What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

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Adrian Allan
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What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by Adrian Allan » Mon Aug 07, 2017 3:25 pm

I have taken part in a few of these over the years. The term masterclass is loaded (as it implies a level of mastery in the player), so I will use the term "class" instead.

I have also watched a good number of these on the internet, most famously the Bream classes that were televised by the BBC in 1978.

I have rather mixed opinions of the experience of classes. In some cases, very good insights can be given, and it is a valuable experience for a player to meet and play for a performer of considerably more experience. On the other hand, they can be quite a negative experience. In some cases, the player was nervous and the "master" presumed that the way that the pupil played was his or her normal level of playing. The comments that followed such situations have sometimes been less than helpful, such as the teacher asking the player to re-evaluate his/her basic technique. I have stifled my own desire to shout out "his body and hand is tense because of the circumstances, there is nothing wrong with his technique".

In order to be a performer and teacher in a class, you do not need to have passed a qualification in teaching (such as school teachers do), and I think that some "masters" need to think long and hard about being tactful to players. Negative comments can destroy self confidence, and can linger in a player's thoughts for years. I find it uncomfortable to watch Julian Bream comment on the playing of Robert Brightmore, saying that his playing is "unlovely", for example.

On the other hand, I have seen some genuinely helpful and supportive classes. In terms of the most on-the-ball and perceptive "master", I would have to nominate David Tannenbaum. He noticed every single mistake or slip of rhythm, even when a duet played a complicated piece. He was sight singing both parts in his head I presume, and managed to spot everything. He was also not afraid to say "there is nothing you can do to improve it", when the pupil gave an outstanding performance.

What are other people's experience of classes?

I think they are a little overrated, if I am honest; it doesn't come close to a pupil-teacher relationship built up over many months or years.
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David Norton
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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by David Norton » Mon Aug 07, 2017 5:37 pm

I've done many dozens of MC's over the years. With almost each one, there's been at least one kernel of valuable information I've retained over the years. If I play "that" particular piece, whichever it is, the MC event always comes back to mind.

Even the handful of not-so-good MCs I participated in have left memorable impressions, though in all those cases the remaining impression was none-too-favourable to the teacher!

The biggest issue I've had in recent MC events is that "my" musical aesthetic is based on the 1960/70s, and not on modern playing styles. In one event, the teacher said "you sound just like Segovia", and meant it as a negative: dated, too many rolled chords, too many disconnected melody notes. However I went home mentally congratulating myself for a Job Well Done.
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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by powderedtoastman » Mon Aug 07, 2017 6:01 pm

I think they are great.
Depending on the CG scene in your area, there may not be fierce competition to get a spot as a player, so YMMV on whether or not the student needs to be at a "master" level. Sure, conservatory masterclasses are going to be filled up with high caliber music students, but in some places it'll just be whoever signed up when the call went out.

I'm starting to feel like I'd rather sit and listen and learn than be the featured player, but if a performer comes into town who I really like, then it's a nice opportunity to get a one-off lesson with that performer. Most of all I think it's great to get a little look into what struggles or possible improvements the teachers find in the other players, because we can usually get good ideas that we can apply back to our own playing, and to see how a top level concert performer approaches even a less advanced student can sometimes be eye opening to something subtle or interesting.

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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Mon Aug 07, 2017 6:36 pm

I thought the 'master' bit is supposed to be the one tutoring.
The best I've ever seen is David Russell.
Often the observers get the most out of it.
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Adrian Allan
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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by Adrian Allan » Mon Aug 07, 2017 6:41 pm

Stephen Kenyon wrote:
Mon Aug 07, 2017 6:36 pm
I thought the 'master' bit is supposed to be the one tutoring.
The best I've ever seen is David Russell.
Often the observers get the most out of it.
Yeah, I must have confused this for years.
Still, I think the term is a little dated and maybe confers a little too much deference towards the teacher.

On the whole I would add that the old style of Masterclass was based on the idea of "play as I do" - and the worst culprit for that was Segovia, but there was a little of that approach in Bream (too much for my liking)

For me the joy of classical music is the aspect of interpretation - that there can be multiple equally valid approaches to any given set of notes.
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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by CathyCate » Tue Aug 08, 2017 2:48 am

Stephen Kenyon wrote:
Mon Aug 07, 2017 6:36 pm
I thought the 'master' bit is supposed to be the one tutoring.
The best I've ever seen is David Russell.
Often the observers get the most out of it.
I agree wholeheartedly. Auditing the class produces zero stress. It is not as expensive as being a performer, which is a big plus for those of us on fixed incomes. You just listen carefully and take copious notes for later use with your own teacher or in the privacy of your practice room. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose with this approach.

Meanwhile you may be exposed to new music. You get to know the CG community, and you gather some insights that help you decide what styles, methods and techniques you prefer as well as the kind of CG player you want to become.

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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by stevel » Tue Aug 08, 2017 5:04 am

Let's see. I did a Guitar masterclass with Carlos Barbosa-Lima.

I'm not a great guitarist. I dropped out of a Performance degree in college because I just wasn't at the level I needed to be to start and it was too demanding (and honestly, I was interested in composition which is what I switched to and got my degree in).

It was a small class and maybe just other students from the instructor's studio - maybe 10 or so - and me and I think one other student played for him.

He was very nice and I felt his comments were not degrading and he pointed out a lot of things I needed to work on.

Now, I was kind of smart enough to realize my shortcomings and still am - really, if I want to be good, I need to devote myself to it. And I just wasn't (and aren't really) devoted to it. So in some ways, his comments fell on deaf ears.

I got as much good advice from my instructor himself during our lessons. Maybe I just wasn't at the level that I should be participating in a masterclass but since I was studying for college, I might have been one of the better students the instructor had at that time.

When in grad school, I had composition masterclasses with Milton Babbitt, a composer from William and Mary, crap, who else - some other relatively famous 20th century dude - I'd have to look at my CV, and Pauline Oliveros.

Babbit was just very much like he wanted to talk about his own pieces, and baseball, and food, or whatever, and when asked questions about composition his responses were simply evasive. He was nice and all, but it wasn't really a learning experience at all.

The guy from William and Mary was more fun when we went to lunch and just shot the sh!t.

Pauline Oliveros was more of a "therapy session" as best I can describe it. We all laid on the floor and made noises in the concert hall.

I also sat in on a Harp masterclass that wasn't for composers specifically, but it was more informative than any other masterclass I've ever had.

At the university where I now work, we constantly have master classes for our students and I sit in on various ones from time to time. Kurt Elling was amazing. Great very useful information even as a non vocalist. There was a string masterclass with a quartet and was easily the best - these guys had our student trios and quartets playing massively better in like 5 minutes. They were really able to find an issue and knew how to correct it. It was 100% supportive and our students really loved it - I'm sure it made a huge impact on them.

Like teaching, it all depends on the person. Some people are better at it than others. I know with a lot of our masterclasses it's part of an agreement they make when they book the artist - they agree to do a gig Monday night and a masterclass the next morning.

Early music vocal groups have been wonderful. Pianists tend to be the least informative. Orchestral players can vary.

Some emphasize technique, or artistry, without really knowing which would be the most informative for a given situation - some classes one person needs help with artistry (or just anxiety, etc.) and others need help with technique, but a "master" who can not address both isn't always that helpful.

The OP's initial kind of negative take away reminds me of my Piano Teacher when I was little.

I would go in playing the piece. I'd played it 10 times now over 10 weeks. I've gotten 49 out of 50 measures and played the same 20 measures perfectly for the last 9 weeks. Then I make a mistake on a note in one of the always perfect measures, and she circles the note "that's a G not an F" or something like that, in red pen in my book (which with a little OCD, marks like that bother me besides as a kid wanting some control in their life, it was my property, not theirs to mess up). But I'm like, woman, I've played this right every week and I miss it once and you're going to mark it up like it's some significant problem.

It always made me think she didn't care to remember how well I played it previously.

I mean, I'd mark a student's book if they made the same mistake 3 weeks in a row - you know, "ok, you need to work on this measure, or this passage, or you keep missing this note, let's correct it".

But man, if they missed something they usually always get, it's just a one off. I let it go.

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George Crocket
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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by George Crocket » Tue Aug 08, 2017 7:39 am

I have observed quite a few masterclasses over the years. The masters have been the likes of Pavel Steidl, Marcin Dylla, and most recently Leo Brouwer. Generally I have enjoyed them and learned a few useful things. These masters carefully and sensitively examine the player, usually encourage him/her, but also give a little bit of themselves without making the whole thing too egocentric. Sometimes they will say there is nothing to change, then go on to suggest a different take on the piece or the playing.

But the experience is not always perfect. A few years ago the wonderful Roland Dyens was giving a masterclass with a very young guitarist whose whole aim for a long time had been to impress Roland Dyens. His reaction to the playing was of irritation over a minor issue, but it became compounded to the degree that the player was uncontrollably upset. It was quite a horrifying experience for all involved, including Dyens who quickly became mortified and apologetic.

I have also heard some of these masters confess to their deficiencies as teachers, both acknowledging and considering how to remedy their lack of training in teaching.

Of course, I have never put myself up for such an experience, being an old amateur who experiences marked performance anxiety. I do enjoy having a private lesson with these great concert guitarists. Those lessons vary too, sometimes being valuable learning experiences, but sometimes no more than an ordeal. Even then there is usually something to take away from the lesson.
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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by Peter Lovett » Tue Aug 08, 2017 9:58 am

I have not played in any masterclass - quite frankly at my current level of expertise it would be like casting pearls before the swine - however I attend them whenever I can. The last two were basically for the current group of classical guitar students at the Tasmanian Conservatory of Music and in both cases the presenter concentrated on interpretation. The last of them was given by Xuefei Yang and what was impressive was the rapidity that she could diagnose a problem and suggest a cure. After the class I was talking to one of the players (a graduate from the Conservatory) and that was what amazed him as well.

While the old style of masterclass may well have been the "play it as I do" I think that if anyone tried that today they would soon have an empty room and besides, the knowledge of how to impart skills and advice is better known. From what I have seen of the Bream masterclasses I would have to disagree with OP about him being of that old school. Most of what I saw was on musical interpretation, not technique. Any opportunity to attend is going to be a learning experience, even if it is of the "I will never do that" kind. In summary, I have taken away something from all the masterclasses I have attended but then I have gone without any preconceived notions of what they should be about.
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Mickmac
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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by Mickmac » Tue Aug 08, 2017 11:28 am

John WIlliams makes some interesting points about what he sees as the drawbacks of the masterclass at the start of this video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHtga5C9Rxs

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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by ben etow » Tue Aug 08, 2017 11:51 am

David_Norton wrote:
Mon Aug 07, 2017 5:37 pm
I've done many dozens of MC's over the years. With almost each one, there's been at least one kernel of valuable information I've retained over the years. If I play "that" particular piece, whichever it is, the MC event always comes back to mind.

Even the handful of not-so-good MCs I participated in have left memorable impressions, though in all those cases the remaining impression was none-too-favourable to the teacher!
Hi,

I agree with David. I took part in dozens too. Even when the teacher was not that tactful or had not much to say, I could directly or indirectly find some useful info or trick in order to improve my playing or musical knowledge.

It's also important to go and see people you think you can learn something from and who would probably not antagonize you at every single measure (unless one loves the way the master is playing of course, in which case one would probably learn so many things)...

However, I couldn't think of all MC's I had on some pièces. Sometimes, I chose to play the same piece for 5-6 masters. This is probably the way I learnt the most, including about the masters themselves (who does provide the most efficient solution to a technical problem for instance or how deep is the master's sense of artistry or is he/she willing to transmit it?).

Overall, the classes have been at least a bit useful and enjoyable. Some were truly amazing and I even think I should have begun earlier to go to MC's...

And I would add that passive classes are at least as useful as active ones...

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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by wchymeus » Tue Aug 08, 2017 12:03 pm

Well masterclasses are an interesting set up: you (humble amateur/student) are here in front of a Master and a crowd (public masterclass) to play and be openly criticized... Both master and student are individuals with their flaws. They may not be meant to even like each other... and they are here, one dissecting the technique and musicality of the other and the player trying to be at best.
Can there be anything more intimidating? :-)

I think some Masters understand that pressure and try to release it with jokes, anecdotes, etc. in the hope that the student will be as relaxed as possible. And this generally works if you - student - are willing to absorb as much as you can during the session. If you come with this mental preparation: be humble, be open minded, don't take anything personal, be relaxed, love the Master and be curious to ask anything, be curious to a point to even show some difficulties you have with technique or musicality and the experience will be awesome. Only then you can enjoy the moment.

I remember the first MC I attended was with Celino Romero and my hands were shaking to a point that I couldn't really play. Nothing to show in term of technical skills. He spotted that, talked to me, put me at ease and asked me to start over. I understood that I was not there to perform but more to learn and the second run went much better.
I always keep that in mind. Even if the Master appears to be mean, pretentious, even irrespecutful, I always think that his/her motivation is rooted in the deep knowledge and understanding of the music, nothing to do with the student. Yes Segovia appears to be a jerk on these famous Chaconne MC on Youtube vids... but he is the one who transcribed it, who adored it, who understood it down to the finest details. I can't find anywhere any remark that was not justified as none of the performer was bringing a true novel way of approaching the piece nor even a passage. His words may have not been the best (especially in English), his body language neither, but I am convinced that he wanted to convey his experience. And I think that only the open minded performers took away something, something that was not frustration.

Masterclasses are useful, a unique moment to learn.
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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by chien buggle » Tue Aug 08, 2017 7:30 pm

I normally come away from a masterclass feeling very inspired. They can be a very good goal for students, especially if the master knows the piece the student is playing. However they are very stressful performance situations, even worse than competitions.

In terms of what you actually learn it really depends on the teacher, some treat it primarily as a performance for themselves, the good ones will focus on the student and find solutions to problems.

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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by Lugosi » Tue Aug 08, 2017 9:59 pm

From the performer's standpoint, what can be learned in a masterclass can just as easily be learned in a private lesson. So I don't see the benefit of a masterclass if you are the performer.

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Re: What is your opinion of guitar classes/masterclasses?

Post by Adrian Allan » Tue Aug 08, 2017 10:12 pm

Lugosi wrote:
Tue Aug 08, 2017 9:59 pm
From the performer's standpoint, what can be learned in a masterclass can just as easily be learned in a private lesson. So I don't see the benefit of a masterclass if you are the performer.
I suppose that it is to give a different insight from your normal teacher.

Plus, it is my experience that the greater the musician, the harder they are to please. I can play a piece to one teacher and he might say "all is fine", but Julian Bream could probably pick apart every note. I'm sure other people have had a similar experience of lessons from the great players - they are can be very hard to please, because it is that level of detail that informs their own performance.
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