When did you start teaching?

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    Madeline Davis

    As the title says, simply when did you get started? After college? Before? During? Did your location and availability of other harp teachers matter a lot? Did anyone ever ask you to teach before college/graduation? Your response? Thank you for answering my questions, I really appreciate it!

    Madeline D.


    I don’t teach, but I know there are people who do without a college degree (and are not even in college).

    Off topic, but a friend of mine was even learning an instrument (not the harp) from someone who has just studied it for 1-2 years.

    So I don’t know… perhaps students are less selective nowadays.


    While one needs to make a living, I don’t think anyone should teach harp without a music degree and several years of subsequent experience in playing and living, unless one is a born teacher and finished player. There is an assumption that beginners don’t need an expert teacher, and that is so totally not true. While it may only take me three-to-six months to renovate a student’s playing into something consistently good, it is very hard work on us both. Students who get to college without having had good teaching are very far behind, and having to catch up rather than simply progress is a disadvantage no one should have.
    That said, there are good teacher, and there are good students. Learning how to learn is a big part of studying, and the teacher needs to instill those lessons. It’s not just how to play. A teacher who plays well, and is very passive in teaching, can produce a student with lousy playing technique.
    And then there is an assumption that a teacher should not change a student’s technique once established. Well, you are there to help the student progress, and if you withhold knowledge that would help, you are harming the student. I was fortunate to have a teacher who made an art of correcting and changing one’s technique, and I am much the better for it, difficult as the process is. And it is a process. She did not believe in changing everything all at once, but one finger at a time.
    Teaching also requires a very thorough knowledge of repertoire and other literature. If you want to teach but don’t have the background, perhaps you can start by assisting another teacher. (As if any teacher is going to share.) But I’m sure a lot of teachers would like to teach players and teachers more than beginners.
    So, in all, before you begin teaching, assess yourself with humility. Do you have enough knowledge? Do you have a curriculum, a pedagogy, a method? Do you have the patience? Will you make a contribution to the community by teaching, or are you just in it to make money? How will you conduct your studio and relate to other teachers and their studios? Yes, it is simple, but it gets complicated, too.
    To answer the question, I first taught after I finished college, and gave a few lessons. I began teaching in earnest after I got my master’s degree and joined the faculties of a few music schools. I became a really good teacher many years later, when I had a much better understanding of not only my playing, but of other harpists’ playing, and what works best; and after I had given several recital programs of different repertoire. I learned all the more from studying dance and learning about movement and the body, and making physical corrections.
    It is also very different to work with young people and adults of different ages. It helps to know something of child development and adult de-development. And the psychology of so many different personality types! My sister has commented on the frequency of having flakey students seeming to be greater with the harp.

    Allison Stevick

    I think the type of music the student wants to play, and their overall goals for playing make a huge difference in what kind of teacher they need. Those circumstances can sometimes factor in to when a harper/harpist starts teaching.

    I live in an area almost completely devoid of harpists, and in the last town I lived in, I was literally the only person within a 2-hour radius that played. Believe me, I checked–I wanted to find someone to play with! There was one woman who lived there 15 years ago who used to play in a nearby city orchestra, but she left long before I moved in. When people started to find out that I play, I had people begging me to teach them. I’m not kidding–they were desperate to learn even a little on the harp. I would NEVER presume to call myself a teacher of classical harp or claim that I could help any student prepare for contests or testing through levels or anything like that, but I DID give some informal lessons to a few people. I was clear that I do not have a harp degree, and do not play any classical harp repertoire. We played together for fun and the love of music.

    I admit that these people were not selective at all in choosing me for their teacher–because there was no one else to choose from. I guess you don’t have to have high standards if there’s only one person around who could help you learn a new hobby you’ve been dying to try?

    I lived in Scotland this past year, and even gave a couple lessons to a friend there who acquired a clarsach and really wanted to learn to play it. She is a classical oboist, and didn’t mind that I don’t have a master’s degree in harp with years of experience teaching. Again, we did it for the love of music. It was pure fun.

    If people approach me in my new town (moving next week) asking me to teach them, I will. I guess it’s a difference between folk and classical tradition. When I was at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival this year, I took a class specifically encouraging people to be willing to teach others the harp–degree or not. The main points I took from it were, “First do no harm, then have fun!”

    To answer the original question, I started teaching after 3 years playing.


    About the flakiness factor.
    Back in the day, I was one of those flakey students. (Now I’m a flakey adult.)
    Anyway, my harp teacher was probably the only stabilizing influence in my life at that time. I don’t know what would have become of me had he not been there as a mentor.
    I do not even use the technique he taught me…just a few of the practice methods.
    The most important thing he gave me was to be there as a constant, welcoming person, allowing me to be with one of the most beautiful things in life…a harp.

    Madeline Davis

    Thank you all for your replies! (Of course) I’m asking because a friend of the family asked me teach their daughter, who takes piano lessons from my mother with her brothers. I can’t say what her goals for playing the harp are, at age 7, though I do not think they are large, or involving study of harp in college. As they are already coming here for piano lessons, it seems more convenient than going to another teacher. My teacher (who most fortunately for me, has changed my technique:-), who is the next closest to them besides me, has recommended she start her off, I watch how she teaches, and maybe begin teaching her after a few lessons, with some checking back with her. This sounds better to me. And while I’m not sure about “flakey”, she did have trouble practicing the violin after she started the piano (I was the violin teacher for a few reasons, but mostly because I was the only one they could find in town. I’m still teaching other students who take violin and piano, but I can see the difficulties involved, and I am continuing studying on my own about different teaching methods, teaching children, etc.). Thanks again, I really appreciate your comments and advice!

    Madeline D.

    Allison Stevick

    That sounds like a great outcome! I hope you and your student have fun!


    Flakey refers to students who constantly cancel or have trouble committing to a lesson, who don’t prepare or practice, who have uncalled-for reactions or strange behavior. One example: a student who quit because she thought she heard a mouse, and just could not be in the same space with a mouse! Another category would be those who want free lessons as beginners.

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