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Rod Webb

Glasstap Limited

Director and Co-Founder

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What My Childhood Piano Lessons Taught Me

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I started having piano lessons when I was about six. I’d been clambering up onto the piano stool and banging out a few ‘tunes’ since a toddler and so my father, in his wisdom, decided I should have some lessons. Less wisely, he chose the same teacher who’d taught him as a child, Mr Lovell, perhaps overlooking the fact that many years had passed in the interim. Each lesson, the poor old man would fall asleep beside me, and I’d resort to banging the notes extra loudly to try and wake him up. In fairness, he did manage to get me through my Grade 2 exam before I grew bored of my ability to comatose him.

A year or two later, I told my parents I wanted to start again. They were not entirely sympathetic to my previous experience and suggested that if I was serious, I should find a teacher myself. And, remarkably, aged eight or nine, in the days of classified advertisements and Yellow Pages, I did. I found Miss Wall. 

Miss Wall, was an elderly widow who I remember as a sort of Mrs Pepperpot figure. She was tiny with twinkly smiley eyes and an energy that was infectious. Her baby grand piano was her pride and joy and took up almost the entirety of her back room. 

What made her different to Mr Lovell, and my later teachers, was her approach to learning. For a start, she would ask me what I’d like to learn to play; sometimes playing a selection of pieces for me from which I could choose. She encouraged me to play different types of music too – songs, theme tunes, ragtime – not just the classical stuff set by the examination board. She never lost her patience, never complained if I made a mistake and if she ever suspected I’d not practiced very much, she never mentioned it. 

She nurtured a belief that I could play, and I found myself wanting to do well, not just for myself, but for her. She is one of two key people who showed me how much fun learning can be, and in doing so, unknowingly helped shape my later career. Under her guidance, I progressed quickly, passing my next exam with merit and leapfrogging the next.

Sadly, after a couple of years, Miss Wall told me she had to go into hospital for an operation and would have to give up teaching. 

I don’t remember all the teachers that followed. There were a few that didn’t hang about long. I do remember one who used to have what looked like knitting needles in her hair, and who kept losing and fiddling with her contact lenses during my lessons, which was off-putting.

My final teacher was Head of Music at my secondary school, who gave piano lessons privately. I remember him as a simmering pot of anger that I had an almost uncanny ability to bring to the boil. My lack of practice between lessons would incense him and send his pencil spiralling across my music in such a frenzied torrent of scribbles, big circles, and instructions, so heavy with frustration, that it became increasingly difficult to see the musical notes beneath them. 

I came to dread my lessons, whilst at the same time, taking an almost stubborn pride in my lack of preparedness for them. He probably never realised that by now I was paying for my own lessons out of the money I earned working in my parent’s pub, but the fact that I was spending my own money on this weekly torment only increased my resentment. 

It’s fair to say that my only motivation to succeed in my final days of learning the piano was a desire to prove my teacher wrong when it came to the actual exams, he grudgingly entered me for; an ambition that produced mixed results. I failed my Grade 6 but somehow managed to scrape through a Grade 7 before calling it a day and walking away.

All of my teachers were highly experienced and capable musicians. They had similar qualifications and expert knowledge. But, I think what I take from my experiences learning the piano, and many others, is that expertise is not what makes a great teacher or trainer.

It is rather, the ability to show people what they can achieve, to positively influence belief and desire, to show respect and encourage. It’s the ability to focus on individual needs, and to address those needs in a way that recognises that everyone is different. It’s about making learning fun and enjoyable so that people want more of it. It’s about inspiring others with your own positive passion and energy. 

It’s these latter qualities that made Miss Wall one of the best teachers I have ever had. And if we can find and learn to use those qualities in ourselves, I believe it’s these that will enable us to leave a lasting, impression and help others achieve their full potential. Miss Wall remains one of my personal benchmarks of success. 

Until next time…

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Author Profile Picture
Rod Webb

Director and Co-Founder

Read more from Rod Webb
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