As far as traveling musicians go, pianists are usually stuck with the short end of the stick. After all, it’s no easy feat to fit a Steinway and Sons Grand Piano into your RV as you set out on a cross-county road trip, nor is it a cinch to cram your prized Bosendorfer into the overhead bin of your trans-Atlantic flight to Europe.
How then do you practice piano while traveling? The most important thing is to keep an open mind as what follows are a few different, if not unorthodox, methods to keep up your musical chops while you’re traveling.
We’ll explore the following:
- Piano Apps
- “Travel-sized” Keyboards
- Playing Piano Without a Piano
- Sight Reading
- Active Listening
- Chilling Out/Doing Nothing
That smart phone in your pocket? The tablet the TSA so frequently reminds you to take out of your bag and place on the conveyor belt time and time again? These devices are actually very useful in practicing piano while traveling. Whether you’re just learning to play, or you’re a seasoned pro, there are dozens of apps out there for you.
Simply Piano – Easy to use app filled with basic workouts to keep your piano playing skills on the up and up as you travel. Also utilizes your phone or tablet’s microphone to “listen” to your playing and suggest ways to improve. Available for both iOS and Android.
Magic Piano – A complete “piano-in-a-box.” Features an intuitive game feature that unlocks new songs as you progress. Available for both iOS and Android.
Using your smart devices is an easy and efficient way to practice piano while traveling. Pop in your headphones and practice in silence! Anywhere!
If tiny screens aren’t your thing, you might consider small, portable pianos you can take with you on your travels. While it might not be advisable, or practical, to cart around a hefty 88-key keyboard, there are plenty of options in the 61 to 73-key range that will allow you to flex your piano chops no matter where in the world you wind up!
Many of these mini-pianos also run on batteries, which can be a tremendous help when you’re traveling internationally and your “all-in-one” travel adapter is already chock-full charging your phones and tablets and things. Here are a couple portable piano options to consider:
CME Xkey 37 Air Bluetooth Piano Keyboard – Here's an ultra-portable and slim piano keyboard that can connect to any device via Bluetooth. If you need something that can fit in a backpack on your travels this is it. I use it everywhere I go with some iPad apps and it works great.
Casio CTK2400 PPK 61-Key Portable Keyboard – Affordable and effective, Casio’s portable keyboard is lightweight and easy to transport, making it an ideal way to practice piano while traveling.
Yamaha PSRE253 61-Key Portable Keyboard – Yamaha has long been recognized as a leader in portable keyboards, and the PSRE253 delivers excellent tone and portability to help keep you on your practice schedule while you’re on the road.
These are just a couple of good keyboards to consider as you look for your perfect traveling piano.
No Piano Required!
Some of us prefer to travel without the trappings of technology. We cast aside devices that keep us tethered to our regular day-to-day and instead, look to disconnect as we travel. If you happen to be anti-phone and anti-portable keyboard, you’ve still got to keep those fingers limber!
One easy way to keep up finger dexterity is to practice “playing” on a table. Recommended among piano teachers, “playing” piano (without really playing piano), on a flat surface actually helps ingrain muscle memory, improves posture, and strengthens your fingers.
It’s a cheap (free is always good) and convenient (flat surfaces are usually abundant world-wide) way to practice piano while traveling. Check out these cool clips to see how it’s done!
You might also consider bringing a piece of sheet music with you on your travels. Practicing sight reading improves how you move through a piece of music and makes it easier to translate what you see with your eyes vs. what your fingers wind up playing.
In fact, you can use this sheet music as you “play” on flat surfaces. Pick your favorite composition, pick a public place, and watch in amazement as crowds gather to watch the “pianist-without-a-piano.” Side note: This is an easy way to meet people as you travel abroad!
Even when you are at home and don't have a piano for whatever reason, there are still plenty of ways to learn in your free time.
You play with your fingers, but you hear with your ears, and one of the best ways to practice piano while you are traveling is to do a lot of listening. Listen to some of the local composers and their compositions. Listen to local music and its instrumentation.
But don’t just listen passively.
Practice “active” listening. Before you leave for your trip, ask your piano teacher for some tips to integrate active listening into your practice. For instance, while you listen, write down the melodies of the piano or practice writing out the music as you listen. Identify harmony, or harmonies.
Transcribe, as best you can, the music you hear. Pretend you have to teach this music to another student. There is no better way to demonstrate mastery of a subject than to be able to teach it to another.
These active listening ideas are a very imaginative way of practicing piano while you travel.
Did you see the sun succumb to the sea in Santorini? Did you fall in love with the girl with the luminous smile and deep brown eyes in Paris? Write a song about it! Pick three chords and write a melody (all the best songs are usually the simplest) and hum it into your phone, write it down on sheet music, or scribble it down on the back of the menu from the restaurant you had the “best meal of your life” at.
Writing music is an excellent way to practice not only your piano skills, but also a way to encapsulate some of the things that take your breath away as you travel. As they say, when words fail, music is there (or something like that).
Lastly, sometimes the very best way to practice piano while traveling is to not practice at all. Go out, take in your surroundings, enjoy the people, places, and things you see along the way. Experience new cultural practices, try new foods, take lots of pictures to show your friends back home. Take that hike with the amazing view or take the time to do nothing at all.
Travel opens us up and broadens our horizons. Let the “travel muse” find you and be accepting of the possibility of the wonderful music you’re going to want to write and play upon your return home.