Getting a class from a master. Many people might find the idea of getting a masterclass daunting and to be honest, it can be. I have been lucky enough to have had many masterclasses with famous and inspiring musicians and there are things I learned along the way which I wish I had known before. So I figured I could share some tips with you which will hopefully help you be better prepared for when it is your turn to get a masterclass! Do you have your pen and paper ready? ;)
Most times a masterclass feels somewhat in-between a private lesson and a public performance.
But wait, what is a masterclass? A masterclass is often a public event in which a student gets a lesson from a professional musician in front of an audience. Now, it this that much different than a private lesson? Honestly, I guess it depends on whoever is giving the masterclass. Some musicians teach differently when someone is observing them (let alone when there are 200 spectators). And I get it, there is a different dynamic when people are observing you while you are teaching versus teaching a student privately. When you are playing music on stage you want the audience to be part of the music making. During a masterclass, it is not really that much different. Some musicians are more focused on the audience during a masterclass and some focus completely on the student, almost ignoring the audience, making it feel like you are having a private lesson. For me, I like a masterclass best when it feels like both the student and teacher totally forget about the audience because they are totally absorbed by the music they are playing/discussing, often making them lose track of time. But this isn't always the case. Most times a masterclass feels somewhat in-between a private lesson and a public performance. I always preferred it when there was a good balance between the two. You know, when the teacher is working with you intensely but at the same time jokes with the audience (not to embarrass the student of course, that is horrible... I know, because I have been there...).
Tips and tricks
Now that we know what a masterclass is all about, let's head over to the tips and tricks part of this blog. I am so excited to share this with all of you! Here we GOOO!
1. Pick the right piece. You want to make sure that you are very comfortable with the piece you are playing and you are ready to perform it in front of an audience, but at the same time you want to pick something which can still use some work. Sometimes this is a hard balance to find, but it is worth some thought. Pick a piece which you need help with or which you would like to discuss and work on with the musician who is teaching you. Your goal shouldn't be to impress the audience, this is not about them. This is about you and your one time opportunity to get the tips and tricks you need to bring your playing to a whole new level. Also, consider what the specialties are of the musician who is teaching you. Is he or she famous for his/her Bach recordings? Consider playing some Bach. Whoever is teaching you will probably know a lot about this piece which in turn can be super helpful and interesting! However, don't be afraid to chose a piece which doesn't get performed that often either. Often musicians get really excited to talk about fairly unknown repertoire, as long as they is familiar with it (you can check this by searching on the internet wether they have performed this piece before). You don't necessarily want to become violinist no. 235 who played the Sibelius violin concerto during a masterclass with this particular teacher, unless you have a good reason to of course....
2. Don't take things too personally. I am going to be honest here. I have had super inspiring masterclasses and classes which made me doubt myself. Music is personal and people might think you are playing something the wrong way. However, you are allowed to have an opinion of your own. I know it sucks to be told in front of audience that whatever you just did isn't the way they think it should be played. You feel like the whole world will know how bad of a musician you are. News flash: THEY WON'T. You are vulnerable when you are on stage, being criticised in front of an audience. But just remember that during a normal concert you can do whatever you want. So no worries, people will soon forget what happened during that masterclass and will be busy thinking about themselves again.
3. Try to observe other masterclasses. If whoever is teaching you is giving masterclasses to other students as well, try to observe these. Especially when they their masterclass happens before yours. Apart from the fact that you will probably learn as much by watching a masterclass vs. getting one yourself, this way you already know what to expect when it is your turn to play by getting a sense of his/her teaching style. It might help you with your nerves since you are not entering your masterclass completely oblivious.
4. Dress appropriately. I can hear you thinking: DUH! I know, I know, it sounds somewhat stupid, but this can actually help you feel more comfortable on stage. You are kind of performing after all. Don't go overboard wearing an evening gown or tuxedo (it is not a REAL concert) but pick something which is somewhat more professional than your everyday clothes. Dressing up a little bit will already put you in that mindset of 'I am kind of performing right now', which will come in handy when it is your turn to be on stage.
5. ALWAYS bring an extra score with you, so you can hand it over to whoever is teaching you. It is just a nice gesture to have prepared an extra score and also, you don't want to waste time trying to figure out wether your score's measure numbers are matching or not. Also, don't forget to bring your own part! If you play by heart during your first play through, just put it on a stand somewhere and get the part in front of you once you start working on it. You will probably go a lot of back and forth between sections and once again, you don't want to waste time trying to figure out which notes you should play...
6. Be prepared to tell something about the piece you are playing. It is always smart to be aware of the background of a piece, not just if you are getting a masterclass. But especially when you are in front of an audience, it helps to be well prepared. I have almost ALWAYS been asked what I think about the music I am playing or why the composer wrote the piece. Just be prepared to answer some basic questions and you are good to go. Also, don't be afraid to say I don't know. You are here to learn and there is nothing worse than just making up stuff because you haven't prepared yourself well. That can really annoy some musicians and will most certainly give you a bumpy start of your masterclass.
7. Prepare some questions yourself too! Some masterclasses only last for 30 minutes. Things will go fast. So don't be surprised if you get interrupted a lot, it is just because whoever is teaching you is getting excited and wants to help you on your way, sharing as much knowledge as possible. So, if there are things you absolutely want to ask? Grab your moment! Just ask! That is what he/she is there for in the first place!
8. Don't stress out. I know it is easier said than done, but so many musicians have been in the same position is you. Even whoever is teaching you. And chances are they might be a little nervous too. Just remember that most of them don't want you to feel nervous at all, they just want to get to know you a little bit and be helpful. So don't sweat it! You are not on your own!
9. Expect the unexpected. Some teachers want to work on your peace in a more general way, some will focus more on the details. Some want to work on your posture, others will question or criticize your bow grip.. Some will work on a few measure for fifteen minutes, others will cover a whole movement. Some will ask you to sing a musical line (even though you aren't a singer) and some will talk about music theory. Whatever it is, just go with it. Trust that whoever is teaching you believes that their comments or advise will turn out to be the most helpful to you at this moment.
10. Don't be disheartened if not everything went well. Making mistakes is part of making music. Besides, weren't you here to learn something to begin with?!
11. Try to record your masterclass. A video recording is preferred but an audio recording will help you immensely too. As said before, things go fast. You probably won't be able to remember all that has been said during the masterclass but you don't wan't good advise to go to waste. A recording can help you to remember what you worked on. If you can't record yourself, try to write down as many notes as possible once the masterclass is done or ask a friend to make some notes for you. I have done this in the past and it helped me a lot. Also, it is fun to look back on those notes in a few years time. They might still be helpful (yup, I am talking about myself :) ).
12. Enjoy yourself! You are standing in front of an audience and you are being taught by most probably an amazing musician. This is so cool! So laugh a little and just have a good time. It will be over before you know it (wether you want it or not ;) !
Just one last thought
I hoped these tips help you to get ready for your masterclass and you are even more excited about it then you were before you read this blog! Just one last thought. When you are on stage, remember that everyone is there because of their love for music. And no matter how the masterclass went, you shared some music that day with others. That in itself made the day a success!