Started: Age 6 in 1979
Recordings: Serenade (Independent) Classical Recital CD (Naxos) Mel Bay Presents Martha Masters (DVD) DUO ERATO (Martha Masters & Risa Carlson 2005)
Gear: Simon Marty guitar Savarez strings
Lesson Text: Learn to Play Classical Guitar with Martha Masters Martha's course "Learn to Play Classical Guitar" is for intermediate players. In her lessons, she includes musical examples by great composers, which make practicing and playing fun. Her clear and you-can-do-it teaching style will encourage you to learn to play Classical guitar and take it to the next level. At the intermediate level, Martha discusses basic terminology, positioning and technique. Basic playing techniques for the right and the left hand are explored in the lessons about basic left-hand techniques, rest-strokes and unprepared strokes, free stroke, right-hand thumb, and right-hand string crossing and left-hand shifts combined; these subjects are complemented with chord and arpeggios studies with exercises by J.S. Bach, Diabelli, and Carulli. The lessons explore other techniques, including slurs, tremolo, and thumb rest-stroke, and introduce exercises for right-hand speed development. Martha also teaches how to develop good study habits, an essential lesson for every player.
With a full teaching and concert touring schedule, Martha is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after guitarists of her generation. In October of 2000 she won first prize in the Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) International Solo Competition. The following month she won the Andr�s Segovia International Guitar Competition in Linares, Spain and was a finalist in the Alexandre Tansman International Competition of Musical Personalities in Lodz, Poland.
When did you start to play? I was about 6 years old. My older sister was playing the violin, and I wanted to be just like her, so I thought I should do something! I actually wanted to play the cello, but my mom thought it was too big for me (not that the guitar is much smaller!). I had an uncle who loved the guitar (though not classical, more fingerstyle), and he was the one who got me started. When did you find your voice as a player? Well, playing classical, I always felt different from everyone else, especially as a kid! You just don't meet too many kids playing classical guitar. I guess I realized I was pretty serious by the time I was about 15 or so. Finding my voice....that didn't happen for a long time after that! Probably around age 25, I finally started to feel comfortable with my technique, to trust it enough to be fully expressive, while still taking a lot of musical chances - that's where all the interesting stuff happens. And it is something that I'm still working on, and hopefully will continue to work on for the rest of my life. I think your voice can change with every event that happens in your life, and the secret to really great playing is to be open to all your experiences, and to let them color your playing. How do you keep your playing fresh? I haven't really felt terribly stagnant yet, fortunately! I think sometimes I wish I had the chance to feel that way, what a luxury. Life to this point has been full of great opportunities to play and record such a wide variety of music, it's rare that I play pieces long enough to feel bored. What do you do when you get stuck? Try a different path! What do you still find hard to do? Memorize music - it's an expectation of concert performing, but I hate it! In recent years, I've given myself a little break. I memorize about 75% of my programs, and read about 25%. This is just enough to help me feel more relaxed about the experience, and more relaxed always means playing better. The reduction in anxiety has really improved my performances, and I don't think most audiences mind you reading a piece or two. How often are you surprised by your playing, or what you're listening to, or music in general? That's the most wonderful feeling. Having listened a lot, I would say true moments of surprise are rare; but rewarding! Do you have a regular practice regimen? I went through a period where I was practicing 4-6 hours a day, but my current schedule doesn't allow for that. So now I aim for 2-3 hours a day, and if that time is used really well, it seems to be enough. Of course I'd love more time! But I also love the other things I do. Do you have a practice "tool-kit" - metronome, tuner, recorder, etc.? Do you have a special place for practice set aside in your home? I have a room in my house just for practice, and it is set up with my chair, stand, metronome, pencils, minidisc, CD player, etc. Everything I need to get my work done. It feels great to have this space to retreat to. How do you practice on the road or when you travel? When I'm on the road, every experience is different. Sometimes the schedule is so busy there's no time for practice, and all I get is a bit of time to warm up for the concert. Other times, I actually have far more free time than I do at home, and I have to be careful not to over do it on the day of a concert! Every situation is different. Is there a piece of gear you just can't live without? Being a classical guitarist, I guess just my guitar, and a good nail buffer! Are there one or two core ideas that are central to your teaching that you make sure every student learns? Sounds basic, but pretty much: quality playing (versus speed); and expressive playing. Obviously quality playing requires good technique. But even if you have good technique, you can play poorly if you're out of control. So I try to encourage tempos where students can really hear what they're doing; and then be able to affect change. Going too fast, you don't have a chance to improve. Also, I just insist on trying to tap your musical soul when playing. Nothing bores me more than technical perfection without soul. Do you find yourself returning to listen to the artists who inspired you when you first started to play? Who are they? I didn't listen a whole lot growing up, so not really. My listening started when I went to college, and I already had a lot of years under my belt by then. But now, I love to study recordings by a lot of different artists, not just the ones that I aspire to sound like. I guess I'm always curious what someone else is thinking! Does your playing change when you switch instruments? Classical players don't do that much, so it's not a big deal for me. And even when I do (switch to another classical guitar), I'm generally relatively unaffected. Of course I make little changes in attack, position, etc, but I don't tend to have a difficult time adjusting. We're lucky, I guess! How often, when you're playing, do you find those moments of pure music, when your head is clear, your fingers are working, there are no distractions, and it's just you and the music? I wish more often! This is a beautiful feeling. Ideally, it happens every time I get on stage to perform. And I would say a good percentage of the time, it does. But not always; and that's when good training comes in. Even if I am distracted, or not quite warm, or not quite in the mood, I have to be able to pull it off. Thankfully, most of the time I think I do. And I'm sorry for the times I don't! What music would you suggest your students listen to? I have a couple favorite discs: Sometime Ago, by Manuel Barrueco; and Haydn Sonatas, by Paul Galbraith. They are radically different, but I think brilliant in their own right. The Barrueco recording is certainly a departure from his normal repertoire, but the playing is so sensitive, the recording quality is perfect, I can't get enough of this disc. And Paul Galbraith is such a master of the use of silence - track 2 is my favorite, check it out! What are you listening to these days? Do you search out music that's new and unfamiliar to you? I hate to say I don't listen much, other than for study/research purposes. My current schedule just doesn't leave me with much time to just sit back and enjoy the music. Maybe one day in the future... Do you have a musical wish list - other instruments to learn, people to play with, artists or styles to explore? I've always wanted to learn to play the cello, and maybe when I'm 60 I'll have time to get around to doing it! I've played some duos with Scott Tennant, he's such a hero of mine, that was a big thrill. No real dreams in terms of who else to play with, but there are so many great players out there that would be cool to work with for a piece or two. Have you ever had a really great teacher? What made him/her so good? I've been lucky enough to have several, each in different ways. In fact, I don't think I ever had one that I wouldn't call great. Among my principle teachers, not only did I study with Manuel Barrueco and Scott Tennant, who are internationally renowned for their playing and teaching (and rightfully so), but I also had some inspiring teachers along the way who got me where I am today. My very first teacher - Jim McCutcheon - instilled a love for the instrument and some great early habits; next, Michael Mann, who, though he wasn't really a classical guitarist, he did his best to nurture me, and gave me some of my first real performing opportunities; and Jeff Meyerriecks (my teacher in my high school days), who introduced me to more advanced repertoire, and opened my eyes and ears to truly high level playing in many ways. Outside of my principle teachers, I also had two ancillary teachers who had a big impact on me - Ray Chester at Peabody was the master of technical description - I was always amazed at how he could break things down! And finally, Brian Head at USC - probably the finest communicator I've ever had the pleasure of working with. He was a great teacher in every regard - whatever you needed, he was able to hear it, and articulate just the right response for you at that moment. I greatly admire his skills as a positive communicator, and try to emulate that in my teaching. How do you learn best? That has really changed throughout my life. There were times when I needed a swift kick in the pants (mostly when I was younger); but as I grew, I was generally hard enough by myself that I needed some positive reinforcement, along with as much detailed criticism as possible. I've definitely gone through a lot of different phases in my life as a student; I have tried as a teacher to respond differently to my students needs, remembering the different needs I had when I was in school. Some students I come down on pretty hard- they wouldn't get anywhere without it; others need a lot of nurturing to help them feel confident about what they are doing. It's an interesting challenge!
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