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How to Inspire your Warmup by Yvonne Smith

 

Warming up is an essential part of any musician’s daily practice. Our first notes or sounds often indicate the type of practice session that will ensue. Making sure our minds are focusing on our desired goals is equally as important as warming up our bodies. So what happens when our warm-ups become monotonous and uninspired?

For me, the most difficult aspect of my warm-up routine is staying mentally present while not overanalyzing. At the beginning of each day, I enjoy simply hearing my viola and listening to my sound non-analytically. Moving freely from note to note helps me remember that I am an artist with the privilege of making a beautiful sound to express something that cannot be put into words. Once we dive into practicing solo, chamber music, and orchestral repertoire, it is easy to consciously or unconsciously adopt the mindset of being a slave to your instrument. Obviously with this negative mindset, enjoying your sound as you warm-up is difficult. Instead, make warming up more fulfilling by taking a few minutes to just enjoy what is coming out of your instrument.

Of course, there also needs to be an analytical perspective on warming up in order to maximize productivity. I have found that I get more done in my practice sessions when my mind is more engaged in my warm-up. When I am struggling to think of what to play when I am warming up, I think of something about my playing that I would like to improve. Then I slow it down so I can really analyze what I am doing and what I would like to change. For example, when I am trying to achieve a lighter spiccato stroke, I first think of the sound of the spiccato stroke I am trying to achieve. Next, I play a single note starting from the string and notice that my elbow is heavier than I would like. I lighten up my elbow (without elevating my shoulder), then gradually speed up the spiccato stroke, making sure I am always getting the sound that I imagined at first. I might additionally play a scale in a lighter spiccato stroke. Focusing on techniques from current repertoire is a great way to maximize the quality of your warm-up and ultimately the rest of your practice session.

Finally, gleaning ideas from others’ routines to craft one’s own routine is a wonderful way to make warming up less of a chore and more of a joy. Everyone has a different warm-up routine, and I wanted to get my colleagues in the studio to weigh in with their warm-up routines. I organized their responses along with my warm-up routines below:

Megan Wright:

Basic Ševčik exercises; each string

Scales and arpeggios from the Flesch scale system, starting slow and increasing in tempo

Aaron Conitz:

Schradieck No. 1

D Major scale, four octaves

Interval exercise from Dounis “Daily Dozen”

Dounis

Rachel Li:

Collé stroke

Kreutzer No. 25 (with emphasis on putting weight on 3rd and 4th fingers, not just 1st finger)

Dan Wang:

Slow scales and arpeggios

Jarita Ng:

Flesch system one-octave scales and arpeggios, three-octave scales and arpeggios with drone

One position scales (by Heidi Castleman) with drone

Flesch system scales in thirds and sixths without drone

Yvonne:

String crossing exercises (inspired by Victoria Chiang and Mr. Dunham)

Shifting exercises, spanning one octave on each string

Scales and arpeggios by Michael Kimber, with and without drone

Various techniques in repertoire (spiccato, long phrases, smooth string crossings, etc.)

KimberKimber Stand

Yvonne’s music stand with warm-up materials, including Michael Kimber’s Scales, Arpeggios, and Double Stops book

 

Not everyone from the studio was able to weigh in, but as you can see, no two warm-up routines are alike. My warm-up routine often changes based on my needs as a performer and student. For example, I tend to play sharp when I am nervous, so I incorporate more slow intonation work with a drone in order to find resonance and encourage left-hand reliability in stressful situations. Based on the variety of the above routines, it is comforting to know that my warm-up routine does not have to look like anyone else’s.

 

In conclusion, taking time to enjoy your sound, focusing on techniques in current repertoire, and crafting a uniquely tailored plan are all valuable ways to keep warm-ups fun, interesting, and productive.

 

Happy practicing!


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