Why are warm-ups so important when learning an instrument?

“Why do I have to warm up?” is a question that I am asked by students frequently.

So here are a few answers that I like to give:

  1. Warming up is good for focusing your mind!

I often find that music students tend to be great at many activities and are busy rushing from one activity to another each week.

I used to have a student that would rush in from a soccer practice for her clarinet lesson and then be off to another sports club straight after. She was full of energy and pumped up from her fast-paced soccer training so it was really important to calm the mind and body ready to play the clarinet without tension in the body. This was a big physical and mental shift and the time spent warming-up helped her switch smoothly so her lesson and practice sessions were more effective.

2. Reconnecting to the instrument

Taking time to reconnect to your instrument is important. We are so over-stimulated by the world, social media and technology – all at a touch of a button – that remembering this doesn’t work for instruments is a challenge.

Learning an instrument takes a long time and every new piece is going to push you to learn new techniques and stretch your musicality. Students who dive straight into playing pieces without taking a little time to reconnect with the instrument tend to make more mistakes and get frustrated quicker. This means that you are less likely to practice and eventually stop.

Taking time to reconnect also allows you to ensure the instrument is set up properly for playing. If the reed is not in the right place then it will not work well for your pieces and will affect you confidence. Taking the time to do a good warm up will allow you to notice set-up changes that are needed for the instrument much quicker.

3. Avoiding injury

We know that warming up for sports is very important to avoid injury. Well this is true for music too. Playing most instruments or singing does require us to use muscles that are not commonly used in any other way during the day. If you take playing the piano – what other daily activity do you do that uses all your fingers independently? So taking the time to warm the muscles up for your particular instrument is important and will avoid future damage on your body.

So what are some good warm-up activities that you can add to your list?

  • Scales and arpeggios – change the rhythm patterns, tempo and playing direction. Mix the scales up so you are not always playing the easiest!
  • long notes – vary with different dynamics, pitch and try lying on the floor to make the diaphragm work
  • Improvise over a scale, chord sequence or along to a backing track
  • Listen to an amazing player before you play so you can hear the sound you want to produce
  • Warm your body up by doing some yoga stretches
  • Warm your face muscles and lips up if you are singing or playing a woodwind / brass instrument
  • Do some focused breathing before playing your instrument. Breath in for 4, hold for 4 and release for 4. This is great for building diaphragm control and calming your heart rate down
  • play some technical exercises to build muscle / finger strength
  • Play some of your favourite licks or theme tunes
  • Scat sing, recite limerick or tongue-twister for singers to vary the normal vocal warm-ups.
  • Practice articulation

Hopefully this will inspire you to spend a little time warming up before playing your pieces and I am sure you will see a big difference in your confidence and success during your practice sessions.

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