Struggling with my daughter's new harp teacher

Posted In: Teaching the Harp

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    Amy Harper on #190510

    Greetings, everyone! This is my first post here, so I will introduce myself. My name is Amy, and my almost-nine-year-old daughter just began harp lessons with a local teacher a few weeks ago.

    This is something she has wanted to do for some time. However, before letting her try the harp, we wanted her to first gain a bit of maturity as well as prior musical experience, which she has done—patiently—by taking Suzuki piano lessons for the last few years.

    My daughter is really excited to finally be learning to play the harp. The problem is, she really dislikes her teacher. We’re only a few weeks into the lessons, and things could certainly change over time as they grow accustomed to one another. But, sadly, I totally see where my daughter is coming from. While our initial get-to-know-you meeting with the teacher went well enough, we’re finding now after the first few lessons that the teacher does not have a particularly child-friendly personality. Her terse, brusque manner just about brings my usually-tough-as-nails daughter to tears. This is in such stark contrast to her very sweet, incredibly patient, little-people-loving Suzuki piano teacher.

    I’d like to give this harp teacher a little more time to see if things smooth out, especially since it sounds as though the she has taught a number of other children successfully—perhaps we’ll end up finding out that her bark is worse than her bite. But at the same time, if the experience is making my daughter want to cry each week, I don’t want it to ruin her desire to learn the harp.

    In the meantime, I have begun searching for other harp teachers in our area, but I’m not finding anyone else within a manageable driving distance. As a result, I’m now considering looking into Skype lessons as an alternative, if this teacher ends up not working out. I would imagine, however, that there can be some fairly big drawbacks with Skype lessons, especially for a beginner child who might really benefit from having someone by their side, helping to correct hand position, etc. On the other hand, I do like the idea of having a broader range of teachers to choose from, hopefully finding someone who is a really good fit for my enthusiastic, imaginative, think-outside-the-box daughter. Another consideration, too, is perhaps finding a Skype teacher who also incorporates the Suzuki curriculum. Having several years of Suzuki piano already under her belt, I imagine the Suzuki method would be a very comfortable, familiar way begin learning to play the harp.

    I’d like so much for this to be a positive experience for my daughter. Thanks for listening! I appreciate any ideas, thoughts, or advice.


    Biagio on #190512

    Personal lessons are certainly preferable to Skype. But if a particular teacher cannot establish empathy then IMO the student will be better off with distance learning, preferably augmented with video. There are several excellent ones that I can think of for beginners, both distance teachers and Youtube video. Of the latter, Marta Cook and Chris Caswell are particular good for hand position.

    I would suggest having a friendly conversation with her present teacher first. One question would be the kind of harp in question, your daughter’s goals and the teachers goals. Sometimes these are just incompatible, but a good teacher will be flexible if he or she can.


    Tacye on #190513

    Do you sit in on your daughter’s lessons?

    Amy Harper on #190514

    Tacye, I am in the room adjacent to where my daughter is having her lesson. Her teacher made it clear she prefer I’m not in the same room. I can hear everything, and I can see my daughter’s hands at the harp, so I’m comfortable with that arrangement, although it is completely different from her Suzuki piano lessons where the parent is expected to be very involved in the lesson. I’m nearby enough that my daughter is comfortable in the one-on-one situation with the teacher. It’s the teacher’s tone and delivery style that seem to be more of the problem. I confess, I found myself wincing more than a few times at the way the teacher approaches corrections with my daughter. It just sounds like I’m listening to someone who has little affinity for or understanding of children. And that’s fine if that’s the case. It just might mean that it’s not the right learning environment for us in the end.

    Biagio, thank you for your insight. I do plan to have a conversation with the teacher soon. It’s tricky, though. I don’t want to sound like I’m telling her how to teach–it’s neither appropriate, nor is it my agenda. I’m guessing this is more of a personality issue, and heaven help me, I’m just not sure how to address that tactfully 🙂

    Gretchen Cover on #190515

    It will be interesting to read what other professional harp instructors have to say. Based on what I read, I doubt the teacher will change. My only suggestion is to agree with your daughter about the teacher’s manners but explain that because there are no other instructors, she is going to have to decide how badly she wants to play the harp. I would tell my kid that she needs to have the personal guidance, and this only involves only one hour a week. Tell her it is not your preferred choice but you don’t see a solution to the problem right now. Keep encouraging your daughter and give her positive feedback. View this as a life lesson. When she gets some technique in place, then you could move to Skype lessons or perhaps find another instructor. I trust you joined the American Harp Society which has a listing of member harpists. Also Sylvia Woods is compiling a list of harp instructors.

    I am so sorry you are dealing with this. I hope this does not kill your daughter’s interest in playing the harp. We went through this with my son’t piano teacher some years ago. I concurred with him the teacher was a whack job. Ultimately, he just decided music was not for him because he (sadly for me) simply lacked any talent whatsoever. But, we were proud of his accomplishment of moving past his piano teacher’s personality or lack of.

    Dani Bash on #190516

    Hi Amy, my heart sank a little after reading your post! I love teaching young musicians. There is nothing like seeing their excitement for learning an instrument. This is why I think you should continue looking for a teacher that encourages her in a positive way. If lessons are not something she enjoys, she won’t be as willing to practice, which means a stunt in her progression, which leads to frustration and an unhappy harpist! Especially at such a young age, music should be fun 🙂 One solution to teachers that are far away is to maybe just take an in-person lesson once a month, and then do Skype lessons once a week? But it will take some traveling to find the right teacher do this with. But how cool is that?? Your daughter will have a special lesson once a month to really practice for! There are great teachers out there worth finding!

    Biagio on #190517

    Here are some additional avenues to pursue, depending on where you live and what sort of harp your daughter plays:

    Look into harp circles, on line forums, and harp chapters. Some are the American Harp Society (mainly pedal harp), The International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen, The Scottish Harp Society, The Harplist Yahoo! group (very wide variety of members), The Virtual Harp Circle Yahoo! group (many levels but oriented toward beginners).

    I’m sure all here agree that a good foundation is essential for enjoyment and progress, and that personal lessons are the best way to go. I’m also sure most would agree that a good teacher will listen if problems come up and suggest alternatives if his or her teaching method isn’t working. Good teachers don’t take offense at this.


    carl-swanson on #190519

    Amy- I think I need more information. Let’s try this. First off, tell me as specifically as possible what the teacher is doing that is not working. Secondly, pretend for a moment that I am the teacher in question, and tell me what you want to tell her, exactly as you are considering telling her. I want to hear what the issues are and what you want to tell her. We may be able to advise you better, and maybe save the situation with this teacher, if we have more specific information.

    Amy Harper on #190520

    Carl, the issue really is the teacher’s delivery style and tone. Her corrections often come out sounding harsh–for example, a stern, “No, no, NO! We NEVER put our hands like THAT.” Only three lessons in, it sounds (to me) and feels (to my daughter) so discouraging. I can think of so many kinder, gentler, more encouraging ways to get the same point across to a child. Something like, “Ok, that’s a good start. Now try the same thing with your hand a little more like this.” She does also praise my daughter when she does something well (although even the praise does not come across sounding terribly warm and fuzzy). I think most of us adults could easily brush it off, chalk it up to a particular personality style and make the best of it. But to a 9-year-old, such a terse tone can feel quite daunting.

    The only way I can think of to begin this conversation with the teacher is to tell her that my normally unflappable daughter is really nervous about coming to her lesson each week because the teacher scares her 🙁

    Sylvia on #190521

    I’ve been wondering
    1. Is it pedal or folk harp?
    2. What technique is she being taught?

    Tacye on #190522

    I had a somewhat similar experience at around your daughter’s age. I wanted to play harp but my parents, practical people who knew harps are big and expensive, signed me up for flute lessons at nine. For the first couple of terms I enjoyed these and then had a change of teacher and didn’t get on with lessons so much after that. I would genuinely forget my flute that day or to leave class for the lesson. At 11 I won my point and changed to harp lessons. Looking back later, I realised that the second flute teacher was too much of a perfectionist for me at that time and maybe with a different teacher I would have stuck with the flute. (I had played the right notes in the right order, what more could he possibly want?)

    I don’t feel regret either that I changed instruments or that I didn’t start harp at nine. I was still learning music. I also don’t think my harp teacher was any less of a perfectionist than the flute teacher, but I was older by then and really wanted to play harp. Perhaps it would be worth discussing with your daughter learning music on piano for a bit longer and coming back to the harp later or that if she ever wants a break she could restart lessons again later.

    You might also talk with her about how different people teach (just look at sport coaches).

    patricia-jaeger on #190524

    Amy, there are some good suggestions other people have made, above. I’m going to address a comment you made, that her present teacher is the only one “within reasonable driving distance”. Hopefully you joined either the Folk Harp or American Harp Society, depending on whether your daughter feels she’d prefer the lever or pedal harp association for news, (online or regular hard copy magazines), helpful articles, group meetings and so on, for getting to know other young players. Either of these two national non-profit groups add that pleasant, supportive social element to harp study. Lists of names of members, and their addresses and contact information are included in the local and national directories. Secondly, if your daughter is as competent as you describe, surely she will progress quite well with a lesson with a more kindly teacher, every two or three weeks instead of just once per week, farther than a “a reasonable distance.” Many were the excellent harp players who had a parent who sacrificed to take their child to a more distant teacher with a child-friendly attitude. I taught a young student who was brought after a journey to me on a car ferry from a rather distant town; now she is a music conservatory graduate and has a good position in Philadelphia. Her childhood, so precious for happy memories, was not marred by harsh tones at her lesson. I think you owe it to your daughter to find another way for her to have a happy lesson, with no tears afterward, but joy instead. Her present teacher, as another blogger above has said already, will not change.

    carl-swanson on #190525

    Amy-I too was wondering what “method” of playing this teacher teaches. Also, how old is the teacher? Do you know any of her other students? Can you talk to any of those parents and feel them out about how their child gets on with this teacher?

    If you do talk to the teacher, I would be as specific as possible on what the problem is. You can be diplomatic, but specific. I would tell her what you can hear from the other room that bothers you and your daughter(“No, no, no!!”) and tell her that it sounds more like punishment rather than a correction, and that your EIGHT YEAR OLD DAUGHTER is frightened by this tone of voice. I think I would also call her between lessons rather than talking to her at the beginning or end of the lesson. Or you could write her a letter.

    diane-michaels on #190527

    Technique can be learned at any stage, but the love for music and the instrument must be nurtured from the start. And it should be the teacher’s primary task to nurture the love when starting a young student (or not-so-young student). The love is what motivates us to learn and practice.

    It sounds like this teacher sees her job as teaching technique rather than the passion of making music with the harp. When students are nervous or feel victimized, they develop tension, and tension will never allow a student to play with good technique, regardless of how insistently it is taught.

    Myds on #190530

    A few short personal stories. I continued piano lessons into adulthood with a well respected and excellent teacher. I witnessed her tear a strip off of a child. I almost said something to her and later found out she had the reputation for beating any musical enjoyment out of kids and for leaving a trail of shattered musical hopes and dreams. Not everyone can/should teach all ages. Second story – I started harp as an adult and my second harp teacher was very enthusiastic but would jump up and stop me every time I made a mistake – saying things similar to this teacher. I explained how it made me feel. She told me that was how she taught. I dumped her and found an excellent, though much more expensive, teacher.
    I am a teacher and I would want to know if I’m doing something that may upset one of my students. You do need to talk to this teacher and explain how she makes your daughter feel. If she changes, great! If she doesn’t, leave without looking back! Another harp teacher may be further, and you might have to cut back on the number of lessons, but the sacrifice will make a world of difference. It doesn’t take much to kill enthusiasm and fostering your daughter’s love of music and the harp should be paramount.

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