Practicing Well, Part II: Warming Up

Posted by DannyFratina, 11.19.2012 There have been 0 comments

Warming up a something that is often both misunderstood and neglected, so let’s quickly clear up a few misconceptions about this crucial component of effective practicing.

If practicing prepares you for performance, then warming up prepares you for practice. A musician’s warmup works similarly to an athlete’s warmup, which usually consists of some stretching and a shortened, laid-back version of their routine, like walking or jogging before a full run. A good brass warmup might consist of some long notes (e.g., stretching) and lip slurs (e.g., stretching and jogging). A pianist will probably play something like Hanon for similar reasons. A guitarist will find something similar like A Dozen A Day, etc., etc.

Going back to the athlete analogy, think of a football player: he would never skip the practice season (because he’d be fired), but more relevant to this article, he would certainly never roll out of bed, suit up, and head straight onto the field to run his routes. He would most definitely warm up, to both avoid injury and to ensure that his practice time is efficient and effective. Like many musicians, he’s also part of a team that is depending on him to be operating at his best. Musicians work the same way in that their practice time is limited and valuable and without a warmup, you are working beneath 100% capacity and you are also risking injury (ranging from tiredness to tendonitis!).

The other misunderstood aspect is what to warm up on. The short answer: Don’t warm up on anything that you need to practice. You should make your warm up easy and mechanical. By mechanical I mean you shouldn’t have to think about it. Eventually you settle into a routine that you can play through by memory, without needing music, and it shouldn’t be overly complex. Save the speed-building exercises for practice time. Yes, you still need to practice Hanon to build that finger speed, but as time goes by you will shift your practice material to your warmup material, so it’s completely normal for your warmup to change periodically.

My trumpet warmup consists of a few minutes of long notes and pitch bending, a few minutes of some lip slurs, and a few minutes of an articulation exercise. On performance days I have one or two other things I include depending on how I feel or what I’m going to be playing. All of the exercises, however, are permanently embedded under my fingers and in my memory. And yes, they are simple to play, but I don’t take them for granted. Ultimately, at the end I feel opened up and relaxed and ready to play, and that’s the entire point of the warmup. Consult a teacher you respect and with whom you work well (very important!) to craft a warmup that best fits you and your playing style.

A final tip: Get the metronome going when you start your warmup, so you can warm up your sense of time as well as your body. Even for long notes it will make a difference. Stay tuned for an article about metronomes!

See also:

Practicing Well, Part I: Burning out and setting new goals

Practicing Well, Part III: Using a metronome

Practicing Well, Part IV: Keeping a practice journal

Practicing Well, Part V: The 2-hour / 15-minute strategy

This post was posted in Notes from the Arranger and was tagged with Practicing