Benefits of a Masterclass

Tonight I held a group flute class, called a masterclass. Each student played a piece for each other. Some couldn’t attend in person, so they joined us on Zoom. A couple of other students had scheduling conflicts so we recorded their songs during their lessons and played the recordings for the other students. I then opened it up for comments from the students after each performer. Even though it was just the students (and one parent) playing in my living room and wearing casual dress, it still provides a more formal opportunity to get in front of others to play your flute.

Two main questions to ask are: “What did the performer do well?” and “What can the performer work on to improve?” We can always be just a little bit better in some way – in music and in life.

When you come to a lesson, it is understood that the teacher has the job of pointing out what you did well and what you can improve on. However, I often try to turn those questions around during lessons and ask my students to answer those questions. This helps encourage better listening habits.

When you are practicing at home, you are your own teacher all during the week. You have to listen to yourself and be constantly asking yourself those questions. That’s how you decide how to spend your time while practicing.

What are you listening for? On the judging sheets for the National Federation of Music Clubs they list the following elements. I’ve only included the ones that apply to flute players.

MEMORY: [self explanatory]

ACCURACY: Correct Notes, Marks of Expression, Note Values

RHYTHM: Appropriate Tempo, Continuity, Control, Steadiness of Beat

TECHNIQUE: Body Position, Hand Position, Breath Control, Tonguing

MUSICIANSHIP: Articulation, Balance [For flutists, this refers to the balance of the flute player and the piano accompaniment.], Dynamics, Interpretation/Style, Intonation [Playing in tune.], Phrasing, Tone [I’ll also add specifically Vibrato and Tone Colors to this list.]

Attending and performing in a masterclass creates the opportunity to practice listening and asking yourself the critical questions of “What did you do well?” and “How can you improve?” It also provides a chance to listen to other players. Through doing so, you might find something that relates to your own personal growth and development, or they might also have a bad habit that you also have, or you might hear a new piece that you want to learn.

The other aspect of performing and attending masterclasses is to observe the teacher teach. It’s like attending a mini lesson for someone else. As you watch and listen, you can always find things to apply to yourself as a flutist.

Next time you have a chance to play in a masterclass, go for it. Or, at the very least, attend it and LISTEN and LEARN.

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