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I am beginning to learn the piano on a full 88 key Yamaha digital piano I've got at home but my routine has just changed and I am travelling very often, limiting my time at home to, say, one week in a month. I need to buy some very small portable keyboard, in order to get at least some practice while travelling.

I know there is a huge compromise when talking about 2 octave instruments for learning the piano/music in general, but that's life and for sure there are ways to get value even from a 25 key keyboard, I just have to know where to focus my practice.

I mean, there are so many things to learn.... There must be a subset of exercises or core areas to practice that could be done even with this constraint, right? So, the question is: what are these core areas that I could develop using some really portable devices (e.g. Novation Launchkey Mini, Korg Microkey 25 or CME Xkey 25).

I can think of a few things, like experimenting with different timbres and tones, learning scales, chords and inversions, practicing melodic lines or walking bass lines, getting the basics of layering tracks in music production software, but I would like to hear from the community, perhaps from people that have a more structured understanding of the abilities involved in learning the piano.

I have seen a question about Using keyboard/MIDI controller to learn piano but my question is broader, I am aware of the physical limitations and I want to find a way to get value even with this limitation.

Note: I would be very happy already if I could play along with some groovy/funky stuff like Mothership Connection, reggae classics such as Bob Marley, or create mellow jazz moods like Bill Evans'. Can someone help me to go in this direction?

  • I don't have a good answer for specific things to practice, but would like to point out that there accordions that only have 25 keys, and there is music available for them, in many different traditions. Bal-musette isn't exactly funky/groovy, but can be jazzed up. – Alphonso Balvenie Apr 23 '17 at 4:26
  • Thanks @AlphonsoBalvenie I didn't know about Bal-musette, will have a look at it. – Rodriguez Apr 23 '17 at 15:12
  • If you want to see a classically trained pianist use a tiny keyboard while on the go, have a look at this Youtube channel: youtube.com/watch?v=Fw2YWMIQQFY – Your Uncle Bob Sep 17 '18 at 4:38
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I think you're on the right track.

Be aware that you might learn some, shall we say, less than optimal technique. The action on one of those 25 key beasties is not going to be superb. So, if you're not going to gain very much in the way of technique, you should focus instead on training your ears.

Get to know each type of chord, and what emotion it conveys. Learn to play along to songs that you like. Experiment with melodic patterns and bass lines. Experiment with synths, and electromechanical keyboards, and pianos. Record stuff. Learn how to transfer the sounds you hear in your head to the keyboard. That's where I'd start, and it sounds like you're pretty much planning to do this.

To make it specific, from my incredibly tiny reggae experience, staying in the groove of the song is really important. Perhaps you can play along to some recordings, to get a concept of the rhythms and chord voicings that are involved.

On the jazz side of the table, I'd be wanting to train my ears to understand the harmonic structure behind the pieces that I like. You're not going to be able to play full pianistic chord voicings, but you should be able to get some idea.

Have fun!

  • Can you enumerate the specific techniques that I would definitely have to practice when at home in the piano to make up for the less optimal development in the mini keyboard? And thanks for your ideas, I think this is what I am going to go for. – Rodriguez Apr 23 '17 at 15:28
  • @Rodriguez I'd probably just start with playing the same stuff on the larger keyboard, and noticing the differences. I'd guess that you'll need to learn to be expressive on a weighted keyboard (the feel and response is quite different). Also, the keys are physically larger, so some voicings are going to be harder to play. You've also got access to far more keys, which will offer a different set of musical possibilities. There's probably a whole load of technical exercises that could help, but I'm really not an expert there, sorry. – endorph Apr 24 '17 at 10:30
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Two octaves is certainly a restriction if you want to practise two octave scales in all keys, but the fact is two-octave passages, even arpeggios, aren't as common as you might think in actual tunes. Bob Marley certainly wasn't in the habit of using them. It's a huge technical jump to Bill Evans. People make a lot of music on piano accordions, melodeons and harmonicas. The size of the keys will be an issue, but have you seen how tiny the keys on a melodeon are?

  • So scales I shouldn't be able to practice, right? And what do you mean by two-octave passages? When I mentioned "creating moods like Bill Evan's" I didn't mean complex stuff, I meant to be able to play a few chords that actually create a complex ambiance. I see this sometimes. The musician playing very scarcely and still being able to create a rich and complex type of sound. The Gymnopédie comes in my mind. – Rodriguez Apr 23 '17 at 15:25
  • You can certainly practise one octave scales and arpeggios, but with a two octave keyboard you will only be able to play a two octave scale from the lowest note. The next scale would be one note short, and so on. By 'passages' I mean phrases and/ or groups of phrases. The range (from lowest note to highest note) of these passages is quite often less than two octaves so you should be able to practise many melodies on a small keyboard. It may be necessary to practise the left hand part separately. – Areel Xocha Apr 24 '17 at 9:16

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