Travel and Music Practice: How to make the most of your travel time

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Travel and Music Practice: How to make the most of your travel time

Travel is part of modern life. Whether it is to visit family, for work, vacation, or study, it seems that as a society we travel more than ever before.

For a classical guitarist trying to maintain a regular practice schedule it can pose some distinct challenges and opportunities.

The challenges inherent in travel are pretty obvious: your time is scattered, your routine is disrupted, and its unlikely that you will have your instrument and other resources handy in the same way as you do at home.

The opportunities, however, are not so obvious. Musical avenues that are normally obscured by the desire to get your hands on the guitar can open up. These avenues lead you to musical development that is equally as important as physical practice but rarely pursued.

Relax & recharge

It might feel like brute force is the only way for you to master your instrument. Accumulate your 10,000 hours as quickly as you can and diligently practice x hours per day with the latest method.

This relentless approach to life is unfortunately encouraged quite a lot in modern society as the rat race feels more and more competitive. I see it quite often in young students still in school. They have so many activities scheduled each day that idleness, creativity, and exploration get squeezed out in favor of resume building. Adults too can get swept up in the hype of productivity, efficiency, and the daily grind.

The counter intuitive component of all this is rest.

Sleep, reduced stress, and an opportunity to recharge your energy levels can do wonders for your musical journey.

Not only will you benefit from a renewed focus but you might find yourself being a little more positive about your abilities too. A break away from playing can offer some surprising objectivity that can be encouraging and let you listen with a fresh pair of ears.

Don’t be afraid to step away from your regular practice and embrace the travel as an opportunity to pause, relax, and recharge.

Be musically curious

Whether you are traveling to another part of your home country or you are off on an international trip, chances are, you are going to be exposed to some different music than you are used to. This is an opportunity to learn and to be musically curious.

As it happens, I am currently in Greece. On the island of Crete to be exact. Evita, my wife, is teaching here and I decided to join her so I could visit this beautiful corner of the world.

Over the last few days we have both enjoyed picking up on new sounds and listening to new patterns in the music we come across. Sometimes it was on the car radio, sometimes in a restaurant, some of the most enchanting music was to be found on the street.

On the second night, we were ready to crash after pushing though our jet lag and a huge music stage came to life outside our room. No sleep for us that night…

For a while we sat outside on the porch and listened to the music which was heavily influenced by folk music. Besides being great music there was something striking about the rhythms we were hearing. They weren’t straight 4/4 or 3/4 time signatures like we were so used to hearing but rather they used odd groupings.

After a few songs we started to latch on quicker and quicker to the time signatures and it because a game for us.

“7/8 in groupings of 123 – 12 – 12!” then the next one was grouped in eighth notes as 123 – 12 – 12 – 12. “Is that 3/8 then 3/4 or would you call that 9/8?”

Through a simple process of tapping our hands, guessing and listening with a curious mindset we were actually practicing our aural skills and rhythmic skills too.

Harmonically we have heard music that sounded particular. To Evita it sounded “middle eastern” or “Arabic”. This is because of the Phrygian mode that was being used, a mode that we might associate with some flamenco and Spanish music that was influenced by the moorish past of Spain.

The use of musical drones was quite common too and here is an example of a street performer who had a truly unusual instrument!

The lesson to be learned here is that if you have your eyes and ears open when you travel your musical learning will continue in ways that are difficult to imagine while practicing in your normal corner.

Broaden your musical horizons: Read, Listen, and Enjoy

The destinations we reach when traveling are usually full of things to do. The time in between, however, can be open stretches that are perfect for learning. Long haul flights, time in the car, train rides, even a ferry ride, they all can be your musical classroom with a bit of planning and preparation.

There are shelves upon shelves of wonderful books on music waiting for you out there. Books that will put the music you are playing into context. Books that will confuse you with theory terms only to be read a second time to drop pennies and provide “aha!” moments. Books that will delve into the lives of composers you admire, and books that will introduce you to music that you would never have listened to otherwise. There are even books that you can listen to in your car these days with sites like audible dot com.

Talking about reading, how about reading a score? When was the last time you actually sat with a score in your hands away from the guitar? You might be surprised as to what you discover without the temptation to play guitar and read at the same time.

Scott Tennant revealed an interesting habit of reading scores when he travels:

If you are organized enough you can get some scores and recordings to listen to while reading. You could do this with guitar works and compare interpretations of various performers. You could sit with an orchestral symphony by Beethoven and follow along with a miniature score (this was a favorite of mine when I was younger). You could sit with the score and try to analyze the harmony. You could go through different scores of the same composer and compare pieces. You could compare various arrangements and even compare them to the original piece on the original instrument!

So much to learn and not a guitar in sight!

Listening can be as enlightening as reading. In fact, I would say that it has a kind of osmosis effect that can influence your playing.

If you are learning a piece, or even better if you are about to start learning a piece, then listening to a wide range of recordings will inform many of your decisions to come. It is quite possible that it may guide you away from learning wrong notes in a piece which is common. Having familiarized yourself with the sounds of a piece you will be able to hear if a note is correct or not.

There is a fair argument against listening to others’ interpretations before developing your own but I think that in the early to intermediate stages of learning it will be more helpful than harmful.

Don’t feel that you have to restrict yourself to just classical guitar music either. Listening to music within a time period or style will greatly advance your understanding of phrasing, ornamentation, inflections, and overall musical style.

Even if you don’t feel like having a studying mindset while listening you can actively choose to listen to unfamiliar music that will inspire and broaden your musical horizons.

Using a travel guitar

If you are anything like me then you can actually miss the feeling of just playing the guitar! And, depending on your travel situation perhaps you just need to keep practicing.

There are several good options out there now to fill in for your classical guitar but none of them will check all the boxes.

Right now, I have been enjoying my little Guitalele which is a ukulele sized guitar with six strings and it has the tuning of a guitar (albeit up a fourth). It works well for reading through pieces, composing, and it also is very fun to play. The size of it makes for an easy carry on for air travel. Being so small, however, it is not going to be good for technique work.

Travel guitars and silent guitars will offer you more of a standard feel for playing the guitar and perhaps if you are a regular business traveler this could be a good option.

In general, however, you are just not going to get the same feel and physical benefits of guitar practice without your normal set up. So it is a matter of compromise and practicality.

Conclusion

The reason I wrote on this topic in the first place is because the question of how to continue practicing while traveling has come up frequently.

I feel that traveling provides an opportunity to actively take the guitar out of our hands and pushes us to think of other ways to study music.

If you have found useful ways of practicing while traveling please share in the comments below!

2018-09-23T13:13:54+00:0028 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Steve September 23, 2018 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    I have tried a variety of travelling guitars, with varying degrees of success.

    1) Traveler Guitar, UltraLight. This solid body guitar has a standard width neck, a full scale length, and a piezo pickup. It’s small size is achieved by reversing the strings, placing the headstock under the body, and providing a metal attachment for the waist of the guitar. I added a metal frame to simulate the tail block. It’s still a bit awkward to hold, especially for the R forearm. But it does have the correct feel for LH fingering practice. It’s quiet. If you want more volume, add a small amp or a headphone amp.

    2) Guitalele This short (mine’s 17″ scale) 6 string instrument is fun to play. As Simon said, tuned up a 4th (A instead of E). But I find the narrow neck a challenge. I’ve used it for several trips. It fits nicely inside my checked luggage.

    3) Mini-Guitar My most recent traveler is a Mini-O by Cordoba. It has a 20″ scale, so I tune up a minor 3rd (G instead of E), but the full width neck is a treasure for fingering exercises. It also fits (barely) in my checked luggage. I just spent a month abroad with this guitar. It has become my favorite traveler.

    4) When travelling in my RV I take along my standard setup, complete with music stand, timer, and metronome. The challenge becomes finding the time for dedicated practice.

  2. Donna Zitzelberger September 23, 2018 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    I was really challenged this summer with practice and prepping for the level exam. My mom has been diagnosed with dimentia and there has been a lot of need to get her settled somewhere safe as well as rent her house to pay for her needs. She lives about 400 miles from me, so there was a need to travel there. I did bring along what I call my “camping guitar” – it’s a pretty beat up classical that someone donated to my church, and the choir director gave to me. It turned out to have a similar fingerboard feel as my classical. I was staying in other people’s homes and the atmosphere was not always optimum for practicing. I practiced when I could; but at night before going to sleep, I would read the scores while listening to the performance part of those lessons. Then I would read the scores and imagine myself playing or play “air” guitar – sometimes playing just the right hand and then playing just the left hand. I began to discover a lot about the pieces harmonically and also figured out where things were going wrong in my fingering. Surprisingly, when I got back home, my playing had improved. Another thing I will do is read theory books or even go through a music dictionary. I find that I gain new understandings, perspectives, and create goals for learning areas where I lack confidence.

  3. Ron Puddu September 23, 2018 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon–I regularly take my Yamaha travel guitar on vacations, it’s the model made in Japan and costs about as much as the soloette except that is built to play much more naturally helped along by using low tension strings to eliminate the stiffness that seems to be endemic to these travel instruments. When I arrive back home after a month of ‘travel practice’ there is virtually no adaption necessary, within seconds your’e home in every respect. Goes on airplanes without lifting an eyebrow and if your’e lucky you can find one greatly discounted on Reverb. I now have a few years of experience with it and remain enthusiastic.

  4. Peter Cracknell September 23, 2018 at 2:45 pm - Reply

    Hey mates do yourselves a favour and leave your guitars at home! Your music will sound a lot better when you’re back and apart from that you’ll be practicing a wrong technique. Enjoy your hols with a beer.

  5. Heike Matthiesen September 23, 2018 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    I do finger aerobics without the guitar on long flights…

  6. George Waters September 23, 2018 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    I love my nylon string travel guitar from Journey instruments. Full sized scale length with a detachable neck so that the entire thing fits in a backpack. Fits in the overhead on a plane so that (to my wife’s irritation) both my son and I can practice when on vacation.

  7. MichaelC September 23, 2018 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    I have an app on my phone that I use for writing music on long flights. Last time I managed to write one cantus firmus and develop a first and second species counterpoint for it. That took a lot longer than expected but I learned a lot from the exercise!

  8. Armando Baltra September 23, 2018 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    Most interesting Podcast, Simon. Thank you.
    I have been traveling quite a lot recently and I feel supported with your comments because that is exactly what I have been doing while on planes, trains, sitting by the departure gate and then being told the flight is two hours late, etc.
    I’ve had three books with me in the last few months. Depending on my mood and the moment they have kept me going.
    — Sibling, Eric. 2009. The Cello Suites. J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the search for a Baroque Masterpiece. Grove Press. New York
    — Duffin, Ross W. 2007. How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and why you should care). W.W. Norton & Company, New York
    — Glise, Anthony LeRoy. 2016. The Guitar In History and Performance Practice. AEvia Production, Ltd. PO Box 7242, St. Joseph, MO 64507

  9. Steven September 23, 2018 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    I agree with an earlier comment that you should take a break and leave the instrument at home. Carrying the extra baggage is just going to stress you out. I take a score that I have been working on and analyze it. I also catch up on podcasts and listen to performances. If you think you need more discipline in your routine at home, your practice while on the road is going to be really bad. A week off has never set me back. I visit my parents every couple of years and there is an old beater guitar in the basement that I drag out to keep fresh. Even then it is hard to find an hour of alone time. So unless you are a frequent business traveler that ends up bored in a hotel somewhere, forget the guitar and enjoy a break from the routine.

  10. Judy Gordon September 23, 2018 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    Great article, Simon! Two of my favorite things about being retired are being able to travel and having time to play guitar! I always struggle with how to balance the two. I feel guilty when I travel without my guitar, but when I get back I find I sound better and I have a much clearer perspective on my practicing and what I need to work on. I’m not planning a career as a classical guitarist in this lifetime, so a break from routine is healthy and gives me a change to enjoy the musical vibes wherever I go!

  11. Joe Pilgrimmes Perisseuo September 23, 2018 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    Thanks a lot for the wonderful job you are doing to improve and make our musical dream a reality. I’m humbly grateful and deeply impressed.

  12. Bill Allen September 23, 2018 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Musical instruments can be rented if the stay is longer than a quick visit. Do a bit of homework on where you plan to visit and see if any of the local music shops can help out. Also, it’s a great way to connect with the local scene and maybe try a new guitar. Avoids the travel hassles too. Otherwise I agree that stepping away for awhile can be a necessary respite from the day-to-day routine.

  13. Dave Coleman September 23, 2018 at 5:38 pm - Reply

    A very timely topic! I have been working to get my level 3 certificate submission in this week and then it’s off to Portland/Seattle for a week. I’ve debated about taking a guitar with me but have decided to take a real break and then start fresh when we get back. I’ve done that before and it really does re-energize me. If we were going to be gone longer, I probably would take a guitar with me. I’ll miss it while we’re gone, but I’ll appreciate even more when we get back!

  14. Gerard September 23, 2018 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for a great article and podcast. I am a global consulting geologist and spend a large part of each year away from home, so it is essential for me to take a guitar with, or I am just not a guitar player anymore. Since this obsession started when I was 16 the guitar wins.
    I have a Traveller MK-II classical guitar. The full scale neck is key, so that with regular practice there is no technique problem. It fits in the overhead locker of even small planes so there is no battle with baggage handlers. It has a solid body with a pickup for headphones, but I find I can hear it just fine in the hotel rooms and remote accommodations, and I don’t get yelled at from the person next door when I am jet lagging. It has a little pocket for tuner, nail files and spare strings.
    I usually travel with a spare pair of sneakers, which inverted one on the other make an acceptable footstool.
    The really key thing is regularity, coming back to the instrument each day, almost like saying ‘hi’ to loved ones when you get home from work. I don’t get loads of hours to practice, but can keep the repertoire active and learn new pieces.
    Your comments on new cultures and their music are so true. I usually get into the local music as much as possible and have jammed with a flute player in working in a hotel in Vietnam, Baglama players in Turkey, and guitar players in New Guinea, Zambia Chile and too many other countries to mention. Thanks again. G.

  15. Bonnie Stenstrom September 23, 2018 at 10:29 pm - Reply

    Simon, this is great information and I can see the value in what you (and the others) are saying! Recently, this summer while at Fiddle camp, I came across a wonderful collapsible stool – the Minimax Collapsible Stool, made in Israel. It’s brilliant .. weighs about 3 lbs, holds up to 250 lbs, has three different heights, folds up to what looks like an army canteen and has a shoulder strap as well as a handle. The one I saw at camp also had a cushion on top, I use a pillow for the time being but it’s perfect when you’re travelling and need a good seat to be able to play. When we travel ( away from home now) I take various books that I can delve into at length, learn some new pieces just for enjoyment, do some technique and enjoy working up old repertoire too. My favourite at the moment is the Hubert Kappel Book ..his Bible of Classical Guitar Technique.
    Enjoy your time away!! I hope you got to hear/play Samiotisa .. in 7/8 time .. just what you said 123 – 12-12 :)
    Bonnie

  16. Anikó Juhász September 24, 2018 at 5:36 am - Reply

    Hi Simon,
    I’m reading your article on my holiday in Greece on the island of Páros 😊. It is always a problem for me when I travel, that I don’t want to leave my guitar at home, but it’s so difficult to bring it with me on the plane. This time I bought an extra seat for my guitar, because I’m staying here for two weeks, but that wasn’t enough, I had to buy some complementary ticket, and I still almost couldn’t bring it on the plane, because there was no online check-in for the guitar, I had to check it in at the airport. But I’m really happy that I have it with me. I hope that I can bring it home as well. Because of these difficulties I decided to rent some of my guitars to guitarists who come to visit Budapest, Hungary (I live there). If you or someone you know is interested in this service, contact me. Anyway congratulations to your website, it is very professional, I saw some of your lessons and I really like it, they are very similar to the way I work. I’m also a guitar teacher and teach online, but I’m not an expert in web thechnology and marketing, so my website doesn’t work too well.

  17. Wade September 24, 2018 at 9:14 am - Reply

    My wife and I traveled to Italy last summer and found a music shop in a town near Cinque Terra with very inexpensive nylon guitars. I spent the equivalent of $60 US on a decently intonated classical and toted it around Rome, Florence, Cinque Terra, and the San Filipe sulfur springs, all without a care in the world because it was not my main instrument. If something happened to it, I would not be devastated. That kind of stress can take away from the enjoyment of your travels. We even set a hat out in Cinque Terra while I played and got a few bucks back on our investment (I memorized several Carcassi pieces before we left!).

    At the end of the trip, I gave it to the owner of the last hostel that we stayed in. I told him that if he was not interested in learning to play, he will surely get the occasional traveler that will appreciate the opportunity to play it if they are traveling without one.

    This option is not affordable in all destinations, but it worked for this one. I appreciate the good advice in this article and will implement them when I’m away and homesick for my instrument.

  18. Scott Reid September 24, 2018 at 10:44 am - Reply

    As has been mentioned, a vacation should be a vacation. Unless it’s extended, a one week hiatus isn’t going to be a bad thing. Travelling for business where you are going between cities all the time, as Bill Allen mentioned, find a local music store and rent a guitar for a couple days, week, however long you need. I’ve got two local stores that offer this service.Take your scores and what you want to work on, so if you can’t get to a store right away, you can still work on stuff. Me, I need reading practice. I would throw a book/CD combo in my stuff to work on. Or log into my lessons. I did make a travel guitar (similar to a Martin Backpacker) that I can throw in the back of my pack or truck so I can take that if I wish.

  19. claudia September 24, 2018 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    Great article! Any time spent away from home can be considered traveling in a sense. Whether you are in a bank line up, walking along or taking the train to teach students you can think about or research music. Years ago, I had a university professor who advoated counting a piece and thinking it through as you walked along.

  20. Stephen Barber September 24, 2018 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    Hello Simon,

    Great podacst! I have the SoloEtte Travel guitar which works well for me . It is not perfect but like the Traveller MkII it has some advantages in that you can play it in a hotel room and its quiet just enough sound for you to hear it without the headphones. It imay be lighter than its competators which helps if you have a bunch of luggage at airports. I play almost everyday so it works out well for me to wake up a little early and go through the practice pieces.

  21. Richard Kordel September 24, 2018 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    Some great ideas here. Here are my few contributions:

    – I would like to speak up to endorse the Yamaha SLG and Ron’s comments. I purchased one of these a few months ago (after successfully selling my Taylor. I rarely played the Taylor, I have played this more in a few months than the Taylor in all the years I owned it). I take this along when I am traveling overnight by car and when it’s appropriate). Some caveats:
    – I don’t think any of the guitar supports will work with it. The cushions may work but haven’t tried them. This seems like a good footstool candidate.
    – The action/fret-board is indistinguishable from a “real” guitar
    – The sound, when supplemented by the internal circuitry, is magnificent. According to Yamaha they sampled a $15,000 concert guitar. I can’t afford an expensive guitar, but this let’s me pretend.
    – It is one of the few classical guitars that can work with a wah-wah pedal ;-) (I am waiting to try this)

    At the moment I look forward to playing, so getting away from the guitar is not something I look forward to, especially when I am away from home on business. Besides, what am I going to do in a hotel room by myself?

  22. Maria Beermann-Foat September 25, 2018 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    Since I travel quite often, I purchased a Snapdragon collapsible guitar. It folds down to the size of a clarinet case and folds out to a full size guitar. It’s a silent guitar, which means it plays very quiet (perfect for hotel rooms) and can be hooked up to an amp or earbuds to hear full sound. It’s not exactly the same as a “real” guitar, but it’s been my saving grace to practice without shorting technique along the way.

  23. Myles September 26, 2018 at 4:07 am - Reply

    Hi Simon. Enjoy Crete. I spent some lovely time there as a young post-hippy back in ’72. Met a guy from Chicago who had a drum and one day we went up into the hills on foot. As we approached a small village he played his drum as we walked along and loads of kids gathered round and followed us. We gave an impromptu concert in the village square attended by everyone who lived there! We were then taken to someone’s house for a wonderful meal before making our way back down the mountain. Great days. Thanks for reminding me.

    On the matter of travel. My wife and I just got back from Switzerland where we attended her son’s wedding. We drove there, and very leisurely back. I took the Esteve guitar I bought second-hand for £100. Plays great but don’t have to worry about leaving it in the back of the car while we go sightseeing etc.

    Half the time we were in an appt and I practised on the balcony each day. The rest of the trip was in a different hotel every night and I left the guitar in the car each night as I don’t feel comfortable playing in a hotel room.

    As you point out there are plenty of ways to practise without the guitar. Practising difficult rhythms by tapping on my leg is favourite and is silent and can be done anywhere.

    All the best to you and Evita. Enjoy the rest of your trip.

  24. Jorge Egrejas September 26, 2018 at 4:18 am - Reply

    Thank you, Simon, for this article, which, among many others you made, touch relevant issues in our various day-to-day activities, making – as alaways – good recommendations to us all.
    One thing that I am quite curious about is the possibility of exercising fingers without a guitar or other musical means.
    For people, like myself, that likes to make holidays by bike (I do normally two weeks), it is not very convenient to take «extra luggage», but, if possible, I would like to take some of the spare time (while not pedalling) to do some exercises that could improve the fingers agility and strength.
    I would, as possibly some others, to know your advise on that – I do not know if it is already published somewhere.
    Best regards, Jorge.

  25. Linda Tsardakas September 27, 2018 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    Those “odd groupings” of rhythm are typical of many South East European folk dances. Being an avid folk dancer myself, I hear them a lot. Still, I am always impressed by the musicians because they are often playing several notes to just one of our steps! The tempos can be fast!

  26. Kaveh September 27, 2018 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    Simon. – Great article and excellent tips. Thank you!

  27. John Farraro October 7, 2018 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    I can second the recommendation for Journey instruments. I also tried the Soloette. In both cases I felt I needed the guitars to continue practice during extended trips (I used the Soloette in Afghanistan when I deployed with the military for over 6 months. I used the Journey travel guitar when I was working 30 days on/30 days off in West Africa for my company. For normal business travel, which in my case is often less than a week – I don’t bother. I do sometimes take on of my standard guitars with me if I go visit my family across state – you can always count on your family to be very enthusiastic about hearing you play…..

  28. joannes December 4, 2018 at 5:45 am - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    thanks for the podcast, it bring everyone new ideas or inspiration.
    – Greece is a lovely place, a new world to explore –
    Most of the time I use my music theory app of my phone for short moments in between when i am travelling for fun or work.
    if i travel for one or more weeks i like to take time to listen to music and analyse a score i am working on.
    have a great day

    joannes

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