Just after some advice moving forward

A little background. I started learning keyboard last April then transitioned to a virginals around August. I had a teacher for 2 x 30min lessons per month for a few months, but there was a few issues I had with this set-up, it was mainly concerning time slots due to how far away I was. Unfortunately I’ve had to cancel the lessons, and I’m now back to Frank Mento’s Beginner Harpsichord book along with a beginner piano. I’m not sure what to do next.

  1. I was thinking of ringing a local pianist, and explaining I only have a virginals, but would like to progress with the workload relevant to both piano and early keyboard; theory, rhythm, coordination, etc, while putting stuff like articulation to one side until I can find a harpsichordist teacher in the future. I could buy them a copy of Mento’s book 1 too if a teacher is open to the idea.

  2. Find a harpsichordist that does online lessons. The only issue is I’m not very techy. I’m wondering if I’ll need something more than my phone to do a live video lesson. I could join Skype and register it on my phone if a phone would suffice.

Any advice is appreciated. I’m plodding along whatever, however I do need to find a permanent solution for a teacher as it’s been 8 months of playing now. There’s no harpsichordist teacher in my county it seems.


I have no idea how to help with your remote learning problems, but I feel compelled to say this. Do you want to learn harpsichord or piano? The problem with learning piano with the aim of playing harpsichord is that you learn with mind and muscle a vast set of completely wrong habits and techniques which become VERY hard to eradicate. I know this happens to many people. I still have traces of piano lessons left over from 50 years ago, even now.

And, if you give Mento’s book to a piano teacher with no harpsichord experience or understanding they would lack all understanding of it apart from reading the notes. I don’t think that is going to work.

I think you are best off on a path of self learning on virginals. Also, you can learn a good deal from selected youtube harpsichord videos. Practicing all those FVB scales with early fingerings every day will generate sure progress.

Perhaps someone here can offer video lessons?

Well, actually:

So where are you geographically that makes time zones a problem?

I see and sympathise with your dilemma; but I am certain that your proposed solution does not solve it.

Unfortunately, a lot happened in the history of music between Byrd and Debussy. The big fly in the ointment of your proposal is the question of articulation: if a serious consideration of this is avoided at this point, I see a great danger of your unintentionally acquiring a style of articulation that fits neither early nor later music. Bad habits are easy to acquire and much harder to eliminate.

You have a virginals; you dont have a piano, so I would advise you to forget the latter instrument for the time being and concentrate on learning technique appropriate for the virginals by means of the repertoire for that instrument. If you cannot find a local teacher of harpsichord/virginals, I would advise you to stick with Frank Menlo, or another written primer.

At all costs, avoid Skype or similar: even on a computer with professional audio interfaces, such as I have (RME Fireface UFX), the sound quality on music is a travesty.


I second what Andrew and David said. I started my harpsichord lessons thinking how fortunate I was to already be proficient in piano playing… only to discover I had to wait two entire years before my bad piano habits eventually go away. Still my “piano hand” comes back if I stay a long time away from the harpsichord.
So I suggest don’t study piano if you want to learn to play harpsichord/virginal.

I suggest to complement Mento’s method with Entico Baiano’s. It’ translated in many languages (16, I think), here it is in English: https://www.utorpheus.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=2031.
I think you’ll find it in your local Amazon.

You don’t state what your current music knowledge is: do you read it fluently? Have you a basic understanding of harmony etc? (again, harmony in the virginal era was not the same than XIX century harmony so I had to learn a different way of thinking in order to play continuo. Another reason not to learn piano).
The theorical basic aspects of music could be learned by a piano teacher (or a violin or trombone or flute teacher).

As for the “mechanics”, videos can be of help but of course don’t expect them to be as effective as normal lessons. Maybe entire long lessons are unuseful. You could ask the teacher to show you specific movements on the keyboard, then show him how you execute them (he will ask you to put your camera/phone in certain positions); and you could have a long distance teacher ready to respond to your doubts and questions.
David mentioned sound quality. One of the aims of a harpsichordist is to achieve a beautiful sound: touch, no wood noise, keep pressed certain notes… all this is lost in a distance call lesson.
For everything else stick to your Mento and Baiano methods, look at many videos, show your videos with those willing to discuss them with you (I guess here on Jackrail you’ll find people who will be willing to friendly share their thoughts with you), read much and listen a lot of music played by professionals.
Best wishes!

Andrew is right, online lessons do sound your best option and very few piano teachers can play harpsichord though many think they could. If you decide that you do want a teacher who is corporeally present (more motivating than online interactions), an organ teacher with an interest in pre-19th-c. music would be a better bet.
Personally I’d use a computer or laptop rather than a mobile phone as there will be plenty to concentrate on without a fiddly phone screen to cope with. It would’nt take long to get used to using skype, zoom or whatever programme your teacher uses.

I’ll respond tonight when I’m home. Thanks for all this advice.

Just going to number the points from responses.

  1. Re: wanting to learn piano. No I don’t want to learn to play a piano.

  2. I never realised FVB had scales within the text. I only listen to selected pieces, and the FVB book I haven’t opened yet. Pointless. In fact re: BWV999 and that prelude I linked here in a video, they were given to me by the previously mentioned teacher with added finger notation. It’s not a leap I’d have made on my own, but imitation is beneficial to my playing, I was told.

  3. I’m in North Birmingham UK, but my ex-teacher was in another city. The issue of distance/traveling was confounded by the very few time slots available to me, and my time is already juggled between work and family (my youngest has autism). I was going weeks on end without a lesson, and I was struggling to commit to what little slots were available. I think all her other students are pianists so she’s quite busy.

  4. My music knowledge is poor. Other than trying to learn to play a hire lute for around 12 months a few years ago, I’m at the beginning. I made inroads into reading lute tab, and basic rhythm, but that’s about it.

  5. Thanks for those above links; Entico Baiano and online lessons. I plan to look at them now.

  6. I think I’d better start swatting up on the type of tech I’ll need for online lessons with a harpsichordist. It’s the best alternative to face-to-face lessons it seems.

Thanks so much for advice. I’m so glad I asked now because I was close to securing a piano teacher.

A narrow escape. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Well I just don’t want to waste any more time. I’m not expecting much by way of progression, but I am playing every night for an hour, sometimes a bit more on the weekend. Best I fill it with more meaningful direction and practice.

I’ve just emailed a harpsichordist from the link you provided. Also after having a look online I’m thinking of buying a tablet and a tripod.

I am aware it’s not ideal, but an online teacher and a tablet set-up might be as good as it gets.

Thanks again.