My acquisition

I bought a lovely 1988 virginals by David Law a number of months ago based on the Stephen Keene model (1688) housed in Edinburgh University. Luckily the maker is still working on early instruments, and was happy to work on it again; although it’s still in good nick, so I collected it from London, and sent it straight to him. He’s quite busy but he’s also adding decorations to it for a fantastic price, and it should be ready within another month or so. I’ve yet to decorate my music room, but I’ve still time prior to collection.

I started from scratch, and I’ve been using Frank Mento’s Harpsichord textbook with a cheap modern keyboard as well as having two 30 minute lessons per month with a harpsichordist. I’m finding I need the metronome more than I perhaps should do. My teacher says to move away from constantly whispering/listening to a “1 and 2 and 3 and…etc,” but I easily lose rhythm without the 2 clicks per beat or at least whispering it.

In case it’s of any interest I’ve added a couple of pics from the advert the seller used.


Lovely instrument.

My musical advice to you: chuck the metronome in the nearest ocean. It’s a crutch you don’t need. After all, before its invention people didn’t use them (yes we can get into discussions of pendulums etc but that’s not the point).

Now you can immerse yourself in just what all those FVB ornaments may mean. And don’'t forget our Claudio’s books on fingering.


I think Claudio’s book on fingering deals with much later music than the FVB (“mid- to-late baroque”).


Lovely instrument indeed! And Andrew, I’m not sure what to think about your metronome comment. Sure, it isn’t “authentick,” but for many, it isn’t a crutch, either. If used well, it can be a useful tool. I use one often when learning pieces, and I don’t think anyone would say I play like a machine.

I hardly use the metronome nowadays, but in the past for many years I did because I had a tendency to fasten the tempo along a piece, and it helped a lot. Granted, baroque players did not have it, but then they were not asked to be “top grade” as so many of us are nowadays. Today I still use the metronome, of course, not to play through but to establish a tempo (slower for study, faster for public performance) and also to communicate that tempo to others.

Indeed, a very nice looking instrument, built by a master!

As far as the metronome is concerned, I regard it as a useful tool and have used one a lot in practice. Not always, but slow and metronomic practice is very good. Then gradually get up to tempo, after which playing accurately becomes much easier.


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When I was taking lessons to regain use of an injured hand, the teacher recommended a real metronome, not a digital clicker. “The metronome is moving through time and space. That’s what we’re doing, too.”
Thinking this way, I see the metronome as a friendly assistant, waving to me. It helps me move calmly through time and space.
I never knew a metronome could make me smile!

Le 30/08/2023 17:54, Ed Sutton via The Jackrail écrit :

[EdS] EdS Ed Sutton
August 30

When I was taking lessons to regain use of an injured hand, the
teacher recommended a real metronome, not a digital clicker. “The
metronome is moving through time and space. That’s what we’re doing, too.”
Thinking this way, I see the metronome as a friendly assistant, waving
to me. It helps me move calmly through time and space.
I never knew a metronome could make me smile!

I agree with Ed that a real metronome gives a very different indication
and is much easier to keep time with if you can see it AND hear it. As
any other tool, it has its uses and… misuses.

I agree with you, Claudio. We do not live in the Baroque period, and the circumstances of our lives are much different from the 18th and 17th centuries. The metronome is so valuable for controlled practice of difficult techniques that I would be remiss to the level of incompetence not to offer it as an option to my students. HIP has no relevance to metronome use and should not be feared by students of early music.

Returning to the original post, I have enjoyed Frank Mento’s Harpsichord Method. I find the exercises in the first books surprisingly satisfying and healing to my troubled right hand. I return to them when I feel a need for “grounding” in a clear physical relationship with the keyboard.
It was at first perplexing that he did not give a clear “fingering system,” but now I believe he’s just showing how many ways fingering and expression are related in harpsichord playing. I don’t feel required to follow his fingerings if my response needs something different. I find a freedom in this that is different from the more system efficient approach of piano fingering. (Perhaps I misunderstand?)

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Congratulations on acquiring this fine-looking instrument - with a very elegant stand!

I’m just curious about the cost of the new decorations - fantastically high, or fantastically low?

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Ed Sutton: without in any way trying to criticise or belittle the excellent pedagogic work of Frank Mento, let me observe something I already decades ago told students about Maria Boxall’s Method. Showing the multifarious different fingering systems in vogue before the almost-complete unification c.1690-1730, yields a problem: the student fails to have a “single fingering system” (which all renaissance and baroque students had, however varied!). Faced to a difficult passage, the modern student does not have a “natural baroque” (or “natural renaissance”) fingering way, and has to think how it resembles similar passages he/she has seen with, alas, different “authentic” fingerings.

My method (which cannot compare with the extensive Mento’s work) is addressed to the advanced student and shows a highly unified “fingering system” which, however, historically is limited to the late baroque period from the end of the 17th century onwards. Before that, and especially in the 16th century, there is no way to write down a “typical fingering system” because there was no such a thing. One could, however, decide to elaborate on a particular system (the English or the Spanish would be my preferences): unfortunately there are many problems here, for most information is on plain scales with hardly any accidental, and there is scarce guidance in the sources for more complex pieces.


And indeed I would welcome a “unified English Renaissance fingering” showing how to finger even the most complex virginalists works the way they would presumably do. I have not seen such a thing. I would not attempt one, because my expertise is centred in the Baroque era, but somebody else should. In my own ignorance, perhaps it has already been done and I am not aware of it, somewhere within Mento’s works or elsewhere?


It’s difficult to know what I should say here, Douglas, as I think he’s merely doing me a favour as opposed to his normal cost for work. I’m having Flemish paper put on it. I think the fact it’s one of his instruments has played a role in such a good price too.

I bought it for a song as well. I’d put a wanted advertisement on the BHS looking for a virginals or spinet on the cheaper end of spectrum that might need work (£500 max) and that I can collect in my van. I’m not on the best wage so my plan was to buy cheap then save up for services, getting things fixed, etc.

I ended up receiving an email from the nephew of a lady who had recently passed away offering it to me for £500. He’d had it on the BHS for £5,500, but couldnt wait any longer due to her house being sold within 4 weeks, and it couldn’t go into storage. I told him I would have it and wired £100 over, but asked him if he’d like another month or right up to the point it had to go to try and get a better price, and if so just to wire me my £100 back. He accepted this offer, but it never sold so I ended up driving down to pick it up. I went straight to David Law with it where it’s been ever since.

It sounds like good fortune for all concerned.

Does anyone happen to know the reasoning as to why Keene omitted the F# from the lowest octave?


No one really knows the answer to this question. I find it fascinating that in England, even to the end of the 18th century, Kirckman harpsichords are five-octave FF-f3, yet missing the FF#.

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And obviously thanks to all who gave advice regarding metronome and fingering. It’s hard for me to form any opinions on anything at the moment. I just play an hour or so each day and work on sight reading (grade 1), Mento’s book and whatever my teacher gives me to do.

Re FF# omission, a strange optimisation, isn’t it? I suppose that note was rarely used, but I can think of other ways to save time and money when building an instrument. It is odd.

I observe that a technical drawing is available of this superb instrument.

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