Each week I get emails from people (and I'm speaking mostly about adults here) who love to play piano but have an extremely busy schedule. They want to stay with the instrument but have jobs that keep them busy all day or require frequent traveling. Not only do they not have any spare time, but they often don't have the energy to spend on a piano practice routine. They ask me what they can do in this seemingly impossible situation.
To begin, let's step back for a second and take a deep breath.
You love music. And because you love music, you have a wonderful mental image of how you want to play, with your fingers dancing all over the keys or jamming on your favorite rock and jazz rhythms. This is natural, but it's not going to help you if you can't get to the piano, right? So you have to begin by setting aside your overall goal of how you want to eventually play. This isn't as big a sacrifice as it may seem; after all, if you give up piano entirely, you'll never get to that goal anyway. Ironically though, by setting aside that goal for now, you'll increase your chances of eventually reaching it.
So this is what to do: Pick ONE piano piece, technique, or other area of interest and find a little time to do that every day. 5 minutes is ideal if you are in fact extremely busy. Even 1 minute will work on some days. Let's face it; everyone has 1 minute at some point in the day. Couldn't you stop by the piano for 1 minute after brushing your teeth at night on the way to bed? Or while you're waiting for your computer to boot up before you check your email?
To make this work, you need to think about 2 things:
1. Your only objective is to keep the flame going. Again, you love music and will eventually have more time to practice, so when you get to that point again, won't it be nice to have a little continuity under your belt? You'll still be "warm" and can pick up the pace more at that time.
2. The second aspect of this is more important: We all have responsibilities that are important, like work and taking care of our families. But at the same time, we need to nurture our passions. You owe it to yourself to at least spend as much time at the piano as you do eating breakfast. Because you deserve it. If you take a little time to feed yourself, both physically and artistically, you'll be happier and better able to feed your loved ones. This is important. You'll have a little fun, a get a renewed sense of energy to bring back to your other activities.
So choose something musical that you like, and spend a little time with it at the piano. Every day that you can. Maybe you want to play the chords to Beatles tunes, or play simple pieces by Bach. Or improvise over repeating left hand patterns a la Keith Jarrett. For my own students with limited practice time, I recommend simply focusing on my Flowing Water lessons because they are easy but over time will get them to a new level of fluidity on the piano. Find something at your level and spend a few minutes at it every day. I even know people who use those roll-up pianos while traveling. Not ideal, but much better than nothing. A piano app on your iphone might be good too. You can play a few simple melodies and then go back to work.
When it comes down to a choice between nothing and something, choose "something." Especially if it's something you love. Good luck!
Get my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You'll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration