How to Get the Most from Your Workshop
I like workshops. They’re full of people who are learning and challenging themselves, and there’s usually lots of coffee. A workshop is a great way to explore new music and discover new ways of thinking about music and playing.
But it’s not a magic pill.
I still remember attending my first few masterclasses. I waited to hear the teacher say the magic words that would take my playing to the next level.
They didn’t come. Because words don’t transform you, at least not immediately. To words, you have to add work- intentional, intelligent work over time.
Workshops can give you tools that help you accomplish that work. They can provide guidance and motivation. But even more valuable, a workshop widens your sense of the possible. A workshop can show you what a more skilled version of yourself could do, and that’s incredibly motivating.
Workshops do cost money, so if you’re attending one, it makes sense to approach it in a way that will get you the most musical bang for your buck. Over the years, I’ve attended many, many workshops, both as a student and as a teacher. Here are my hard-earned lessons about how to make a workshop work for you:
Be uncomfortable. If you are fully comfortable with every aspect of what happens musically at a workshop, you are not learning. You may be enjoying yourself (and if that’s all you want, fine), but if you ‘re not uncomfortable, chances are you’re not exploring new territory or expanding your understanding. The best thing you can do for yourself at a workshop is get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you’re not sure you’re doing it right, you’re doing it right.
Have a goal. You probably wouldn’t go to the grocery store without a list. Similarly, you’ll get the most out of your workshop if you walk in the door with a goal to help you filter and focus what you hear. It’s most helpful to make it specific: You’re here to learn more about articulation, or play bass recorder on at least two pieces, or improve your tone. A concrete goal will help you to dodge the workshop’s signal hazard, which is overwork. You will be tempted, sorely tempted, to learn crumhorn, sign madrigals, go to yoga class, shop for music, play after hours, and organize a workshop square dance. Then, on Wednesday, you will collapse. Unless you have a goal.
Stay open. You’ll probably hear something from teachers or fellow students you disagree with or weren’t expecting. Try it anyway. Your teachers are trying to help you, and embracing, even if temporarily, someone else’s perspective can make you a more interesting and flexible player.
Write things down. You may think you’ll remember the name of that terrific canzona you heard, or that smart thing you heard about breathing, or that exercise book you loved. You won’t. (I speak from experience!)
Chat. One thing workshop attendees consistently tell me is how much they learn from other workshop attendees. I know I nearly always learn something at workshops from students and colleagues. Even if you’re not the chatty kind, take a moment to strike up a conversation at coffee hour (bonus = coffee).
Ask for financial help. Many workshops offer some kind of financial aid for those who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Often, this isn’t well-publicized and I’ve several times seen scholarships go unclaimed. If aid would make the difference to you between attending and not attending a workshop, ask!
Bring coffee. Some workshops have excellent coffee. Some workshops have coffee of the quality one drinks only in desperate circumstances. Desperate circumstances will arise.
Go. I urge my students to attend workshops when it’s financially feasible, because they always come back inspired. Workshops aren’t magic beans, but they are infusions of fuel: your fire will burn more brightly.
And if you’d like to join me at a workshop this summer, I’m privileged to be teaching at four: Check out the Virginia Baroque Performance Academy, Mountain Collegium, Mideast, and SFEMS Recorder Week.