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Don’t Be Perfectly Dumb: Masterclasses Waste Your Time?

Don’t Be Perfectly Dumb: Masterclasses Waste Your Time?

When I started highschool, I had a talented, severe piano teacher.

You know the cliché musicians who moan and bang on the piano in frustration? She was in that crowd.

She held an event every 2 months, mostly masterclasses and performances. Sometimes a performer came in, sometimes the students played for each other.

In the masterclasses, everyone played something. A girl played a Czerny finger exercise once.

This teacher started some massive sadness in my life, but I learned a lot from her. We parted ways because I started crying too often. And she was cheating our money (probably by accident).

Sometimes, masterclasses get too formal. Then it becomes a recital. The feedback is just another opinion.

If a piece of music is 98% perfected at best, then pieces shared at masterclasses should be 75 – 89%.

The feedback is useless if the music is already polished– it’s too late to change anything. The pianist is already in love with their sound.

People who want to practice performing before an exam or competition don’t have to pay experts for a masterclass; a restaurant with a piano would pay them to play for a few hours.

Smart pianists will play pieces that are not polished (about 80% ready) at masterclasses: they can practice performing, and go home with real, usable feedback.

Is it worth the time?

Masterclasses are for sharing and getting feedback on works-in-progress. It’s like jamming, but you want to go home with solid feedback. Other people will notice things that you don’t.

Masterclasses are also a safe place to try new things.

I went to a design masterclass recently. Everyone shared their own designs.

The lecturer thought my magazine spreads stood out, so he taped it on the wall, with two others.

Masterclasses Waste Your Time?

Designs on the wall can be good or bad. I was nervous because that was my first street photography stint (taking photos of strangers).

The first person I approached was a punk cafe owner with a pink headband in her stark-black hair. She didn’t want photography in the cafe, and she wasn’t nice about it.

After that, I got a buddy to approach people. We walked through one of my favourite places in Vancouver.

We stopped by a tea shop– where I liked the tea canisters– and a man reeled us in. He didn’t work there, but he was delighted that I was shooting photos.

“Did you get the sign?” He made a shape with his arms towards the sign.

“I’m going to tell my friends about this place,” I said. He was nice, so I wanted to do something for him.

It’s the Granville Island Tea Company. They have tea from all over the world.

People get nervous in front of a big black lens, so I asked for his portrait in the end.

I didn’t know if I’d gotten good shots. I have blurry eyesight, so I never see details.

Masterclasses Waste Your Time?

Thankfully, the lecturer said my editorial design stands out in a good way:

It tells a story, and reminds him of Brodovitch’s method. Brodovitch was the amazing art director.

It looks like I art-directed the piece, but really, the man chatted with my buddy and did whatever he wanted. Sometimes, I pretended to take photos of the shop, but I was secretly taking photos of him.

Don't Be Perfectly Dumb: Masterclasses Waste Your Time?

The whole tea shop shoot took 20 minutes. I wasn’t confident.

I went to the masterclass because I wanted critique on my photography and design; I wanted to get better.

I figured out that my photography was above average. My mind was always stuck at “mediocre”; I was afraid that the real photographers would scoff.

I never would’ve realized that I could do editorial photography.

Four years of playing around and zero photography classes: I can pull out some big bones, even if my camera isn’t fancy. I have to thank my Mummie for being supportive. (xo)

Talent can come, if you make good choices.

What you get from a masterclass

The masterclass was a safe place to try something new:

Street photography.

It could’ve been a disaster.

I found out that I wasn’t seeing my work properly.

If something flops in a masterclass, it’s softer– you can fix it before it goes into the world. Or you can work on something new.

The point is to share.

How to start a good masterclass

Masterclasses shouldn’t be formal and stuffy.

If you teach music, get a local performer to critique some playing. Students should share their music once in a while.

If you’re nervous about playing in front of others, gather a few people and just groove. Do a piano circle.

It’s about sharing and learning, not showing off. People who share work that’s less than 89% polished will get the most out of it.

It’s also good to bounce ideas off others, in a group. Like, before you launch a business, always get feedback from other entrepreneurs– they’ll see the holes.

The idea is to have people steer you in the right direction before you fall.

Sharing is important, okay?

After I left that severe piano teacher (in high school), I stopped sharing my playing.

Then, for my piano exam, I didn’t bow, and no one clapped.

Have you done a masterclass? How did it go? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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10 years ago

Hi! Ok: This will be long comment! Here it goes: Masterclasses are generally good experiences, or should be in my opinion. I did them a lot as a student growing up and looked forward to playing for someone other than my piano teacher and getting feedback. I still look to do them as a piano teacher myself, and I don’t think there is an age limit to learning, esp. at piano. I liked the idea of seeing how other students my age or older played, and how the person/the clinician, the “master” made the piece(s) sound better or fixed things… Read more »

10 years ago

I attended a Masterclass 2 years ago. It was taught by a husband and wife team, who are amazing duettists. First they played a couple of pieces together, then each one alone. then they invited students forward. I was there to help and observe, not to play. It was amusing to watch the 2 student’s reactions to the critiques. One got very defensive and the other withdrew into herself. the second one was one of my students and I had the opportunity to explain what a masterclass is and then she felt better. I had taken notes of their critique… Read more »