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This piece should offer thought leadership on how educators can provide a better learning experience for their students, linking workshops and clinics to tours. Infuse your experience with workshops, clinics, or classes if possible.
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Anyone in the field of music knows that other than practicing, observation is one of the other most important learning tools. However, different than practice, observation allows for exposure to a variety of perspectives which can greatly improve one’s skills. As a junior music major, I find that this is increasingly true.
Most musicians learn their instruments from a few teachers in their lives and they end up accumulating the different teachings that they’ve had, and they end up as a mixture of all their experiences. As a result, each musician has a unique learning journey with many different teachers. Hence, through masterclasses, workshops and clinics, we can further diversify the knowledge that we possess by learning from other professionals and experts in our fields.
In the case of students, these sessions are usually a student’s glimpse into the opinions and advice from professionals in the music community. They are great growing opportunities for your students, and as educators, you must help your students so that they can make the most of these sessions.
Explain the Importance of Clinics, Workshops and Masterclasses to Your Students
Especially during middle or high school, many students may be attending or participating in their first clinics or workshops and may not yet understand the value of clinics. Hence it is important to explain how and why a clinician may be visiting your ensemble/students. When you’re explaining it to your students, you should try to keep it positive so that they will feel more at ease. This can be especially important because some students have performance anxiety and you should try to cultivate the idea that these workshops are a constructive and pleasant learning experiences, rather than stressful and scary ones. A more positive outlook in general creates a better atmosphere and will end up generating a more successful learning experience.
With your students more well-informed about how clinics can lead to vast improvements, they will likely be more engaged and potentially get more out of the session. When I was in my high school choir, my director always emphasized that clinics were important, and the choir reciprocated by putting on our best behavior and performance forward as an ensemble. It was during my high school choir days where I first learned the importance of clinics. My choir was highly focused on accuracy and tone and every piece we performed was polished and highly refined. However, I found that even if the notes were accurate and our tone was great, the clinicians would always have great suggestions for the choir, whether it was stylistic advice or textual corrections. In fact, there was a clinician who even once told our choir that we were too refined and that made one of our pieces stylistically incorrect! I was thoroughly intrigued by the advice that they gave us and loved seeing new perspectives.
Now, as a music major in college, I am exposed to more masterclasses and workshops instead. With masterclasses, the benefits that you gain from clinics remain, but they can be much more personalized. In college, most music students already understand the value of masterclasses but as a teacher or director, you should still promote these events and encourage students to attend. You should emphasize how attending such events can provide the students with useful tips that can help them in their pieces or their playing in general. For example, in my most recent masterclass with concert pianist Adam Neiman, he explained how arm positioning height-wise can affect my stamina in Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique’s 1st mvt. It was particularly insightful for me since my professor does not usually address anatomical points for playing since he focuses mostly on the stylistic elements. I would not have gained such knowledge if I had not attended the masterclass with my teacher’s encouragement.
Consider What You Would Like Your Students to Get Out of the Experience
Other than encouraging your students to attend these events, I think a director/teacher should also consider what they would like a student to get out of a workshop/masterclass/clinic. Different musicians have certain specialities and focuses that they can offer, so if you have a choice in the individual, you should choose them based on the help that you think they can offer. As mentioned earlier, you may want to consider clinicians or teachers that focus on different musical aspects than you. Some different things can include Dalcroze Eurhythmics, anatomical aspects of playing, or even historical aspects of music. It all depends on what you might like your student to learn about. It can also be important to consider what your students are currently working on. It can be very helpful to pair stylistic choices with what the teacher/clinician specializes in, if they have one. One semester, my university had a surprise visit from a concert pianist who had a flair in Romantic era music. We quickly arranged an impromptu masterclass but the program we offered was not the best fit. Out of the three performing pianists, a fellow student and I only had a Baroque and Classical piece respectively, so we performed what we had for him. However, due to his specialty, he adviced us with various Romantic-era gestures for the music which made the music untrue to its respective stylistic eras, in my opinion. In fact, I was so confused since he offered such contrasting teachings than my professor who is highly focused on authenticities to styles. To me, I felt like I did not get much out of that masterclass since the advice was not really applicable to me. In a way, many aspects did not really work out for this masterclass but it was still a learning experience regardless.
Always Debrief After a Masterclass/Workshop/Clinic
Referring back to the story I just mentioned, a teacher’s debriefing is a very important closure to a masterclass/workshop/clinic. The debrief has many functions. It can be a time for students to ask questions that they did not have a chance to ask. Oftentimes, I find that I am more comfortable asking my teacher some questions instead of the masterclass or workshop instructor/clinician since I feel like some questions are not as relevant at the time or sometimes even dumb! The restriction of time during a session may also be a factor to consider. However, in cases like my story earlier, the debrief gives your students a chance to discuss any confusions they may have had during the session. This prevents them from learning wrong knowledge which could affect their playing later on. If your students have no questions, the debrief can still serve as a reminder to solidify what they have learnt in their experience. This is particularly important with ensembles since you must communicate what changes you may choose to adopt from the clinician.
As an educator, you should always encourage your students to take any masterclass/workshop opportunities that are offered to them, since these experiences are often once in a lifetime and will help them grow as musicians. Similarly, by informing your ensemble and preparing them for a clinic by creating a positive environment, your students will get the most out of the experience. You should also try to arrange suitable teachers if you have an option. And finally, after these experiences, you should always let your students discuss them with you so that they can clarify any uncertainties they may have and solidify their knowledge. As long as you help your students throughout this entire process, they are sure to get as much of it as they can!