I had a student the other day that was having difficulty playing without tension and was really “attacking” the notes – not playing the music, thus getting all tight, thus missing more, thus getting more tense…  We talked a minute about what could be causing him to be having such an off playing day and decided that while he warmed up at home before his lesson, he jumped right into playing when he got to his lesson which was about 45 minutes later.  So, we decided to take a couple minutes and “re-warm” and just play some simple, low, soft, slow scale fragments.  (Nothing difficult, just soothing, easy, relaxed playing.)  Very soon his tension was easing and his sound was much better all around.  Then, without a delay we got back to playing the piece he’d been working on and his overall playing was a little better but there was still more anxiety and tension in his sound than there was when we had just finished those scale fragments.

I pointed out my observation to him and I think it came as a bit of a revelation.  Two important lessons were drawn from this.

  1. Warming up in the morning is not like taking vitamins where you only have to do it once a day, then you’re good for the rest of the day. You need to assess what you are about to play, be it rangy, or technical or whatever, and how that particular part of your playing is feeling.  For example, the piece you are about to play in band has a bunch of multiple tonguing passages.  Well, a couple of minutes (3-5) prior to rehearsal, I would gently and calmly play some easy multiple tonging exercises.  I would do this even though I already warmed up in the morning.  Think of it like a batter in the on-deck circle.  He already warmed up before the game but he’s doing a shorter, simpler, more focused version right before he goes to bat.
  2. Maintain your warm-up vibe/attitude/calmness when you play music. Notice how I’ve been saying words like “simple, gentle, calm, relaxed…” when describing warming up.  Not only is properly warming up getting us physically ready for what we’re about to do but it should also get us in the right state of mind to do what we’re about to do.  Mistakes are made in music for a lot of reasons and one of them is playing tense or over aggressively.  Hopefully by the end of our warm-up we’re breathing right, have a nice vibrant, relaxed sound and things are generally feeling free and easy.  Why toss that away and “put on your game face” and “go after” your music with a whole different posture and physical approach?  Wouldn’t it be much nicer to play whatever music you’re working on with that same relaxation and ease as you feel at the end of your warm-up?  I have a feeling your audience would think so.

Other related posts

Warm-Up / Development Routines

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Maintain your Warm-up Mode