The British Harpsichord Society has as much to offer those who have not yet learnt the harpsichord as to those who do. The society promotes masterclasses and workshops and endeavours to publicise other opportunities for learning. It provides a list of teachers and is always willing to advise the individual living in an area not included on the list.
LEARNING THE HARPSICHORD: a view by Penelope Cave
Finding a harpsichord teacher should now be easier than at any time since the eighteenth century, but as the BHS list of teachers represents, they are still mostly centred in and around London. Whilst we can all learn from good players, and be musically inspired by their performances, a good teacher is necessary to make progress without bad habits and essential for a pianist wishing to play the harpsichord. A piano teacher can help with initial note-reading and keyboard basics, but a harpsichord teacher understands and conveys historic style and specific harpsichord techniques. During the time span of a lesson, a good teacher cares about the students’ performance, not his or her own, and should also offer methods for practice, that enable self-improvement, and thus give lasting value.
If lessons or harpsichord courses are, by necessity, sporadic, then instruction books and graded and annotated pieces can be additionally helpful. See the BHS list below as well as the table Suggested Music for use in the Early Stages. It is notable that there were a lot of new methods published in the 1970s and 80s, as the revived interest in the harpsichord became established, hopefully this list will continue to grow. New instruments are now plentiful enough for there to be a thriving second-hand market in harpsichords – it should be stressed that an electronic keyboard is no substitute!
It may be worth clarifying what can be gained by both individual lessons, and group-learning in a regular class or weekend-workshop. Traditional individual lessons enable information to be tailor-made to the pupil’s needs and reactions. Regular lessons enable bad habits to be quickly detected or avoided, and detailed personal fingering can be readily given where needed. For success in exams and competitions, regular individual tuition is essential. In a group lesson, although the teacher’s attention and individual playing time will be limited, there is the opportunity to learn from others’ strengths and weaknesses. A varied class offers a much wider knowledge of repertoire to contextualise individual pieces of music; it assists understanding and memory; and encourages higher standards. Performance skills may be gained, although mistakes will be exposed in front of fellow-students, successes will be applauded.
A mixture of both styles of learning works well for many. Any instrument takes time, and it often feels a slow process, but the rewards are commensurate and the enjoyment of listening to the instrument is much enhanced.
The difference between Harpsichord & Piano Touch- Martha Beth Lewis
‘Dealing with Difficulties at the Harpsichord ‘ by Peter Mole.
A set of notes from harpsichord lessons undertaken by the author, who started playing at the age of 59.
Harpsichord Technique: A Guide to Expressivity by Nancy Metzger
Designed for use at the keyboard, this book combines technique for harpsichord touch with guidelines for historically informed performanceof Baroque music. It includes a variety of teaching pieces and 2 CDs
Publisher: Musica Dulce, 1998 ISBN 10: 0962493449 ISBN 13: 9780962493447
‘An online Harpsichord method for children and complete beginners’ by Frank Mento, a Professor of Harpsichord in Paris. For more information, see http://methode-clavecin.fr/?en
Baroque Keyboard Fingering: A Method (2008) by Claudio Di Veroli – http://finger.braybaroque.ie/
Playing the Baroque Harpsichord, Essays on the Instrument, Interpretation and Performance. http://play.braybaroque.ie/
‘The Art of Accompanying on the Basso Continuo for Organ and Harpsichord’
Translation by Robert T Kelley of the treatise by Le Sieur Nivers, 1689