There are a couple of things I’ve learned since I started playing the violin. One of those things is the importance of warming up. By “warming up,” I mean setting aside 5-10 minutes at the beginning of my practice session to fire up my brain and limber up my muscles. Today, I’m going to tell you why warming up is so important and how I warm up. (You can keep in mind that I’m writing this from a violinist’s perspective, but most of my points apply to other instruments too).
So, why warm up?
We musicians are not born with a desire to warm up. Warming up is something that all beginners must be told to do. A lot of students think that spending five minutes warming up is just not worth it. But in truth, you’ll accomplish much more in your practice time if you warm up. When you practice your “real” music, you want to be hot, not cold. But the only way to get hot is to warm up (no puns intended). And when you warm up, it’s important to warm up multiple parts of your self. Let’s look at those parts now.
WARM UP YOUR BRAIN
In other words, reawaken your sensitivity to the instrument, as well as the sound of it. When you’re away from your instrument your brain doesn’t think much about it. By warming up, you remind your brain what it’s like to hold and hear your violin. A couple of months ago, I wasn’t able to practice for three weeks. When I picked up my violin after those three weeks, I couldn’t believe how much I had forgotten. Not only had my fingers and arms grown stiff and lethargic, but my brain had literally forgotten how my violin sounded. I had to warm up a lot before I became sensitive to my instrument. Normally, we don’t have to think about this step very much, and I wouldn’t stress about it too much. Warming up your brain can usually be accomplished by playing some open strings and an exercise or two.
WARM UP YOUR ARMS AND WRISTS
Most people don’t think about warming up their arms and wrists before they practice. I didn’t for a long time, and even now, I should think about it more. It’s true that we don’t move our arms and wrists as much as our fingers, but they do play an important part in playing our violins. Our wrists especially should be in the best possible playing condition.
WARM UP YOUR FINGERS
Obviously, getting your fingers limber is the main object in warming up. While away from your instrument, your fingers become tense and lethargic, and it is of the upmost importance to warm them up before playing anything technically trying. And do you ever have those days when your fingers just feel dead? I certainly do! It often helps to run my fingers under hot water for a few minutes, even if they’re not cold. It gets the blood flowing. And if you have some sore fingers (after playing a lot of octaves, for example) treat your hand to a soak with Epsom salts.
MY WARM-UP ROUTINE
Some people spend a half hour warming up. For me, a five–minute warm–up routine is usually enough. I rarely play the same thing two days in a row, but here are some ideas for warming up that I use.
ARM AND WRIST WARMUPS
1. This warmup can double as a stretch for shoulder pain, but it also makes your arms relax, which is the main point. Sitting up straight, place your hands in your lap. Then roll your shoulders in circles.
2. I like to call this warm–up the “rag doll.” You’ll need to stand up for this one. Stand up, and slowly bend over until your hands can touch your knees. Make your arms and wrists completely limp, and move them in circles. Then move your hands in waving and circle motions; keep your wrists relaxed!
3. This exercise is my favorite wrist warmup. Place your 1st finger on the G string (A) and with an exaggerated slide, slide up to 1st finger in 3rd position (C). Place your second finger on the G string (B), and slide up to 2nd finger in 3rd position (D). Continue in this pattern on the other strings. Then do the same thing, but this time slide up 5ths (into 5th position). Look at the sheet music below to get a better idea of what I’m talking about. Remember, this is not a shifting exercise! Slide those notes, and relax your wrists. Remember to relax your bow wrist as well. Nothing beats playing a lot of long notes to relax that stubborn bow hand!
You might also check out Maggie’s post on stretches for musicians here.
1. Play five note scales on each string. Start with four note slurs, then move it up to eight notes per bow. Next, play staccato single bows.
2. Play 3rds on each string. Often, I combine this and the previous exercise into one exercise.
3. Play one-octave arpeggios, starting on your G string and going up two octaves.
4. Play different patterns…really anything that’s easy to play but will use all of your fingers. I’ll include some pattern examples in the sheet music below.
I’ve written out a basic warm-up routine for your use. Some of the descriptions can be a little confusing without the notes. Click here for a PDF of my warm-up routine
A NOTE ON SCALES AND ETUDES
It’s important to mention that I don’t delve directly into my repertoire after warming up. After warming up, I practice scales and etudes: I view them as stage two of warming up. Scales are a great way to develop pitch and rhythm, but I don’t like to practice them without some feeling in my fingers. They’re hard enough to play in tune without lethargic fingers to deal with! So, I warm up my fingers to about 90% functionality, and then I practice scales and etudes. By the time I get to my repertoire, my fingers are rearing to go!
And that concludes my post on warming up! Let me know in the comments what your warm up routine consists of.