Musical Me Pt. 1

I remember the day I met my new primary school headmaster. He had a big warm smile and guitar case in his hand.


After-school guitar lessons started soon after and I asked my mum if it was ok to go along.  ‘Yes!’, she said, and an old acoustic was brought down from the loft along with a dusty copy of Bert Weedon’s ‘play in a day’ (my dad had give it a shot some years earlier but failed to progress.) He handed the guitar to me, as if it was a family heirloom or the sword that he had used in the battle of Agincourt. His eyes were filled with great pride as if to say ‘ Here take this my son, you must succeed where I have failed…Avenge your father..and conquer D7’

As soon as my older brother heard that I was about to begin guitar lessons, he announced that this was something he was about to do also. He bought himself an electric guitar and commissioned, our electronics whizz, Uncle Chris to build him a portable guitar amplifier with…Fuzz

Being older than me, his musical tastes where much more diverse.  As a result of his influence I was soon asking my headmaster to teach me songs and riffs by Jimi Hendrix and BB King rather than ‘Annie’s song’ and ‘The Entertainer’.

He tried but couldn’t keep up with what I wanted to achieve…Soon after I stopped playing the guitar and started typing instructions from magazines into microcomputers to make funny things happen to the tv screen..

10 PRINT ”Ste is ace”;

20 GOTO 10


…Hours of fun, those winter nights just flew by!

Music lessons at High School seemed to involve endless hours of listening to old Ragtime recordings and ‘War of The Worlds’. Although I still get shivers when I hear some of the sound effects from that recording, none of this meant anything to me, or my experience of music outside school.

By this time I had picked up the guitar again and inherited my brothers Gibson SG copy and home-made portable guitar amp with…Fuzz

I was writing songs with friends, involving doing strange things with E minor, rehearsing in bedrooms and making big plans for world domination.

 In School I took Music as an Option at GCSE and was spoken to about Baroque.

At home there was a massive development…My parents invested in a new Hi-Fi Separates system which meant the old hi-fi with mic input and tape-to-tape over-dubbing facility made it’s way into my bedroom. It took a few months to dawn on me that.. ”If I record a Bontempi drum pattern on this tape…then swap it into the playback deck and record a bassline over the top…”  It wasn’t quite ‘Telstar’ but It was so liberating. Yes, the quality decreased as my creativity increased but who cared, this was awesome!

I got a grade 'A' in my GCSE music (excuse me if I bask in this for a was the only one I've ever received.....ever...) , mainly on the strength of my compositions and performance.  Both of these skills I developed with my friends, often at home. The best thing about taking Music GCSE at High school was probably the access to the Practice Rooms after school.

We sat night after night, unsupervised, deconstructing all the music that mattered to us so that we understood it completely. The music teachers couldn’t keep up with us, but to their credit they didn’t restrict us either with their own busy timetables and schedules and work-life balance...


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Sophie Appleby's picture

Thanks Steve, this is really interesting! Great that it was school which inspired you to get into music in the first place, but then it's a shame that lessons in the classroom couldn't keep up with your interests and new skills you developed outside school. My experiences at school were very similar - as a violinist I played in orchestras and learned about Beethoven in the classroom, but outside school I listened obsessively to indie rock, and some of the most fun I had was hanging out with other orchestra members in our school music block after hours working out how to play Nirvana and Oasis songs! It seems odd now that there was such a disconnect between the music we learned about in the classroom, and the music we were genuinely passionate about and chose to listen to in our own time.'s picture

Thanks Sophie,

It was more to do with a key person in my life rather than the school as a whole. I picked up the instrument because of the connection with my charismatic new headmaster. The guitar lessons all took place after school and if he had gone somewhere else, I would probably never have played. He was a community musician who just happened to run my school.

Sophie Appleby's picture

sounds like we need more of them! :)

anita holford's picture

Love hearing about people's personal journeys. Mine was similar to yours Sophie, classical in school, rock and folk out of school. I was, and still am, obsessed with music and I'm so glad my Mum made me practice! But still there was the disconnect.

Musical Futures is a fascinating organisation which aims to help schools and pupils to bring pupil-driven learning into music education, capitalising on their passions and the way they're naturally driven to learn. I don't work for them or have anything to do with them apart from following them with enthusiasm.

Schools can follow their 'model' without paying anything or joining a 'programme' - it's an open source, sharing, kind of model.

Their website's here if you're interested and there's some great stuff posted on their social networks.

SuePrescott's picture

This is really interesting stuff to read but I have found the story very similar to other stories young musicians have told me. They tell me about feelings of disjointedness between "School" and "Own" music, about feeling that school music is not relevant for them.

I am a PhD student at Edge Hill University and my research interest is in the subjective realities of young musicians who are disengaged by school music - the themes I come across are about relevance and ownership and the clear demarcation between school and own music. I believe that we can learn a great deal from the experiences of music outside of school and that this could inform how we engage young musicians inside of school - what do you think?