Giving your first lessons

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    How did all the teachers here on the forums get into teaching? What were your first lessons as a teacher like?

    Angela Biggs

    A person I worked with in the tech booth at church said his mother had a harp she’d bought years ago and never learned how to play. He asked if I could teach her. I told him I’m self-taught, but I could show her what I know. We started out very informally, but eighteen months later we’re still going strong, and I converted her to the formal system I use for my voice students a few months ago. At first I didn’t charge her because I was just sharing my knowledge with her; now I don’t charge her because I intend to use what I’m learning from teaching her to create an actual teaching studio. (Such as it is. This isn’t Boston; I’m the only harper for 48 minutes in any direction, and the only harp “teacher” I’ve been able to find for at least 80-90 minutes. If not me, then no one!) As a next step, I’m teaching an “Introduction to the Harp” class at the local community college in the spring. I’m hoping that will earn me more students, or at the very least get some people interested enough that they’ll teach themselves to play like I did!

    My first lessons as a harp teacher were very easy, because there weren’t any expectations. My student just wanted to learn enough to enjoy the instrument, which, let’s face it, doesn’t take much – it’s a harp! I reviewed my expectations for practicing and timeliness, and started showing her around the instrument. She already had “Teach Yourself to Play the Folk Harp”, so we started with some Twinkle-Twinkle, thirds, and the I IV V I chord progression. The lessons after that largely shaped themselves based on what she wanted to know. Keep in mind that I’m not training a concert harpist here – I’m teaching an older woman how to play the harp for her own enjoyment.

    The thing to remember about teaching is that it goes two ways. Draw your confidence from two things:
    1. You know more than the student. This was true even in my case. If it’s not true and you don’t have anything to offer that particular person, then you should be upfront and tell them you can’t accept them into your studio because there’s nothing you can do for them. Keeps it simple.
    2. You’re learning from the student. Perhaps not as much as they’re learning from you, and definitely not the same types of things, but you are learning from them. Basically what happens is that you learn and grow on your harp in one way and you make certain kinds of mistakes; but your students will learn in many different ways and will each make different kinds of mistakes. You’ll start with only your own experience, but you’ll l have to figure out how to help them learn *in their way* and help them fix *their* errors. There is absolutely no shame in telling a student that you’re going to do some research to figure out how to help them — so don’t feel like you have to fix every single problem right on the spot. Over time, you’ll find you’re doing less problem-solving and more remembering. I could give you a bunch of examples of this from my voice studio, but I think I’ve gone on long enough. 🙂

    I take it you’re thinking of starting your own studio. Best of luck! Let us know how it goes. 🙂


    What a nice reply! Someday I intend to teach, but I am really just focusing on my studies for now. Was just curious to see how people got into it!

    If I remember correctly, Angela, you’re based in NH, right? That’s where I’m from (!), although if I recall, you’re in the western part of the state, whereas I’m from the southeast.

    Angela Biggs

    Oh, you lucky duck! Yes, you remember well, I’m the one on the wrong side of NH. I wasn’t playing harp or even using my voice background when I moved here — now I dream of moving to the Manchester area someday! But if I can get something good going over here, maybe I won’t have to. 🙂 I hope your studies are fruitful and enjoyable!


    I started teaching around 1976, when I had completed my formal education and was still studying with Judy Loman. I taught beginners at the time, and applied the teaching principles that I had picked up from observing not only my harp instructors, but also my piano and flute teachers and conductors who I had worked with. Once I moved to Vancouver as the symphony harpist, people would request lessons after the concerts, or call the office for my phone number. I was hired to teach at the university and other institutions shortly after I arrived.
    Ever since I began to teach, I have been buying books and journals about teaching techniques and methods, and of course I subscribe to Harp Column, the AHS Journal and the World Harp Congress. It is amazing how much you learn from teaching! I have loved every minute of it.


    To answer your question about what the first lessons were like, I have to say that it is such a long time ago that I can barely remember. I used method books and syllabi to form a curriculum, and did the best i could. But it gets much easier as you gain experience.

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