My Musical History – Part 2: Skills

In an earlier post, I identified some key elements of my musical history – relating to my cultural and religious roots as a Punjabi Sikh growing up in Scotland.   I often wonder how I got to where I am, and how my early experiences have contributed to my achievements at a later stage. In this post I want to talk about some things I did for fun as I grew up, but only recently realised how significant they were in developing skills that I would not otherwise encounter until much later in my music education – probably too late to get to where I am now, had that been the case.

Aural skills

From an early age, I had access to electronic keyboards (hand-me-downs from my older sister).  I have lots of memories of exploring the demo tracks, trying to learn the melodies.  Learning things by ear, as you now know, was a key element of my learning within the religious context.  It’s definitely something my mum recognised early on, as she would ask me to learn melodies of hymns from cassette tapes and CDs.

Improvisation and composition

One of my favourite keyboard activities at home, after some time, was to improvise over the demo tracks.  Of course, I had no idea what improvisation was at that point, and it was always for “play” and not with any conscious learning or intention to do something serious with it.  I also remember working on these improvisations with a view to playing the same creations – and so I began composing in a very informal way.

Transcribing and arranging

This is a story of a single project I embarked on at 10 years old, and one that I didn’t think about until I was 20 years old and wanted to do something similar.  

In 2000, my primary school celebrated its 50th anniversary.  To celebrate, each class was given a decade, to contribute to a concert that marked the school’s life in music over the years.  My class were given the 80s.  By this stage in my primary school life, I’d been playing recorder for 4 years formally (through a lunchtime class run by one of the teachers), although I’d made my sister teach me on my first recorder (10p from Woolworths, got to love the 90s…) so I’d had an extra 3 years of informal experience before that.  Anyway, back to the story – I was a huge Abba fan at this point in my life, so I decided I wanted that to be a part of my class’s contribution to the concert.  After what must have been many hours of listening, figuring out notes with the aid of an instrument, and scribbling them down on manuscript, I arrived at a 2-part harmony arrangement of Super Trouper for 4 recorders!  I sadly can’t find the original written copy, since I didn’t acknowledge this as a significant moment at the time, but if I do I’ll upload it.  

The realisation of what I’d done came 10 years later, when I decided I wanted to arrange pop songs for my flute quartet, and on thinking about how to go about it, I realised I’d already done it! 

As an aside, I’ll add that I also learned the glockenspiel(?) melody from the end of Band Aid’s “Do they know it’s Christmas” by ear, for that concert – thanks to my p7 teacher seemingly picking up on my aural skills.  


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