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I tell my students to never practice the piano, but to always play the piano. When you think it’s fun, you do it more often.
Children want to do what trusted adults ask of them. But asking for something before they are ready to trust me dooms the whole idea of home play (practicing) from the start.
Instead, I build trust during the first few lessons with healthy amounts of play, in the form of copying games, rhythm clapping and shared creativity. After a good amount of time building trust in this way, a child is much better prepared internally to follow directions from me when I am not there. Still, I avoid using the word practice in my requests as much as possible, at the beginning.
Enough of my students’ parents have their own childhood memories of word practice being used in unkind ways that I stay away from it altogether in the early years of lessons.
This helps my students and their parents develop an understanding of home play as the discovery of music and learning that happens in between lessons. Calling it home play frames it as a choice my students make, rather than a chore.
If students don't do their home play, they still enjoy their lessons. But they do feel excited and motivated when they have done it, because they can see and sense their own progress.
After a few years of study, I do suggest calling home play practicing, but only after a student has gotten into the habit of consistently enjoying playing the piano on their own in between sessions.
For now, though, the focus is on home play. If you, dear reader, have any habits or skills in your life that you need to practice, give the term home play a spin and see if it gives the thought of it more energy. Let me know what you find out!