I get some of my best practicing done in airports. When I get to my gate, I look for a spot away from other people, pull out my trumpet and a practice mute, and get to work.
The first few times I did this, I felt really awkward. It seemed like everyone was looking at me (which they were). But I now look forward to airport practicing, and I’m publishing this post from 35,000 feet having just finished a great airport practice session.
If you play an instrument you can carry on the plane, consider using your airport time to get some work done on your instrument. Here are 3 reasons why.
New Environment = Fresh Perspective
When practicing in our usual surroundings, it’s easy to get on autopilot and go through the motions. For me, a new environment forces me to be mindful of what I’m playing and why I’m playing it. If boarding begins in 35 minutes, I have to triage.
What needs to get done?
How can I use this time in the most efficient way?
Will I have more time to play today, or is this it?
Even if I have a long layover and plenty of time, I think about things differently in unfamiliar surroundings. Airport practice feels like magical bonus practice time, so maybe I should work on something unusual, like only playing in uncomfortable keys or slurring octaves cleanly.
You Have an Audience, So Make Music
When you play in public, people notice. At the very least, they glance at you as they walk by. Some of them pay a quick compliment, and a few stop to listen. Instead of playing Clarke studies in a practice room, you’re now playing them on stage. Better make some music.
We should play our technical exercises musically every day, of course. But we often don’t. We need a reminder now and then.
Fellow musicians turn up at airports, too. Last summer, I noticed that the dude ahead of me in line had the same trumpet case as I did, so I pointed this out to him. I thought he looked a little familiar, and he introduced himself as Sean. “Sean who?” I asked. Turns out it was Sean Jones. We talked for a few minutes, and he gave me a copy of his not-yet-released CD. It was inspiring to get a few minutes to talk with a world-class musician, and he was incredibly gracious.
It Lets You Enjoy Your Day, Guilt-Free
If playing your instrument every day is an expectation you’ve set for yourself, whether you’re a professional musician, a dedicated amateur, or somewhere in the middle (like me), you don’t take a day off without intention. In other words, you prevent the day’s circumstances from determining your practice quantity and quality as much as possible.
I know that when I skip a day of playing, even for a good reason, I don’t feel good. I get a little snippy with people, I can’t concentrate, and I don’t enjoy myself.
Travel days can easily become no-practice days, and that casts a pall over everything else I do that day. If I can get even 30 minutes of airport practice in, I at least know I’ve kept the ball rolling toward my musical goals.
What if you’re a harpist, a pianist or a marimbist? Are you out of luck? Not at all. Consider using the time to score study.
I once found myself waiting at an airport gate with a tall, debonair guy reading a score to the Gershwin Piano Concerto. He was concentrating fiercely, and when he took a break, I made some conversation with him. His name was Hyperion Knight (you don’t forget a name like that), and he was a concert pianist on his way to perform the concerto with a regional orchestra. This guy had no way to practice his instrument in this particular moment, but that didn’t stop him from getting some mental practice in.
That’s the difference between looking for a good excuse not to improve as a musician (and feeling vindicated when you find one) and accepting no excuses whatsoever.