On the Road

Carrying Musical Instruments on the Road

Strap on a guitar, slip a blues harp in your pocket and if all else fails… there’s always the kazoo.

Just picture it: 4 travelers meet in the dormitory of a hostel in Turkey and they all simultaneously discover that the local electric supply is incompatible with their Ipods! There seems no escape from the insufferably dull evening ahead when one of them suddenly remembers that once upon a time, people used to make their own music.

“I don’t suppose anyone has a harmonica in their pocket or something…?”

I’ve carried a guitar and a clarinet with my everywhere I’ve gone for the last 10 years and though there were time I lamented the extra kilos, they’ve opened up doors to me, made me friends, got me laid and provided the base for more fun evening than I can remember.

No Traveling Buddy Liike a Guitar

My guitar in particular has always kept me good company. I could write songs about everything that happened to me on the road and they became better ways to remember a place than any photo album. Even just walking around with the guitar on my back has been enough for strangers to break the ice – even if I do occasionally have to sit through someone insistent on playing Stairway to Heaven.

Your instruments do get trashed every now and then, though so it’s probably not worth taking your Gibson on the road. My first guitar was stolen by junkies as I slept on a park bench in Prague. The second arrived in the Tel Aviv airport in 2 pieces. The third swelled up from all the climate changes until it was impossible to keep in tune and my current guitar, a handmade Mexican classic, needs trips to the repair shop every couple of months.

Apart from the obvious possibilities of making some money by busking on the street, playing music gives you a whole other angle to connect with a population as you communicate through the universal language of melody and rhythm. My clarinet in particular has allowed me to jam with drummers in Morocco, sitar players in India, singers in Egypt and guitar players all over the world.

Blow, Baby, Blow

If you’re looking to start out playing something, melody is probably your best bet. Sure, if you carry a guitar you’ll find people to teach you new chords and songs everywhere but you’ll be able to jam sooner with a flute, clarinet or saxophone. If you can sing a melody then you can find the notes with a bit of practice on a wind instrument. In any given song there are usually just 7 notes that fit and it’s just a case of putting them in an attractive order.

There are travelers who carry a drum with them but, unless you’re particularly good, rhythm gets a bit monotonous on its own after a while and the nieghbours in the next room will complain.

A harmonica fits in the pocket but while anyone can make a noise, playing it well takes a good feeling for the blues. You’ll also need more than one to play in various keys.

And if the idea of carrying an instrument just seems too much hassle… well, you can always learn to beatbox