Practicing on vacation is an often-debated topic. Many emphasize the importance of mental and physical rest (at least for a short time), while others don’t see traveling as a reason to stop practicing and improving, especially if they love doing it.
Maybe you got a big gig that unfortunately falls right after your much-anticipated vacation. Maybe you’re behind in the school band and want to make sure you improve before school starts. Maybe you just love practicing!
Whatever your reason may be, it can be unrealistic to expect to get the same productivity during vacation than at home. On vacation, you’ll probably have less 'free' time to practice, little to no places to practice, and most likely, you cannot even bring your instrument.
So - how can you practice abroad and sans instrument? How should practice focus change during this time and how can this change benefit you?
Change Your Focus
The first thing you’ll have to do is to not expect to practice as you do at home. In the comfort of your home or practice room, you have your instrument, time, and the ability to make noise. Lots of it.
When you travel, you may be renting a space, often closely attached to other visitors’ spaces. In being courteous to the place you are visiting and the people around you, you can no longer do things like whip out your trumpet at 1am and practice the highest notes of your high school fight song. Maybe you’re in a place where you really can’t make any noise.
Well, no need to stress! We’ve come up with ways to practice for all situations - whether you have access to an instrument or not, and if you have to be quiet or not.
But before all of that, let’s address the fact that music practice isn’t just about getting your lines down. There are a lot of different aspects of music you can focus on without your instrument:
Rhythm. This is the perfect time to lock in those difficult polyrhythms or odd-meter phrasings! You only need your hands to tap it out.
Theory. Learn some theory! Figure out chord progressions, voicings, or scales that you can try out later. Get theory homework out of the way.
Prep for transcription. I often find really fast passages hard to transcribe on the spot. I have to replay it over and over to hear what’s happening. So, I find a bunch of these and put them in a playlist for my vacation. During the plane ride or long car rides, I listen to them on loop until I can sing it back note for note. Then, notating it when I get back is a breeze.
Ear training. There are tons of ear-training apps and CDs you can use. You can work on interval recognition, chord recognition, etc.
- Sight-singing. All you need is a virtual piano app or tuner to double check your notes every once in a while.
Practicing Your Instrument While Traveling
Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty. We split this section into two parts: for those of you who are able to bring your instruments and those who can’t. Then (since you may or may not be able to make noise), I’ve marked quiet practice techniques with a (Q) and “loud” (for playing out loud) practice techniques with an (L).
If You Can Bring Your Instrument...
- Find a designated practice space and practice as usual (L). If you have access to a good practice space that doesn't bother anyone, go ahead and do your thing! Maybe it's a friend's house, or the local music school's practice rooms (given that you know someone with the key). Obviously, this is a best case scenario.
- Fingerings (Q). For a lot of instruments, this is half the battle. For wind instruments, blowing air gently through the horn while imitating playing can still be a very productive practice session.
- Mutes (Q). I've witnessed a friend put a mute on his trumpet and play into the blankets on the bed. It actually got pretty quiet. Hey, whatever works, right?
- Portable keyboards/midi instruments with a laptop (Q/L).
If You Cannot Bring Your Instrument
- Just bring the mouthpiece (L). This goes for horns and winds. There are a lot of things you can work on with just a mouthpiece - like, everything else you do that doesn’t involve your hands. Let me list a few:
- breath control
- long tones
- tonguing But...these can make a very annoying sound. So just make sure you’re not doing this during quiet hours!
- Drum pads (Q…. or maybe L). Don't forget the drum sticks!
- Paper piano (Q). Print out the keys and practice! It'll be a very mental practice but it's great to at least go through the motions and have to really think about what you're "playing".
- Portable guitar fretboards (Q). If you do a search on Google, you'll see they sell portable frets that you can practice fingerings on. Although I do not play guitar, I have heard that practicing strumming motions away from the guitar is also helpful.
- Or… you can ask the hotel lobby if they have a piano available to play on, or see if nearby music stores rent space/instruments for a short period of time.
How do you keep your skills sharp when you go on vacation? We tried to cover a variety of instruments and methods here, but obviously, we're missing a lot. We'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below. Please share, and feel free to link to this article in your websites to help your students out!