Here’s something we piano players have to deal with that many musicians don’t: our instrument isn’t portable! This makes traveling and going on vacation somewhat difficult. You may have come back from a vacation only to see your piano skills regress. Whoops!
But all is not lost. There are ways to keep your skills as sharp as possible while you’re away from the piano. Here are some ideas on how to practice piano without a piano.
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You can practice finger independence and dexterity on the go. All you need is a flat surface like a desk or airplane tray table.
First, create some patterns. Write down the finger numbers 1 to 5 in random order. Then, play that pattern on your desk with each hand. Try it with your dominant hand first, then the other, and then try playing with both hands at the same time.
Mix up the order of numbers. You can also use a metronome and slowly ramp up the speed. Don’t want to bring a metronome? Use a metronome phone app; even Google has a metronome if you Google “metronome”!
Try to lift and press each finger individually without moving the others. Personally, I always find the 4 finger (the ring finger) to be a struggle. That little guy hates doing anything on his own.
When you’re back home, take the Finger Independence Challenge to see how your desk work has helped your playing.
Try playing scales on your forearm. Why your forearm? Because you can feel exactly how hard each finger is pressing. When we play scales we want even pressure from all fingers, so this exercise will show you which fingers are pushing harder than others.
Again, try doing this with a metronome. And don’t just practice C major—this exercise is especially useful for scales with unusual fingerings like B-flat major and F-sharp major.
One thing you can absolutely practice on the go? Rhythm!
Rhythm exercises are a great way to practice hand independence, one of the trickiest piano techniques for beginners to master. Try tapping one note value with one hand and another note value on the other. For example, try tapping quarter notes with your left hand and tapping eighth notes with your right hand.
Then, try tapping some trickier rhythms, like polyrhythms. Tap triplets in one hand and eighth notes grouped in four in the other—it’s challenging!
You can’t bring your piano on the plane with you, but you can definitely bring sheet music!
While it may sound boring, studying your sheet music “offline” (away from the piano), can be very helpful even when you’re not traveling. In a different context, you may notice things in your sheet music that you didn’t notice when you were busy playing. This can include subtle dynamic markings or even notes you thought you were reading correctly but were not!
Did you know that mental practice—visualizing yourself playing a piece in your head—can help you progress faster? A study on guitar players found that those who used both mental and physical practice performed better and had superior memory than those who used physical practice alone.
Of course, mental practice isn’t a substitution for actually sitting down at the piano. But it’s a way to keep your mind and body sharp while you’re away from the keys. So try closing your eyes and visualizing yourself playing a piece from start to finish.
Consider investing in a travel-sized keyboard. Thanks to new technology, there are tons of portable keyboard instruments you can bring on your travels. Consider a melodica (the Hohner Performer 37 is a solid model to start with), the Yamaha Reface synthesizers, the Roland GO:KEYS, and the Korg Liano. The collapsible new Piano de Voyage is also something to think about!
Do note that these instruments are not substitutes for a real piano—they don’t have weighted keys and should only be used to scratch your traveling piano itch, not to practice on regularly!
Find a public piano. Public pianos have become very popular in cities around the world. They’re not just great places to practice songs. You can also practice performing in front of an audience, play with other people, socialize, and jam! Here’s a map of public pianos around the world.
Listen to music on a portable device. Finally, it’s easier than ever to listen to music on the go. So listen to your repertoire, do some visualization exercises, or follow along with the score.
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