movements and
    all. having fun with the music and acting out the piece before I
    approached the piano REALLY REALLY helped I would definitely recommend
    this method to any beginner.

  2. Susie Ingram

    My dad plays piano, so there was always a piano at home, right from when I was born. Apparently he used to sit us on his knee and play to us, and encourage us to play – he’s since done the same with my kids! My two siblings and I all had piano lessons, but I was the only one to continue – I think I got on with the teacher, Mrs Daniels, better than the other two, and I just always remember enjoying playing the piano. My grandparents were very encouraging of our musical activities – we used to have family sing songs around the piano, especially at Christmas when all the cousins visited. And when I was practising in the dining room, my mum would listen from the kitchen and call out “well played” or “that sounds tricky!” I played the viola too – not my choice, but the only space in the peripatetic classes at my primary school. I did ok, getting into the Leicestershire School of Music orchestra system, starting in the Preliminary Strings! I used to love Saturday morning orchestra, and the concerts were amazing! My father sang in a choir, and I remember going to their concerts when I was old enough. Sir David Willcocks conducted their Christmas concerts for a few years, and he used to get the children up on stage to sing some carols and he would do a quiz for us. I thought he was amazing – quite inspirational. I got the chance to go to a ‘Come and Sing’ Messiah when I was 13 – a very special memory. I played piano for my secondary school choir and in the school orchestra, and in my lessons worked my way up to Grade 8 and started looking at the ALCM diploma but my A-Levels got in the way. My final year or so of lessons before I went away to university were spent learning piano concertos, with my teacher playing the orchestral part – fond memories! I remember having the discussion with my parents about whether to try for a place at music college – and being advised that music was an uncertain career, and better to keep it as a hobby. So that was what I did. I didn’t get into the university choir, so did no music for three years, but then took some singing lessons before going on to my Masters degree, as I was determined to get into the choir there – and thankfully I did. I then joined a choir when I finished at university, and after a while, saved up enough money to buy a second hand Clavinova. It was lovely to start playing regularly again. When my son started at school, they advertised for a pianist to accompany the school choir, and I volunteered. Then a few years later, as I was considering what to do job-wise, a friend asked I would teach her son to play the piano. A few days later, another friend asked if I knew of any local piano teachers. I think that this was my lightbulb moment! After some discussions with musical friends, I contacted a piano teacher, and started having lessons on how to be a piano teacher (ultimately working towards the DipABRSM), and a month or so later, saw my first three pupils. Four years later, I have 46 pupils at home and in two local schools. I never thought I would be a teacher, and never thought I would have a job in music – I’m delighted that I have proved myself wrong!

  3. Marion Paterson

    I have a few pivitol moments in my musical journey. I only started teaching music eight years ago encouraged by my teacher. I had taken a totally different direction when my school closed down and had been in banking and admin in general. My earliest memory was my piano teacher coming to my home and he used to sing along with the pieces I would play. I was seven at that time. My older brother was a rascal and would imitate Mr Provan behind his back when he was teaching me. But he was a lovely man and did give me a real desire to sing which led me into my next memory. My school choir was entered for the local music festival. The adjudicator complained that there was someone in the choir singing louder than the rest. Yes – after full investigation, it was found to be me! Not long after that I went to my next school where I was the soloist in the junior choir. My piano teacher at the new school felt that I should go back to the beginning and start again as I had been learning to play by ear! No wonder she didn’t like that idea (which incidentally has been a very useful skill) – I found it some years later that she was deaf. What a journey but I got here in the end! Mind you, we could have been doing with a group like Curious Piano Teachers back then in the 1970’s. But none of you were born then ! – Ha!

  4. Rachel Yuile

    My first piano lessons at the age of 10 involved walking my teacher to the bus stop! She stayed on after school to teach me, and as she was blind, I was tasked with getting her to the bus stop safely. Actually, that probably gave me an insight that prepared me for teaching – I could see the steps down to the school gate and the edges of the pavements, but she couldn’t. I had to think from her point of view so that I could supply the missing information. Thankfully we never had any mishaps! She was an amazing character, sight-reading with her fingertips, then playing from memory. She was the music teacher at my primary school, and my mum persuaded her to give me lessons, as I was tinkering on the piano at home all the time. I had English cousins around my age who had begun lessons much earlier and Gran used to read out their grade exam results from their letters. I felt quite inferior! However, I loved piano and Mum just left me to get on with it, although a very small percentage of my playing had anything to do with the pieces I was supposed to be learning. The teacher I had in my teens was much scarier and I doubt if I would have thrived under his care as a beginner. By the time he was teaching me, I was completely hooked and nothing could have stopped me!

  5. Claire Crehan

    One of my earliest memories is standing on a wobbly plank in our garage, playing a piano that my parents must have gotten. I had obviously started to read music in school, and I had my brother’s piano tutor open and was playing the exercises. I was 5 or 6. The interesting thing is I have no recollection of learning to read music – I obviously went through that process, but in my memory I can always read music. Playing piano was such a joy for me through my childhood and teen years – I just loved playing and reading new music. Hungry passion!

  6. Angelus

    I love it that you made this post. I’m thinking of asking parents of my students who studied music!


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