Short comments on Teaching

Here are some of the comments of Geoffrey Madge, taken from interviews and master classes.

Organic playing:

How to retain the organic connections within a composition, joining the music with the technique? Several of the following observations may be useful. Both a musical composition or lecture have as one of their main objectives to communicate in some way with the listener, luckily this can be achieved in so many creatively different ways.

Natural abilities:

Maintaining our natural abilities and personality, while respecting the written text especially at structurally important moments, to do this we need to know where, when and how. Three questions that are essential to daily practice. To discover new connections within the score.

The performer, hopefully will be able to say “why didn’t I think of this, it's easy”.


Most important is the study of a wide range of compositions from the baroque, classical, 19th century through to the major recent works of the 20th/21st century, not just within a limited "safe" traditional repertoire.


Experimenting with many methods of approaching the piano, including an intensive study of numerous important historical recordings and films, asking questions, how did the legendary performers play and why? It is only when we master a wide range of possibilities that we are able to freely make sensible choices, not unconsciously sticking to a tunnel vision plan which is unfortunately in these days of haste what we often hear.

Sound quality:

There is nothing new about it but much attention is needed concerning sound quality, of course every work has it's own sound world, but also each hall, person, instrument and way of playing have their sound limitations which need different approaches to make the best choices for each situation. The musician must actively listen to how something is sounding and then have the possibilities to respond at the critical moments. Often the sound is simply not connected to the piece or the hall. Our ears need to be extended! To naively listen to how the playing is projected at the back of a hall. What we actually hear on the podium and how this sounds at the rear of a large hall can be two very different experiences. Already trying different balances in the chords can help. With experimentation we may find many exciting new possibilities. A musician needs to be an acoustical expert, like J S Bach.

Physical connection with the sound. Let's get more technical!

It is important to discover new different methods of practice, we need not just one or two approaches to performance, but various, even contrasting ways of making use of the instrument and our personal physical potentials. Studying at times with slow movements, making use of different playing depth's of the keys. Simple principles like the use of a supporting hand, extended or curved fingers, fingers falling into the key from a supported knuckle, easy elbows and wrist joints and upper arms likewise. Fingers slightly diagonal to the keys, or flatter according to the content of the music. All of this can function as a starting point. One needs to experiment with various ways of approaching the keys, with forward movements into the key,or,the grasping of keys as a natural opposite. One basic principle could be, using the unique bone structure of the hands to give support through the joints to the finger tips.

Extremely important is the breathing of the phrases, knowing where to take time and where not. Giving long notes and rests their full value, something that can be lost during the heat of performance. The speed of the fastest melodic notes, not played as something incomprehensible to the listener, can they just manage to say their names? Breathing of the arms and the hands.

Perhaps letting go of the endless control would help loosen things up. As implied above, playing is often technically and musically over controlled, unfortunately often sounding like a repetition of the last rehearsal. The intuition needs to be free, to sing over bar lines and first beats, the discovery of new sounds. Obviously this is only achieved when we are masters of the basic materials.

How important is the art of listening for the pianist who has to listen to each voice. Certainly it is an acquired art that needs practice by both performers and listeners. discovering our musical instincts by asking the right questions at the right time, learning through our own practical experiences.

Some comments:

  • Why not try playing with your eyes closed? This may help to listen better.
  • What does this passage mean to you? What if you changed notes would it give more meaning when you returned to the original?
  • Why did the composer write these markings?
  • Can you imagine why the composer chose these notes and not others? Did you expect them?
  • Don’t just play on the keys, try playing certain notes at different depths of the keys. Listen carefully to the physical sound at a distance.
  • Can you suggest various ways on how to practice this passage? Even trying the opposite to what you would expect?
  • Listen to the spaces between the notes and phrases.
  • Describe how this passage sounds using only a few words, (don't think too long before trying this).
  • Do you think the phrase would sound better if you could..move on here ..or take more time here.. do you know why?
  • How would it sound if you listened to the second half of each long note and rest?
  • Can you give more shape to the melodic lines, give it the cadence of breathing?
  • What would happen if you played a little slower and more melodically, without a feeling of haste? Often slower playing can sound faster than simply fast playing. It's what you do with it that matters
  • Can you play simply just sitting quietly with a supported body posture, without too many overdone movements? You will eventually hear more, then if need be, you can change something.
  • It is interesting to realize that any mistake in sound quality, note, musical mistake etc, (in fact anything), is already committed just prior to hearing it.  So why do it?
  • The difference between sublime and stupid is about 2%.
  • Play as if you enjoy playing!