Playing In a Masterclass

October 13, 2010 at 03:43 AM ·

Hi  =)  I will be performing in a masterclass very soon and I was wondering if anyone had any tips. I have watched several masterclasses in the past, so I think I already know what to expect. How can I get the most out of the experience?

Replies (22)

October 13, 2010 at 05:46 AM ·


1)  Study the piano part in depth.

2)  leave all your preconceptions at the door.




October 13, 2010 at 06:06 AM ·

Great advice, Buri!

I would add, don't waste their time on simple things. Don't play wrong rhythms or wrong notes. Do some research on your piece so that you have some concept of the musical reasoning behind it.

Be prepared to try anything and everything the masterclass teacher suggests, even if it is an entirely new direction for you. The goal is to see how far you can reach, not how much you can be a stick in the mud. :)

October 13, 2010 at 08:20 AM ·

I was on my first (and only) master classes last year. Since I were so scared and so shy there to play among all the really gifted musicians, I could not perform well on the master class. Unfortunately, I told all this to the professor right before, that I was scared, that I was a non-pro and self-taught, etc etc. I started playing my sonata. I reached three lines.

The result was that he first shortened the 45 minutes class to 15 min, that he spent trying to force me into singing (to get rid of the shyness) and then sent me off. I was shaking and was totally embarrassed. I did not get rid of the shyness.

Advice: dont show your insecurity in front of your master class teacher. If you have bad luck, and the teacher is in an impatient mood, this can only lead to disaster. Pretend you are an expert.

October 13, 2010 at 10:37 AM ·

  What happens if you're so good that the Master finds nothing to criticize? (most of us should be so lucky!)

Julian Bream found himself in this situation some years ago when he was taking a masterclass live on TV.  After listening to and observing one student playing his piece Julian Bream admitted at once there was nothing in the performance he could fault, but being live on TV he had to say something, so he talked about constructing a programme of pieces and how to join them together.  I reckon that was his Plan B for emergencies such as this.

October 13, 2010 at 04:42 PM ·


One thing you know going in: everyone there is there because of a great interest in music and the instrument and a desire to learn.

There is no point being scared about the way you play OR about getting scared. You are there to learn too. You know that the room will have people who play better than you do (the master for one) - that's how you will learn. Hopefully there are people who play worse than you --- the ones who are not playing.

Remember, you are not there to impress - or to entertain.

For some reason, masterclasses and other situations where I play for people who ("have been there" and) understand the stresses of public performance are one situation where I do not have stress - for the reasons I've mentioned above. I recommend you try to adopt that attitude too, it might help, It is playing for people who don't know anything about it that my nerves start to kick in.



October 13, 2010 at 05:27 PM ·

Get a video of your session in the master class.  Set up a tripod before hand, or have someone hold the video camera for you.  You may not remember much of the advice, and a video is a way for you to go back over the session and pick out the actions for further practice that you think will advance your playing.

Enjoy, it.

October 13, 2010 at 06:08 PM ·

Go in with a set of issues already in mind.  Don't just go in and be a blank slate ready to absorb anything the person says.  Have a piece in mind that is challenging you, and have set of questions in mind about it -- how do I get this piece to communicate what I want to get across?  You don't want to go in and have the person say to you, "Okay, what can I help you with?" and you go, "Huh?"

It's tricky, because some teachers are into the more old-school way of doing it where YOU sit there and THEY tell you where you're faulty.  If that's what this person is like, then just go in, play your bit, and wait for them to nitpick it.  The nitpicks will likely be useful.

For the most part though, you want to have an idea of where you'd like to head, and let the person know so they can figure out how to help.  Ask them how they can help you meet your goals for a given piece and what they think of those goals, not so much how they can spot all the way in which you are unworthy.  :-)

Also, don't go up first.  Let someone else be the beta tester for the MC teacher.  Once you see how they handle a person, you will get a better idea of whether they are there to pick your nits or are there to take a more 30,000 foot view of your musical purpose.

BTW, I'm speaking from the POV of someone who has not had a musical masterclass, but who has had symposia and seminars in other fairly high-performance scientific arenas.  Some of them focus on "you forgot to carry the two" and others focus on "what is the general application of this idea that you're after?"  But in every case, if they ask you, "What questions do you have?" and get a blank stare in response, they aren't well disposed.

October 13, 2010 at 07:05 PM ·

With mastercalsses you get students who can immediatley take up the suggestion and change their playing, but the majority can't change, so it does not make any difference.

And of course you get the cocky ones who know best and just won't listen.

October 13, 2010 at 11:22 PM ·

I can't speak of playing in one since I'll never be good ennough for this.   Well, anything can be called "masterclass" but I refer to a real masterclass with a real famous master.  

Those I saw, two with Vadim Repin and soon, one with Vengerov (promise I'll write about it...)  were always melting down to the same thing: excellent students but usually a little more shy and less powerful in their playing than the master himself.  So basically, the master showed them which notes to underlyne (important ones), much mental images and what to "see" when they play and wanted them to play more openly, with more sound and more conviction when needed.  They basically want the students to overpass playing technique in a mechanical way to seeing further.   They really want to be convinced about the student's playing to be happy because gifted violinist not just play well, they convince the audience about what they are doing.  So play your heart out and convince them. ; )   When master's play, they truely exagerate the dynamics and drama in the music and sing to demonstrate what goes in their head.  They are absoluntly not shy to do so.   

I know that this must be more easy to tell than to do and bravo to have been chosen for this!  I just wrote what I saw.  Not at all saying I could do what I wrote! It's wonderful for you! 

Good luck,


October 14, 2010 at 12:45 AM ·

I too haven't been to a masterclass, but earlier this year my teacher asked me to prepare a piece from Suzuki 5 (Weber's "Country Dance" - the one with the staccato bowing) with a view to giving a formal performance of  it at a lesson in a few weeks' time, as if I was on stage and she was the audience (she herself is used to both performing in public and the pressures of the recording studio).  This I did, playing from memory. She listened to, and watched, my performance, which she recorded on CD and gave to me later.  The rest of the lesson was a detailed discussion and analysis of all aspects of my performance, the good features as well as the not-so-good.  So I think it was in effect a mini "masterclass", but on a one-to-one basis with no one else present.  It was certainly most useful and instructive.

October 14, 2010 at 04:58 AM ·

Well, I've observed many classes and played myself in classes with violinists such as Rachel Barton Pine, William Preucil, Robert McDuffie, and several others.  I would say it helps a lot to focus completely on trying to immediately implement whatever they are asking you to do.  Don't worry so much about the performance (at least this isn't a recital!) Worry about doing exactly what they are asking or demonstrating.  If they are experienced, they won't ask anything that they don't think you can do.  Let go and trust them!  Usually they will make some general comments (e.g. tips on practicing or movement while playing etc.), some technical suggestions (e.g. try this part of the bow), and some detailed musical advice (try this tone color, character for a passage.) Often these may be completely different from what your teacher may have suggested, but just go with it and be flexible!  If they make negative comments, those are often the most helpful!  I've played for classes where the artist made only super postive, complimentary comments.  Nice to hear, but not really very helpful in the long run!  If you can record the class somehow, that is REALLY helpful.  You will be able to listen to the recording and learn much more when you are not under pressure in front of 200 people!  In my own experience, I've been asked to sing in 8 of the 11 masterclasses I have played for, so brace yourself for that (and maybe practice singing your piece, especially lyrical passages.)  Best of luck!

October 14, 2010 at 05:09 AM ·

Also, know the complete background of the composer and the piece!  Know the form and structure of the piece and how it relates to the composer's other works!  If there is anything unusual about it, research this!  (I once saw a class where someone beautifully played the 4th movement of Ysaye's Sonata No. 2 and did not know what had influenced these sonatas, what the Dies Irae was, nor anything other important background information.  Don't let the artist waste precious time telling you things you could easily google!

October 14, 2010 at 09:32 AM ·

If someone asked me to sing in a masterclass three things would happen.

(1) I would ask if they had ever heard me sing and warn them it could be dire

(2) I would fall about laughing

(3) if I DID actually sing there would be a rush for the doors faster than if someone had shouted "fire!"

But maybe this would all also happen if I played the fiddle too!

October 14, 2010 at 12:44 PM ·

There are already a lot of helpful responses. Like some others, I too, have played in master classes in the past. I've since 'retired' from these gladitorial events, and enjoy attending them as an auditor - although, as I mentioned in a very old  thread, Glenn Dicterow, one of my former teachers, surprised me once when I greeted him at the end of one of his master classes, and asked me to try a couple of fiddles with everyone still there!

Master classes can be exciting, stimulating, very educational - and even entertaiinng, at least for the audience!They can also combine for the paticipants, the most challenging aspects of  a private lesson, public performance, audtition - and firing squad! So rule #1: BE PREPARED. Know your piece cold, like you were about to perform it in Carnegie Hall. Then, as others have said, be flexible, and ready to throw it all out the window as the master teacher may ask you to quickly try totally new technical and interpretive concepts.  But that's OK. You're there to learn, and get a stimulating shot in the arm. You'll sort it all out later. Every master teacher is different. Some try to put you at ease. Some seem to take pleasure in challenging you and even making cutting ramarks. They may think that they are just being funny and entertaining the audience a little. Some may let you play a long segment before stopping you, and others will stop you after 3 notes. Some may never open their violin case, and others will play more than you will - and let's face it, that's vey exciting for the audience, whether or not it's most helpful to you. Try to take it all in stride. After all - like a root canal prodedure, it can't last forever! And you may just end up learning and improving quite a lot.

It seems to be coming full circle for me as I have been provisionally invited, subject to funds available, to give a couple of master classes myself, for high school students in New Jersey. If it comes about, I certainly hope to be the kind of teacher who tries to put the student at ease, and will listen to a long segment before stopping them. If I have a radically different idea I want them to try, such as playing without a shoulder rest, I will leave that for the end, as a brief expreriment.

Good luck! Who is the master teacher you'll be playing for, BTW?

October 14, 2010 at 04:14 PM ·

Thanks for the really great suggestions everyone! It really helps a lot!  I will be playing the first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto for Midori tomorrow.

October 14, 2010 at 04:52 PM ·

I attended a masterclass a few years ago here in London at one of the colleges and it was given by a very famous and wondeful violinist now in her eighties.

The standard was vey high and there were a couple of players she said couldn't really fault as they were already very good.

There was one young lady however, who she asked about her instrument. This student sort of looked inside her fiddle and said, "Oh, I think its a Rocca.  Yes, it is."

By this time the famous fiddler had reached the stage, saying "Roccas are usually pretty good" where she then took the violin, pulled off the shoulder rest, and played a few notes, which exploded with a huge sound. She handed the violin back and said, "well, it's not the fiddle."

That's what you call diplomatic - but for her it was normal, as she always calls a spade a spade.

October 14, 2010 at 05:00 PM ·

John - I can't speak for others, but right now I'm keeping 10 violins active from my collection. I also have more than a dozen bows. I do match certain violins with certain of my bows. There are no really bad combos, but some matches are more ideal than others.

Emmie - I atended (as an auditor) a Midori master class a couple of years ago at my alma mater, Mannes. I found her to be very nice and down to earth. She focused almost exclusively on the students rather than playing - literally or figuratively - to the audience. Sometimes it's how you say something. She would make criticisms in a very non-threatening way. For example, instead of saying "you're playing out of tune" she might say "I have questions about your intonation at this spot". Psychologically, it makes a difference. So, an excellent choice - good luck

October 14, 2010 at 10:41 PM ·

Pretty much what others have said.  Be prepared, and be ready to try whatever they tell you.   Don't put too much pressure on yourself - it's not a competition or a recital - but be prepared enough that they aren't having to teach you how to play the correct notes or rhythms.

Don't ever say "But my teacher says---"  A friend of mine was in the audience for a Jean-Pierre Rampal master class, and when the student said that, he replied, "Go sit down.  Who wants to play next?"

If there's a spot you can't play yet, you should be able to ask them for advice on how to practice it.

You can't always be sure what kind of approach a teacher will take.  They may ask you about your intentions and try to help you realize them, or they may simply inform you that you are wrong and tell you what you should be doing.  Either way, you can learn from them -- and also learn something about what kind of teacher you would like to be (or not be).

Having someone record or take notes for you can also be helpful.  A friend of mine played in a master class for Emmanuel Pahud once, and in her opinion he was so handsome that she stopped listening to what he was saying and just gazed at him.  Then when he was done talking, she had no idea what he wanted her to do!  Hopefully this won't be a problem for you, but often people are so nervous or self-conscious that they can't remember very much afterward.


October 16, 2010 at 01:15 AM ·

Thanks again for the very helpful responses! I thought that the masterclass went very well. I was very honored to be able to play for Midori today. She is truly an amazing teacher and performer. I learned so much and I already feel like a better musician =)  It was such a wonderful experience that I will definitely remember for the rest of my life.

October 16, 2010 at 12:16 PM ·

That's great!

October 16, 2010 at 04:51 PM ·


October 16, 2010 at 05:32 PM ·

What a fantastic experience that must have been!   Maybe you'd be willing to write about it for us v.commers??!

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