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Three Thoughts on Master class Teaching

I just returned from presenting a master class last weekend at the University of Chicago. I had a great time visiting their beautiful campus and working with the brilliant piano students. For me, giving master classes have always been a challenge in comparison to teaching my own students at Miami University. In this type of setting, teachers must present their thoughts in a clear, concise, and convincing manner to make a quick impression with students they have not met before. In this post, I want to share three brief thoughts on master class teaching.

Master class is for the audience as well

I am not saying that the master class teacher needs to put on a show to entertain the audience, but more so that the instruction needs to be presented in a way for the public to consume the information. There are a number of ways to engage observers. Through my own experiences, I have learned that addressing the public on occasion (i.e. speaking directly and asking them questions) and sharing anecdotal stories have been especially effective. The audience should feel that they have joint ownership in learning with the student.

Focus on a few things to work on for each student

Typically, master class teachers have twenty to thirty minutes to work with each student (including the time it takes to perform the music). Those who give master classes will know that this time is not nearly enough in addressing all of the meticulous details that one would work in a private lesson. In an effort to streamline the teaching process, I manage my time most efficiently by focusing and examining a couple of large concepts—diagnosing, addressing, and resolving the greatest issues of need. In other words, one should not feel obligated to cover the majority of the work, but rather, small samples of the piece.   

It is OK if the student is not able to make all of the changes during the lesson

Personally, this idea has been difficult for me (and still is) to accept because as teachers we have always been conditioned to “fix” everything in a lesson. But as previously mentioned, we have limited time to work on details. I believe that enough time should be spent on a certain excerpt so that the student and the audience understand the particular concepts communicated by the teacher. Further detailed work can then be applied outside of the class with the student’s primary instructor. Again, I want to stress that the master class is for both, the student and the audience, rather than a private lesson that is open to the public.  

For me, I always enjoy the challenge of teaching master classes. It is a nice change of pace and encourages me to think on my feet. I always find that I am learning something new with this format—explaining concepts more eloquently and concisely, managing my time, and finding additional ways to relate with students. As always, we must be constant learners, right?

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