The Portability Problem – The solution to “I’m always traveling and can never get to the piano” & “I don't own a piano therefore I cannot learn piano”
It’s unrealistic to think every time we travel we lug our 88 weighed key Yamaha P-70 around so we can theoretically get some (unproductive) practice time in our hotel room in a weekend chock full of activity. Yet there is that itch; that burning desire that calls to us every time we pass that hotel lobby piano that is quickly stifled by the hotel manager’s judgmental gaze. We calmly walk into our hotel room and slowly sink into the bed cushions of depression. Okay maybe I took it a little far with that last sentence however you know that this rings true if you’ve ever traveled and simultaneously yearned to play piano. It seems that, sometimes, when we are abroad our desire to play is increased in a way that it wasn’t when we were home. Even more unfortunate is when we have no direct access to a piano yet there seems to be no places where we can practice so we resign ourselves to never learning how to play. My hope is that in reading this you will learn the framework necessary to have a positive experience when practicing abroad and at home and that you will learn of some places right in your community that offer you opportunities to practice on a regular basis.
HAVE YOUR FUN PRACTICE ABROAD AND LEAVE YOUR SERIOUS PRACTICE AT HOME
Every single time I walk by that hotel lobby I think the same thing – “I wonder if the hotel manager will kick me off if I start playing”. Yes, hotel lobby pianos are a crapshoot and most of us have encountered the dreaded hotel manager who says ‘the piano is only for show’. That’s a (very small) risk we have to be willing to take. Although to minimize this result, playing something you know well is more likely to get positive results from hotel staff and passersby’s. Hotel pianos are a great way to get your bystander practicing done or as I like to call it; “BS Practice”. This is basically the practice where you play something you already know and the only point of it is to reinforce your muscle memory of it. Unlike your serious focused practice, someone can come by and say ‘hey, that sounds great’. The only problem with this is that you won’t be getting serious practice done however you will scratch that itch you’ve had since you walked off Terminal A while simultaneously working your muscle memory and impressing the crowd. Another benefit is that it feels great to satisfy that need to play while abroad. Don’t underestimate the importance of keeping your own interest up at the piano while preemptively eliminating those feelings of guilt or discouragement that emerge when we don’t play for a while.
BUT I’M EXHAUSTED AFTER A TRIP AND ALL I WANT TO DO IS REST!
It would be counterproductive to ever sit at the piano to practice exhausted unless you get some kind of restorative energy from playing. Account for the days you will rest and plan your off-days for some piano time. A great way to plan for this is to wait for a period of time where you have a particularly potent surge of inspiration, which I call your motivational tide, and use that to plan your next week of practice. Getting this done while you are still motivated is ultra important because on the days when you are not as motivated, the calendar date and practice time were already blocked out for you to practice.
WHEN THERE’S TOO MUCH NOISE AT HOME -- GO ELSEWHERE
Universities are probably the most cost effective if you can figure out how to use their practice rooms to your advantage. Most music school buildings close around 10pm and require a student given keycard to access after that time. Get in before it locks and head to the practice room as if you’re a student going in for a late night session. Keep in mind that most music students practice during the day and by 6pm they’re having dinner or doing homework and the practice rooms are ghost towns. Grand piano access is sometimes exclusive to piano students so there may be an extra key that you don’t have access to. In this case settle for an upright acoustic piano in one of the regular practice rooms. Keep an eye on the practice sheets if there are any and don’t make yourself too conspicuous. If the above is simply not an option for you, call the music school and ask if you can rent a room.
Music stores are another good place to ask around for a practice room. Most music stores offer lessons and have pianos in the back rooms. They may charge you an hourly fee to use the room and they usually only carry electronic pianos but that’s better than nothing.
You may also consider a church. Many churches have grand pianos that you may be able to practice on if you ask nicely. Just say ‘Hi I’m a pianist in the area/member of the community and was wondering if it would be okay to practice on your piano when it is not in use. I can stop by during the daytime when the church is open.’ They may ask for a donation for your use of the piano and it will most likely not be an hourly thing but more of a one-time donation.
NONE OF THE ABOVE ARE OPTIONS FOR ME AND I DON’T OWN A PIANO -- SO RENT ONE
There are some places that offer piano rentals and offer moving services to ship the piano into your home for 6 month periods and 12 month periods. The pianos range from electronic keyboards to Steinway grand pianos. The latter is obviously going to be more expensive. When you consider most quality pianos are going to be in the thousands of dollars price range to buy new, these alternatives are not bad financially. I’ve done the research for you and found some companies that rent across the US. If anyone finds any other companies, please comment below on what you found.
Piedmont Piano: http://piedmontpiano.com/Webpages/pianorentals.html starting at $40/mo
Schmitt Music: https://www.schmittmusic.com/keyboard-piano/services/rentals/ starting at $50/mo
Steinway Piano: http://www.steinway.com/pianos/rent-then-own-program/ starting at $69/mo
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Harry L. Rios
Founder of HarryLRios.com
Harry L. Rios.com
Photos used under Creative Commons from Art&Music*Woo-Hoo, starmanseries, quinn.anya, woodleywonderworks, quinn.anya, devinStein