When we talk about learning music, often we use the words “playing” and “practicing” interchangeably. They are worlds apart and refer to two very different mindsets. When your child sits down with their instrument, it’s great to be clear on which of the two they will be doing. 

How to practice your instrument

Practicing an instrument is when the child sits down with a set goal and aims to improve their skill set. It is an analytical, critical, and detail-orientated mindset whereby the child wants to improve on their current level of knowledge. Perhaps they want to learn a new scale, perfect a particular passage of music, or get to grips with a particularly troublesome few bars. Practice is the way to do it.

In my classes at Stage Talent, I tell my students to pick one thing that they want to improve on. It could be something big or small, related to tone, technique, or anything else! I then work with them to devise a way to specifically target that aim, and advise them to do it repeatedly.

One of the key benefits of practicing is that it teaches your child how to plan. They approach the piece, identify particular passages, and aim to master them. It also introduces the brain to recognize differences and similarities in specific passages, as they deconstruct the piece and work with it section by section and bar by bar. I encourage them to slow the particular section down and tackle it with one hand at a time. As you can see, practice is an important part of learning music.

If you fail, try again!

They learn it hand-by-hand and then combine the two before gradually speeding it up; it teaches them patience and ensures they assess their work as they go along. If mistakes are made, they need to go back and start again. This helps them develop a critical approach to their work, recognizing where there is work to be done and having the perseverance to go back and perfect it. 

Practicing is not about sitting and playing the same piece over and over again. It is the process of zooming in on sections, deconstructing them, perfecting them, and then putting the piece back together again. Playing until they have corrected any issues or mistakes also helps them build good habits and transferable skills that can be applied in other areas of their lives. This skill of breaking tasks into manageable chunks, self-evaluating, and persisting until it’s just right will stand them in good stead in exam revision, general studying, and the working world.

This continuous process of development also helps to build and reinforce neural pathways. Think of it as a trickle of water running through a valley; the longer the water continues to flow, the deeper and broader the trickle becomes. It develops into a stream and then a river, allowing water to flow quickly, firmly, and with ease. It’s the same concept when it comes to learning music and practicing a piece.

How to play an instrument

Playing an instrument is when your child sits and engages with it for pure enjoyment. While practicing is also enjoyable, playing is where they are free, creative, intuitive, and can let themselves go. 

Practicing predominantly uses the left side of the brain- the part reserved for logic, patterns, structure, and calculations. Playing is where the benefits of the left brain are used in conjunction with the creative and free right side.

It’s a time when our child feels at one with the music and becomes lost in the pages and notes. They can express their mood through the crescendos and diminuendos, through legato and staccato, and with each bar as they let it flow over and through them. Playing an instrument is therapeutic, relaxing, and revitalizing. It helps your child clear their minds and destress.

Intuitive thinking and more

But asides from those benefits, playing serves a variety of other important purposes. It helps your child to nurture a more intuitive way of thinking. It can enable them to learn to better engage with their emotions and know how to manage and channel them during day-to-day life.

Various studies have also found that playing music helps the brain more than any other activity and increases resistance to age-related hearing declines. Regular playing changes the structure of the brain and enables it to function better. The benefits are even more pronounced for those who start at a young age and continue playing throughout childhood. 

In terms of technique, plenty of playing will lead to improved dynamic and tone control and better memory recall. It will also help your child develop their touch and style, something that is essential to bring a piece to life.

Last but not least, time spent playing music is time spent away from mobiles and tablets. We live in a digital age and it can be so hard trying to prise devices out of their hands or get them to balance screen time with something a little more constructive. Playing music is the perfect alternative!

What not to do when learning music!

  • Do both at once

Don’t let your child try to do both during one session. As each approach uses different sides of the brain, it can be confusing to switch between the two. It can result in confusion and frustration if the child tries to apply expression to a piece they do not know, or deconstructed analysis to a piece they know inside out. Put aside separate times where each approach can be worked on, independent of the other.

  • Do too much of one and not enough of another

Too much practice and not enough playing may see your child to lose interest in the instrument. They may feel it is too much like hard work, and as they cannot express themselves, they may feel stunted. If you let them play all the time rather than practice, they will lose interest as they fail to develop a proper understanding and grasp of the pieces they want to play.  

  • Apply pressure

It’s essential always to encourage your child to practice and play, but if you pressure or force them too much, it takes the enjoyment out of it. Create a schedule that includes both playing and practicing balance and incentivize your child to engage in both.

  • Get put off by obstacles

Even the most famous and talented musicians have to put in a significant amount of practice and play every day.  It’s not just as simple as learning music. And even they still make mistakes. Obstacles, challenges, and setbacks will happen regardless of what level of ability and experience your budding musician has. The key is to overcome them. Frame them as challenges that need to be met and surpassed, and keep encouraging them not to get defeated by a remarkably complex piece.

The last word…

There are a couple more factors you should keep in mind when organising your child’s practicing and playing time.

Remember that children have different attention spans based on their age and personality. If your child does well studying in short bursts, ensure their practice and playing time reflect that. Likewise, a four-year-old will benefit from shorter sessions more often, whereas an older child can accomplish more over a more extended period.

You must also take into account the level your child is at. A child at an intermediate or advanced level will need a different practicing and playing schedule from a beginner. Getting the balance right and taking your child’s individuality into account will be vital in getting this just right! Be aware of the way your child learns and how they respond to different lengths and intensities of practicing, and balance it with an appropriate amount of playing to allow them to enjoy the fruition of their hard work.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

Lastly, they say that Rome was not built in a day, which is true when it comes to learning an instrument or a piece of music. Practicing requires dedication, perseverance, and commitment. Your child and you as a parent should understand that the process of learning a piece can take weeks or even months and improvements happen in a gradual, staggered way. Remember, your child is unlikely to master an entire piece in a day or even a week, so ongoing practicing and playing is essential to succeed!

Our music teaching programmes are designed to help creativity thrive while children strive. We specialise in character development via music and performing arts by supporting children to build confidence and strive for excellence. For more information or to book your FREE Taster lesson contact us: www.StageTalent.co.uk or text to 07782503260.