The PIP Approach: Praise - Improve - Praise

Esther Lund Madsen teaching in London in April 1995

by Jenny Macmillan

Ability Development, Summer 1995

The name Esther Lund Madsen is surrounded by a certain aura amongst Suzuki teachers. A fine musician, a distinguished pianist and an eminent Suzuki piano teacher, Esther flew over from Denmark for two days of examining and three days of teaching in London in April. It was fascinating and inspiring to watch her teach. She is always very positive. She becomes totally involved with each child she teaches, and excited by what each child has achieved. She inspires the children to make the music come alive.

Teaching technique
Her teaching technique is quite simple: praise - improve - praise. After hearing a child play a piece, she will praise some aspect of the performance. She may then ask Was it good? Can it be better? Of course, one can always play better. She then suggests an improvement and demonstrates it. The child must get ready - wait - look and listen (to demonstration) - play. The childís imitation of the demonstration is then duly praised. She may ask the child how he should practise - slowly and separately - and ask him to do it for her in the lesson.

Every practice and every lesson
Esther insists that at every practice and in every lesson all pupils - even teenagers and those in the most advanced repertoire books - should play at least the first line of each variation, which takes only 50 seconds for each hand. This is to warm up the fingers, to remind the fingers how to behave, to free the fingertips, and to be a better player. And when playing the variations, she says, always make them interesting, happy, joyful and musical - never dull or boring.

Esther suggests practising variations in different ways:

Children who have progressed onto scales should play all major and minor scales two octaves every day. They may be played: Children can invent different ways of practising scales.

Esther also recommends playing:

Above all, scales must be played beautifully, using the fingers well, making a big sound on each note. For faster scales, use smaller movements - lift the fingers less - but donít push from the surface of the key as that produces a flat tone quality. Make the fingers dance.

Esther advises exercises by Hanon to develop control. These are to be practised in a variety of ways:

These ideas may be developed so, for instance, one hand is legato, the other staccato for one bar, then the hands change over for the next bar.

Listen - wait - take - move
Estherís teaching philosophy is based on four concepts - listen, wait, take and move.

Esther says Itís not fun to practise - itís hard work - then itís interesting. Donít practise in the same way every day - find new ways of practising - use your imagination. She says one cannot play well fast until one can play well slowly. Practise fast sections slowly. Every day practise a short section (a page, or two lines) very slowly. When practising slowly, move the fingertips more to make a bigger tone. Exaggerate everything - touch, dynamics, etc - so that nothing is hidden. Then all the weeds come up. Throw them out, and get every little detail right. Practise slowly and separately for perfect control.

Esther told us that one of the finest concert pianists ever, Rubinstein, played his concert pieces very slowly on the day of a concert. Every day he practised a little very slowly.

Esther likes to question her pupils. For instance:

She says Donít just play the piano - make music - tell a story. Donít be too nice - thatís boring. Students were exhorted to play with love - make the piano sing - make every note come alive.

Esther claims that children with a musical background will function better as adults whatever their job or profession. Suzuki philosophy is about teaching the whole child.