Parent Handbook

Practice vs. Play

What is Practicing?

Practicing is probably the most misunderstood part of learning. The important thing to remember is that “practicing” and “playing” are NOT the same thing.

  1. PRACTICING is taking a small part of something and working on it to create a CHANGE: playing the correct notes and fingering, making it more beautiful, making it easier to play, and to develop more self-confidence. Practicing develops new skill, to become easy and natural to do.
  2. PLAYING is the fun of going through the entire piece. Both practicing and playing are important. Playing develops fluency.


Since playing an instrument is a physical skill similar to that of a sport that uses the small muscles, these muscles must be exercised (repeated) many times to become effortless. Remember that repetition is the key to developing a high level of skill. The parent's greatest challenge is to find interesting and varied ways of getting your child to practice (repeat). In our culture, we tend to think of repetition as boring. But in reality, if each repetition is evaluated and concentrated on, it becomes interesting and exciting to watch and feel the new skill become easier and under control. Repetition is boring only if it is mindless. Help your child decide if each repetition is acceptable or what needs to be changed to make it better.

Parents initiate the home practices

"Children feel, parents plan." Adults understand the consequences of practicing, children cannot. It is the parent's responsibility to ensure home practices. Be certain that practice instructions are clear before you leave the lesson, so your child can bring it to the next lesson and feel good about his progress. The hope is to make the experience a positive one that will increase your child’s ability and confidence. As your child matures, he will take on more and more of the practicing himself. But the ability of the child to practice well on his own will depend on the quality of the practice which has been done with the parent in the previous years.

A Bonding Opportunity for Parent & Child

Practicing can be enjoyable! Make every effort to be in a good mood when you practice. Your child will mirror your mood. If your child is very young, practice several times a day for 5-10 minutes each time. Every student, no matter what level, benefits from two practice sessions a day rather than one long one. Keep in mind what a wonderful thing you and your child are doing together. You are helping your child develop skills which will help him succeed in everything he does: cooperation, concentration, good coordination, listening skills, and appreciation of beauty. This is the foundation to playing well. Be aware of this during the practice sessions.

Be Positive

Find something good to say. You might compliment your child on his posture or his concentration or his effort to cooperate. Then ask the child or suggest that you need to work together on what the teacher assigned. Be positive while being honest. NEVER compliment a child falsely. Children are basically honest. If you are insincere, they will be confused and may soon not believe your sincere compliments. When a practice moment does not work out as planned, you may say, "Thank you for trying." or “Do you think you should try that again?” or "Is that how our teacher wanted you to do it?"

Silence is also a good response to an erroneous attempt. This applies to cooperation as well as accuracy with the notes or rhythm.

Do not expect the child to listen longer than he is able

Stop BEFORE your child is tired. Adults tend to want to go too long. If you stop before your child is tired, rather than trying to do just one more thing, your child will most likely return to practicing eagerly.

Decide to play or practice

If you've chosen to "play," DO NOT interrupt in the middle of the piece, no matter what you see as needing correcting. If it is a "practice," be sure the child understands exactly what he is to practice and what you are trying to change. Confusion between playing and practicing and interrupting the child DURING a "play" causes 90% of the problems in practicing!