Practicing vs. Playing

In my previous post, I suggested encouraging your child to just play the cello instead of practicing when encountering resistance to practice. But what’s the difference?

Playing is running straight through a piece, usually without stopping to fix mistakes or make adjustments. The ability to play straight through with few, if any, mistakes is the ultimate goal of learning any piece.

Practicing is making an observable change or improvement in one or multiple aspects of the task at hand. Practice is for:
learning a new skill
-minimizing mistakes
mastering skills
-developing a habit
-developing endurance and focus
maintaining previously learned skills

Essentially, practice is for learning, mastering and maintaining skills. To bring back another language-learning analogy, you don’t learn a new word, master it’s use and then discard it. That word becomes part of your vocabulary forever. Skills in cello are no different.

Practicing is usually done with a smaller section of a song, a few notes or a few measures, though sometimes can be the entire song. Practicing requires repetition. Practicing is how we achieve mastery and fluency.

Is one better than the other? Nope, music learning requires both.

Playing is ultimately what we do in performances and arguably the more enjoyable aspect of playing an instrument. We need to be able to play through our pieces and the ability to play through a piece beautifully is definitely rewarding.

Practicing has it’s own level of enjoyment – the feeling of accomplishment and the motivation after sustained effort. And we need practice – consistent, effective, efficient practice – in order to be able to play.

The ability to play a song is the result of practice. Practice is needed in order to play. The degree of practice will vary but some upfront effort prior to performance is necessary. One cannot be done without the other.