14/100 Getting my Harpsichord to “talk”

It’s been interesting learning how to make my harpsichord “talk”.

Let me admit, first of all, that it is a Roland digital harpsichord (as distinct from a keyboard switched to harpsichord sound) so the touch is very forgiving – completely even and reliable all the time.

roland and music compressed

The thing is, I have spent half a century playing a piano, using subtle changes in tone and weight to shape phrases and make it “talk” and “sing”. A little emphasis on tis note, or that note, and the “meaning” of a phrase can change.

It’s like when you repeat the sentence “The cat sat on the mat” but emphasising a different word each time: “The cat SAT on the mat” has quite a different sense to “The CAT sat on the mat”. At least, it does to my understanding. You can do something similar with the piano – or any instrument where you can vary the dynamics at will. Try singing “Twinkle twinkle little star” but giving a sense of importance to different notes.

Now, on the harpsichord, that just can’t be done, at least, not by using dynamics. So you use other ways, to do with when you release a note. So, if I were to play “Twinkle twinkle” and try and make it expressive, I would attempt to hold “Twin” for as long as I could, releasing it just in time to sound it again for “kle”. However, in order to make “kle” less important than “Twin” I would want to release it little sooner rather than holding it for the full note length.

Playing whole pieces with this kind of control, and careful listening, is gently boiling my brain, especially when my music is marked up with a wildly different fingering style. I’m working my way through Maria Boxall’s Harpsichord tutor at the moment and also Couperin “L’Art de Toucher le Clavecin”. They both advocate wildly different fingering patterns to what I am used to: for example  Couperin fingers the C major scale as 1 2 3 4 3 4 3 4 going up, 5 4 3 2 3 2 3 2 going down…

I also need to do something about my copy of the Couperin. It’s all in French which requires more than my dim and distant memory of French O-level to extract the sense of his instructions. Furthermore, for the right hand studies he has used a C clef, like an Alto or Tenor clef, with middle C fixed on the bottom line (more usually E). Except when he has chosen a different line for Middle C to liven up proceedings.

couperin compressed

You could fry an egg on my head when I’m trying to deal with this. But I’m LOVING the challenge!


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