It’s just a warm up routine. No big deal, right?
For most musicians most of the time, that is probably true.
But your warm up could be an agent of change in your playing, an opportunity for growth. The trick is to take the “routine” out of the warm up.
Certainly there is comfort in the habit of a warm up routine. It becomes a tripwire for focus, clearing your mind and preparing you to concentrate on the work before you. It limbers your fingers and eases them into the technical rigors of practice while giving you the opportunity to review and strengthen your technique.
So why change anything? Simply because when you introduce variety into your warm up, you open the door to growth.
Your warm up likely feels comfortable, but growth isn’t about comfort. It’s about stretching yourself, testing your limits, setting new goals. By adding just a little variety into your daily routine, you set the stage for significant progress in many areas of your playing, such as technique, theory, rhythm fluency, memorization, sight reading and expression.
I’d like to offer you some easy tweaks you can make to your current warm up routine. Any one of them will boost the effectiveness of your routine. Using several in rotation will give you even better results.
The great violinist Itzhak Perlman spoke about the peril of repetition in practice saying, “The danger in playing a piece over and over again lies in getting stuck in a rut where you don't ask questions anymore and you always play it the same way.”
Don’t let your warm up get stuck in a rut. Change it up!
1. Make It Dynamic. Your warm up doesn’t have to be at a mezzo forte to work. And it doesn’t even have to maintain the same dynamic level. Try using the extremes of your dynamic range or incorporate gradations (like a crescendo) into your routine.
2. Turn Off the Cruise Control. If your warm up is always at the same speed, you will be fine playing at that speed. Vary the tempo – faster AND slower – and develop more flexibility in your technique.
3. Double Up. Try playing your warm up hands together. If your hands would overlap, start with your hands two octaves apart. Or if your warm up is usually hands together, try hands separately for more focused technical work.
4. Key For a Day. Why should your warm up be always in one key? Changing the key will give you a chance to refresh your theory skills. And don’t forget to try minor keys too!
5. Jazz It Up. Playing your scales in different rhythms will help your fingers develop more accuracy in placing and timing. And it’s great practice for your inner metronome as well.
6. Live On the Edge. Do you stick to the middle octaves for your warm up? Using higher and lower registers occasionally is good for your fingers and your harp.
7. By Heart. If you usually read your warm up from a book, try playing it without the music. Or if you usually play it from memory, warm up your reading skills by using the music for a change.
8. Cool Down. Experiment with using your “warm up” as a “cool down” at end of your practice. Or try it in the middle to help you readjust your focus.
9. Strength in Numbers. Why stop at one routine? I use several different warm ups and rotate them throughout the week. I find it keeps my mind and my fingers fresh.
10. Skip It! Try skipping your warm up one day a week. Allow yourself to break the routine and get right to your repertoire practice. In real life, you don’t always have the luxury of warming up right before you play. You might as well get used to it!