Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on 25 March 1947 in Pinner, Middlesex, the eldest child of Stanley Dwight (1925–1991) and only child of Sheila Eileen (née Harris; 1925–2017), and was raised in a council house in Pinner by his maternal grandparents. His parents married in 1945, when the family moved to a nearby semi-detached house. He was educated at Pinner Wood Junior School, Reddiford School and Pinner County Grammar School, until he was 17, when he left just prior to his A-Level examinations to pursue a career in music.
When he began to consider a career in music seriously, John's father, who served as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, tried to steer him toward a more conventional career, such as banking. John has said that his wild stage costumes and performances were his way of letting go after such a restrictive childhood. Both his parents were musically inclined, his father having been a trumpet player with the Bob Millar Band, a semi-professional big band that played at military dances. The Dwights were keen record buyers, exposing John to the popular singers and musicians of the day, and he has said he remembers being immediately hooked on rock and roll when his mother brought home records by Elvis Presley and Bill Haley & His Comets in 1956.
John started playing his grandmother's piano as a young boy, and within a year his mother heard him picking out Winifred Atwell's "The Skater's Waltz" by ear. After performing at parties and family gatherings, at age 7 he began formal piano lessons. He showed musical aptitude at school, including the ability to compose melodies, and gained some notoriety by playing like Jerry Lee Lewis at school functions. At age 11 he won a junior scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. According to one of his instructors, John promptly played back, like a "gramophone record", a four-page piece by George Frideric Handel after hearing it for the first time.
For the next five years, he attended Saturday classes at the Academy in central London, and he has said he enjoyed playing Frédéric Chopin and Johann Sebastian Bach and singing in the choir during Saturday classes, but that he was not otherwise a diligent classical student. "I kind of resented going to the Academy,” he said. "I was one of those children who could just about get away without practising and still pass, scrape through the grades." He has said that he would sometimes skip classes and ride around on the London Underground. Several instructors have attested that he was a "model student," and during the last few years he took lessons from a private tutor in addition to his classes at the Academy.
John's mother, though strict with her son, was more vivacious than her husband, and something of a free spirit. With Stanley Dwight uninterested in his son and often absent, John was raised primarily by his mother and maternal grandmother. When his father was home, the Dwights had vehement arguments that greatly distressed John. When he was 14, they divorced. His mother then married a local painter, Fred Farebrother, a caring and supportive stepfather whom John affectionately called "Derf" ("Fred" backwards). They moved into flat No. 1A in an eight-unit apartment building called Frome Court, not far from both previous homes. There John wrote the songs that launched his career as a rock star; he lived there until he had four albums simultaneously in the American Top 40.