If you’re like me, you love to travel, whether going on tour or just seeing the world. As a musician though, traveling can get tricky, especially when you have to leave your instrument behind. How do you stay at the top of your game musically, even while out on the road?
The good news is that it’s definitely possible to keep improving your musical ability while living a roving lifestyle. In fact, traveling is full of moments of downtime when you can be upping your game — whether it’s on the train between cities or waiting on line for a ride at DisneyWorld. Here are seven ways you can use this time to stay musical even while you’re away from your instrument.
1. Improve your ear
The most obvious way to stay musical is to practice your active listening skills. Put on some headphones, give yourself some focused time, keep a notebook beside you, and digest whatever it is you’re listening to. Write down what you think the harmonies are, what the instrumentation is, and maybe even guess the melodic intervals, if you’re at that level. It’s like when chefs trying to figure out what ingredients are in dishes just by taste — they improve their palette and get ideas for new techniques and ingredients to try.
2. Stretch your musical interests
Take advantage of being in a new place to listen to different types of music than you normally do. Keep a list of artists, songs, or styles that you’re curious about or haven’t spent much time with and then cue them up on your phone for the airplane or car rides. When you get to your destination, try to catch a performance by a local band. Find out about the local musical traditions. Shazam songs you hear playing in shops and cafes. Traveling can be the perfect time to have all sorts of new creative insights while you’re digesting new sights, sounds, and experiences.
3. Immerse yourself in the sounds of your surroundings
A slight variation on the tip above — open yourself up creatively by immersing yourself in the sounds of where you are. You might find yourself inspired by a subway jingle in Japan or the sounds of the birds at night in Santa Barbara. The most important thing is to actually listen in a focused way to what you’re hearing. Once again, keep a notebook at hand to write down reflections and use your phone to record the inspiring sounds around you.
4. Line up some technical exercises
There are always ways to engage your musical muscles, even when away from your instrument. This is probably easiest for singers, but if you’re a guitarist, buy one of those finger-strengthening machines. If you’re a pianist, bring a song you’re working on and play it on the desk (I had a piano teacher once who had to do this all through World War II when she didn’t have access to a piano). Each instrument is different, so spend a moment googling or ask a teacher for ideas before you leave. (And share any exercises that work for you in the comments below!)
5. Work on your sight-reading
Want to look like a real nerd while traveling? Bring a book of sheet music with you and spend half an hour with it every day. Write the names of the notes, practice the fingerings, and even consider trying to sing the different parts. If you can’t figure out the interval sounds, use other melodies that you know have those intervals to identify them (like “Maria” from West Side Story for a tritone).
6. Write a new melody each day
This is my personal favorite way to practice while on the road: try to write a new song every single day. You can do this with friends or on your own. Come up with a simple melody to describe the places you’re going and the things you’re seeing. I’m sure the people around you will love your original song about your trip to the Grand Canyon (“Oh baby, your love is like the Grand Canyon / It doesn’t give me much to stand on”).
7. Prepare for your return
Our final piece of advice is to just enjoy your time away. Sometimes we all need a break — it can allow us to return with new energy, new ideas, and new perspective. So rather than worrying about practicing every day, make sure you come back with a clear understanding of what you’re planning to work on and how you’ll do it when you get home. Actually set some goals for yourself, such as playing a show within a month of returning or recording a new version of your favorite song.
Getting away is sometimes exactly what you need to give your music new life. Use these tools to make the most of your time away, and have a wonderful trip!
Do you have any other great tricks for staying in musical shape on the road? Share them in the comments below!