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About Deafblindness


Learning to play piano with Usher II

When being hard of hearing is an advantage!

After five years in a special school for the hard of hearing my parents put me in girl’s boarding school where my twin sister, who could hear and see perfectly well at this time, was already attending; we were 14½.

AT LAST I was allowed to take piano lessons!!!!!! Something I had begged for, for sooo long. My parents hadn’t had the money for either the piano or the lessons but now….

Where I got the idea from, let alone this driving desire to play the piano, I don’t know I’m sure, but it never let up. The rest of the family are not remotely afflicted with anything of the sort.

The teacher was a nun, and being able to play the piano meant that she was conscripted for the teaching position whether it suited her or not. She did her best but it was obvious she was not a teacher at heart, but for beginners she was good enough. I learned the basics; that was all I needed to keep going.

The circumstances at these piano lessons were such that my hearing loss was more of an advantage than a handicap, would you believe! There were five pianos in a row, the front one in the biggest (teacher’s) room and the other four in four little cubicles in a row behind it, which would just fit a piano and a stool, with glass partition and door; so not exactly soundproof.

On the other side of the passageway along those cubicles, were five or six typewriters as typing lessons were going on at the same time. I have no idea how the other pupils, or the teacher for that matter, coped, but I, without hearing aids for obvious reasons, was doing just fine!

When NOT having a piano is an advantage.

Boarding school only went up to year 10 and I went to another high school to finish. One of the first things I did was accost the music teacher there, with my request to play a piano as there were several at this school. Bless him, he said yes and directed me to one that was in a room on the 2nd floor. I spend many free minutes there. I played and played and played, the same thing over and over, as learning was slow. I could read notes but only very slowly and could not read the music for the left hand and the right hand simultaneously. I had to learn one hand, then the other, then painstakingly try and pull it together. My rote memory is virtually non-existent, and with my hearing being unreliable as well, it was slow work, learning things by heart through sheer repetition.
The simpler things I could learn by ear or someone would show me and I would play that by heart fairly quickly.

Of course this being a schoolroom, it was a free for all walk-in; with unsolicited advice and instructions galore.  Free lessons, yay!  Some of them offered me the opportunity to play at their homes. More instructions to be had! I wasn’t about to turn any opportunity down!!

After seven months I did get my own piano, for $10! through one of the guys who was always popping in. It needed an awful lot of work and the same guy helped me with that as well, so that I ended up with a nice looking and sounding piano.  As good as having my own piano was, I missed the sharing and the learning.

I learned so much in those seven months with all those different people telling me how to play. Mind you, they didn’t necessarily agree with each other, which meant I had to learn different ways to play the same piece for different people. But through all the hard work, I had a wonderfully instructive time and loads of fun!

Teaching to play piano\ keyboard when you’re not a teacher, but definitely not (pun intended).

Decades later I was now in my 40’s; I was asked by a young girl in church if I could teach her. I was no teacher at heart any more then my teacher-nun had been, but I also knew this consuming desire this girl felt. Her single mum could not afford to pay much for lessons and could only afford a keyboard.

By this time I was so disabled that I had a carer, who was also VERY musical, though she did not play an instrument. She took me to a music store where we spend 2 days sifting through all the possible teaching material and finding what would suit me best! In the process the store got all their shelves tidied up too! Teaching is the best way of learning, the only requirement being that you are always a step ahead of your pupil. Or so I’m told. It worked for me. Things I had never realized now fell into place, tricks
I hadn’t known that would have been so helpful when I was learning to read notes
way back when, helped MY reading skills NOW. A cataract operation helped very much too!

I sometimes used some very unorthodox material not meant for beginners, but I made it accessible for her. My carer remarked wistfully that if she had been taught that way, she would have stuck to her piano lessons and been able to play now too. I could not have received a bigger compliment regarding my teaching. Funny, after all it was thanks to her help in the first place that I could teach at all. My student was having fun too and was learning very well. Again I was having the time of my life, sharing and expanding my skills. You never stop learning; if you’re lucky!!

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Published on January 6, 2016.