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Teaching People to Play the Harpsichord

I love to share all I've learned through decades of playing the harpsichord. My goal is to help students find their musical voices through exploring this unique instrument, and the amazing literature written for it. For beginners, I start by getting them comfortable with harpsichord touch. I call that "plucking strings with keys", and "push, don't strike"!

There are marvelous shapes and patterns in the music of the baroque period. Learning to see them in the score takes time. On the harpsichord, shaping the music has a lot to do with fingering, as the harpsichord has no sustaining pedal or loud-and- soft dynamics. Finding the most effective fingerings to deliver the rhetoric and movement of patterns in the music has a beautiful feel and logic to it. This is a high priority from the very beginning, as it is the point from which everything else follows.

I think of good fingering as "cracking the code" of how to play the harpsichord expressively, along with sensitive touch, which comes from letting go of excess energy. A good fingering should help the player channel the composer's art respectfully. The other part of expression on an instrument that doesn't have conventional dynamics (harpsichord and organ), is articulation.

I teach my students the vocabulary of articulation, and how, if it is missing, there can be no expression! It creates contrast--an essential element in all art forms--and works together with good fingering. This is a fascinating study, which must be taught by one who has mastered it, and who can demonstrate its effectiveness during lessons.

I believe my students find their studies interesting and rewarding. They show great motivation in learning the strategies I've devised to teach them, especially when they hear how expressive the harpsichord can be and realize that they can play this way!

Interview with Kathy Roberts Perl about teaching harpsichord especially with regard to fingering and articulation: