Singing In A Master Class

It seems that many singing teachers do not understand the nature of a master class with a master teacher. They do not know how to get a student ready for singing in a master class.

A master class is a situation in which very well prepared students who are mostly secure in their vocal training sing briefly for a master teacher (someone with a long history of successful singing teaching) to get a few “pointers” to improve and polish a performance. It is not a situation for beginning singers to “get a few tips” or for singers who are not thoroughly prepared to “be seen” by a master teacher.  A master class is not for the student to have a “nice experience” so they can put this on their resumé.

Requisites are that the TEACHER should be sure that the material chosen for the master class is first of all appropriate to the student both vocally, and in the case of music theater, musically. This means that the music is in their correct “type” (age and gender specific and vocal quality accurate). Students should never sing a song without knowledge about the composer, the lyricist or poet, the time it was written and, in the case of a show, the plot of the show and the situation from which the song is excerpted. If they are singing a shortened version, such as in a 16-bar cut, they should still know the entire song. There should ALWAYS be a second song available, just in case and the songs should have been learned quite some months before, not last week, so that it is completely assimilated into the voice and the body.

In music theater, vocal quality matters. If the song is a loud belt song and you have the student sing it in a high light head register dominant quality, it is YOU, the teacher, who looks ignorant. It puts the student in an awkward position and it forces the master teacher to stand on his or her head in order to protect the student from embarrassment or distress. If the song is a belt song and the student sings almost all of it in a belt quality but switches to head on the high notes, the student CANNOT do the song correctly and it should not be done. All notes, every note, counts and should be done in the vocal quality expected in the music at a professional level.

What should be considered requisite? That the student have not less than two years training and have control over posture, breathing, vocal quality and vowel sounds. Sending a student (high school or college) to sing in front of an audience to be critiqued by a teacher when the student has barely had time to learn anything about how to sing properly is a crime. A CRIME.

Sadly, individuals who have “classical training” and are “professional classical singers” who teach at university or college level, who assign songs at random, or because the student “likes” the song, or because the student “knows the song” as a way to prepare a student for a master class are more abundant that you might want to discover. If you do not have experience with music theater and the student is going to sing a MT song, at least find the music in a professional recording (not some student on YouTube) and listen to it until you understand how it should sound.

Let me say here:

Do not send any student who is not solid in technique, into a master class to sing for a master teacher unless the student is   well prepared. The student must understand the background of the music and the meaning of the words, be able to take instruction without becoming upset and be capable of singing the song in the appropriate vocal quality. Singing in a master class in this way is the teacher’s responsibility, not the student’s. 

A master class typically gives 15-25 minutes to one student. The master teacher has never seen or heard the person before. Some time is used up by singing the song. The teacher must use whatever time is left to find at least one specific thing to address that the student can understand and perhaps change. If you do not change anything, the session will seem to be wasted. This is a difficult job. Do not make it harder!!!

If you send a student up to sing who is barely able to negotiate a song, you are wasting the master teacher’s time, the audience’s time, the student’s time and you are not serving the music. A loss on all counts.

If you know anyone who has ever submitted a student to a master class (or an audition) who does not understand how it is that one gets prepared for singing in a master class, please do everyone a favor and send them to this blog so they can read it.


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