Many of my adult piano students find themselves traveling on business without a piano and ask me what they can do during these times to keep working on their playing. If you yourself do any business traveling, you may find that it can be quite challenging to get any sense of continuity with your piano practice with all of these frequent (and sometimes lengthy) interruptions. (Ironically, touring musicians have the same problem.)
Here are 5 highly effective ways I’ve come up with to practice your music while staying in hotel rooms or other temporary housing:
1. Keep the flame alive
The basic idea is to ‘keep your musical flame alive” in any way you can. One great way to do this is to make a listening playlist and listen to a little bit of it whenever you can. Choose a style of music you want to improve with, or a favorite pianist, and put together a playlist on Spotify or another streaming service. You can listen to a song or two at the airport, in the mornings before leaving your hotel room for the day, over a rental car stereo system, and at night when you‘re back in your room again. You’ll be surprised at how much listening time you can get in like this!
2. Focused listening
This is one of my favorites, and I do it myself all the time. Before leaving home for your trip, identify one particular aspect of your playing you’d like to improve. Choose something in terms of your musicianship, such as improvising solos with a beginning/middle/end, comping chords with more varied rhythms, or learning a wider variety of bass lines. Then, compile a playlist with this in mind. If you’re working on bass lines, for example, your playlist might contain selections by the jazz bassist Paul Chambers, Motown legend James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, and Stevie Wonder. Then listen to these tracks whenever you have a few moments each day, focusing especially on the bass line itself. Follow the flow of the bass line and notice what the bassist is really doing. Are there a lot of notes, or is it sparse? Are the lines stepwise, or do they stay mostly on the chord roots? Does the bass line anchor the overall sound, or is it a higher countermelody like Paul McCartney often plays? If you truly listen in this focused and analytic way, you’ll have a much easier time sitting down at your piano and actually learning to play these kinds of bass lines when you return home.
3. Bring a portable keyboard
Sure, this isn’t always possible, but sometimes it is. I have a student who spends a few weeks at a time working in a city away from home. Since he stays at the same apartment each time, he was able to purchase an inexpensive keyboard and leave it there. Violá! Problem solved! There may be times when this can work for you. Even a roll-up keyboard can be useful for practicing chord voicings in all keys, learning all your modes, or working on ear training. Think out-of-the-box and you may find the right solution for you.
4. Play on hotel lobby pianos
I have a lot of students who, with my encouragement, have done this. The key is to play music that is simple for you to play and sounds good. This gives you invaluable experience with playing in public in a non-pressurized situation. The reality is that most passers-by aren’t listening to you and those that are listening don’t really care how you sound. They’re preoccupied with their own lives. Just enjoy yourself and play something that sounds pleasant. After all, this could be a big step in your musical development.
5. Go hear live music
Think about it: you’re in a new town with a new live music scene. Go out and explore! Ask a business associate where’s the best place to hear live music. Organize a night out for yourself and your coworkers. Or even go there yourself. Maybe there’s a “jam session” night at a local club. Or a jazz brunch at a nice restaurant. Hearing live music is one of the best and most invigorating ways to fan our musical flames!
Keep in mind that even a month-long business trip is just a “blip” in time when viewed from a longer perspective. One year from now, the fact that you were away from your home piano for the month of March will seem insignificant. At the same time, it’s easily possible to nurture your love of music and even do some valuable practicing during this time. Try these 5 ideas and see your piano playing improve both during and after your actual trip.
Above all, enjoy the journey and “let the music flow!”