Dyslexia and Me: D is for db?
One of the things people assume I struggle with as a dyslexic person is working out the difference between letters such as d and b or p and q as they are a mirror image of each other. Some dyslexic people do struggle when reading or writing these letters, however I don’t recall ever having an issue with them. I do write u and n, m and w the wrong way around when I am writing by hand though not when I’m typing. I think it could be due to the coordination between my brain and hand being out of sync (I think a lot faster than I can possibly keep up with when writing).
So the letter D doesn’t have the same meaning to me as it may for other dyslexic people when discussing difficulties. Instead of continuing on with the mirroring of letters in reading or writing, I am going to look at something a little closer to my heart that kind of looks like a letter d… A minim.
When I was three years old I was given a keyboard from Santa at Christmas. I loved it and used to play it loads! I used to teach myself how to play tunes I liked by ear. I could play the main theme from the Phantom of the Opera with the organ sound on it. It was only a few notes and not the entire song (and only the right hand as it was a tiny keyboard), but still I had managed to teach myself!
We moved house when I was four years old and I don’t recall when I was given a larger keyboard. I must have been five or six years old. I started getting lessons in piano privately with a very nice old man who lived a few streets away from us. He normally refused to take on children under the age of 8, but he could see that I had some potential and decided to take me on. I can remember him telling me to make sure I raised my wrists rather than leaning onto the piano. I also remember trying to read music…
Now I understood what a minim was. I knew it represented 2 beats in a bar. I also knew what a crotchet, a quaver and a semibreve represented. As soon as they were put onto the lines though, my eyes could not cope! If I heard the piece of music first, I would be able to fathom out where I was and what I was meant to do. If I hadn’t heard it, I would play very disjointed as I tried painfully to work out what line it was on and what note that represented. It was even harder when I then had to try to read the music for BOTH hands! If I was given time to work out the notes and write them on, I could play without looking down at my hands! It wasn’t that I couldn’t play music, it was that I couldn’t read it.
I left piano lessons and took up a variety of different instruments. I had recorder and violin lessons. Once again, I understood the theory and I understood scales, sharps, flats etc but reading the music without hearing it first caused me no end of issues. I kept getting really frustrated because the music I was learning was below my level of talent of playing but above my level of talent when reading music. I stopped those lessons and took up percussion when I went to high school. What was worse was this time was the sexism of the teacher! I remember playing in a school concert and the two females learning percussion were refused the chance to play a single drum even though we had the same ability as the guys who were taking the same lessons. I gave up on the sexism grounds rather than my struggle to read music. I had a similar problem with a lecturer at college teaching drums. Very bizarre to have that kind of attitude in this day and age!!!
Finally at 13 I started guitar lessons with a fantastic teacher out of school! He taught us contemporary music that we liked (and he often asked if there was a specific song we’d like to learn) and he would give us two sheets of music. On one there was all the lyrics and above them were the chord changes. The other paper had chord boxes that showed you how to form the chords needed for that song. This made far more sense to me than reading music had in the past! And finally I began to thrive! No longer did I have to read along a line trying to work out what the notes were, they were all in a diagram for me to play. No minims, crotchets and quavers anymore! I only stopped taking lessons when my school work became too much and I had to stop going. I was sad to leave. My teacher was fantastic and it was the first time I was in a group with others where I was learning and not feeling inadequate!
I also found guitar tab a lot easier to read and understand than musical notation. Perhaps because most of the time I knew the music well enough to want to find the tab for it! It would take me slightly longer seeing which string it referred to, but it was still far easier than reading notation especially since it didn’t have the added complication of remembering if the key you were in had sharps or flats!!!
After I left school, I studied music at college. I found all the theory stuff we discussed really easy because I had done it so many times in different music lessons over the years. I still couldn’t read and play the music though, but I could tell them all about what the different symbols stood for. I even understood some of the Italian terms such as ‘piano’ and ‘forte’.
Dyslexia doesn’t just affect the reading of words within sentences or the mirroring of letters, it also can have an impact on arts such as music when having to read musical notation and remembering what the different symbols and terminologies are. There does seem to be a link between dyslexia and the arts, but when the art is not left to the creative mind of learning music by ear or creative improvisation, it can still cause the same frustrations and feeling of being stupid as trying to read or write. After all, reading music is a lot like reading another language.
This post is part of a series trying to help me to raise money for Dyslexia Action. You can donate as little as £1! To find out more, head over to: https://www.justgiving.com/DyslexiaAndMe