My troubled experience with music as a child

As an instrument maker, you may assume that music has played a deep roll in my life. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Throughout my entire childhood music was a troubled subject for me, the preverbal 'black art', and I only came to understand it as a young adult.

It's a strange outcome looking back at it because I grew up surrounded by instruments including piano, guitar and multiple recorders. However neither of my parents actively played them. My dad used to play the clarinet and guitar, but he stopped before I was born. So I had instruments, but no idea at all how to play them.

Around the age of 5 or 6 I had music lessons on the keyboard and violin but it didn't connect with me at the time. As my parents like quiet spaces, I had very little exposure to music generally. And so, I lacked any personal connection to what I was being asked to do. The music had no familiarity to me.

Also, my parents were expecting me to go and practice by myself. I generally did not understand what to do, as my memory is quite poor and I couldn't remember what I'd been shown in my lesions. Also, I found it too lonely at that age, and so I did not practice. I don't remember if me or my parents chose to stop it.

When I was older, I started to develop that personal connection to some music. My gran frequently collected me from school, and would often play me her folk and theatre music, particularly liking to sing the songs from the musical Oliver. This was when I was about 10.

I wanted to learn to play these but did not know how to relate what I was hearing to the instruments I had around me. The piano was intimidating with so many keys and I did not know the fingerings for the recorder. Consequently it was extremely difficult to make anything musical. When I did by chance there was no clear progression and I quickly lost interest.

The music lesions that I had in primary school were generally of little help, as they focused almost exclusively on singing. When it came to instruments, the teacher would just roll out a cart of them and telling us to 'do what you want'. I never had any instruction into the functions of different instruments (percussion, harmony, melody), how to play them, or how to relate things that we had learned to sing to an instrument. It didn't make any sense.

Several years later when I started high school the music lessons were better, but focussed mostly on the study of genres, not actually playing music. It was covered rarely, and I remember one music class that introduced the basics of sheet music and how it relates to the piano. For the first time ever something actually made sense. I took home the music from the class and learned to play Fur Elise on the piano.

This small success raised several questions: what are the black keys for? Why are multiple keys called 'A' when they clearly sound different? The music teacher in school shrugged off the questions. I had other interests that were proving to be more fruitful so music was once again abandoned.

It only 'clicked' for me in my early 20's. I happened to play Final Fantasy 9 which I'd missed as a child. The games music strongly connected with me and inspired me to attempt to learn it. Unlike my prior experiences access to information wasn't a problem anymore. I discovered a tutorial that explained the major scale formula and within a few minutes had an idea why the black keys exist.

Simultaneously I discovered the origin of octaves. When the frequency of a note is doubled or halved the human mind perceives both pitches equivalently. For example the note A4 has a frequency of 440Hz. If this is doubled to 880Hz you get A5. Similarly the note A3 is half at 220Hz. This realization allowed me to grasp the repeating note names.

With these two revelations everything else fell into place. I started playing the ocarina and within a few weeks could play a number of the themes from FF9. From there I branched out to other instruments. I learned to play a few chord progressions on the guitar and began playing a wide range of traditional folk music on the ocarina.

I never continued with guitar, but I have continued to experiment with different instruments to learn their characteristics. My main focus has been playing folk music on the ocarina.