- String players tend to play scales at the beginning of a practice session not only to build technique, but to build intonation and the process of deep listening that will improve quality of sound.
- Unlike instrumentalists, singers need to build their own instrument inside their own body, and their warmups tend to emphasize breath management and tone production, which help to guide the breath mechanism and its component parts into a workable whole over time.
- Pianists need to develop a great deal of fluency and play more notes per work than any other instrument. For this reason, traditional piano technique consists of scales, chords, and arpeggios played in all keys in a variety of ways, not to mention finger dexterity exercises in order to build finger strength and independence.
- Play standard technique before playing repertoire. This is by far the most common warm-up. Play a wide variety of scales, chords, and arpeggios appropriate to your instrument and level, repeating them not mechanically, but really listening for accuracy, quality of sound, intonation (if you're playing an intonation-sensitive instrument). The goal of technical exercises is awareness as much as dexterity.
- Play various technical exercises or studies before playing repertoire. I've always been a fan of Hanon exercises (especially the first 20) and there are a limitless number of ways you can practice them, such as with various articulations, in all 12 keys, or with rhythms. I like the sense of contact with the instrument that I discover when warming up with Hanon exercises, as well as the fact that they exercise my fifth fingers, unlike traditional piano technique where the fifth finger hits rarely, if at all.
- Do a physical warm-up such as yoga or tai chi. Many have talked about the benefits of stretching exercises before practice and if you can incorporate it into your routine, you can drastically cut down on the chance of physical injury from playing.
- Problem solving time. Jump to the most problematic areas of your current repertoire and fix the spots that are giving you the most grief. Take them apart and practice them in new and interesting ways.
- Play something entirely enjoyable with the most beautiful sound you are capable of. Then launch into your regular work.
- Sight read as a warm-up. Done over the course of weeks or months, you can improve your reading skills to an incredible extent by setting aside time to sight read every day. And what better time to do it than at the beginning of your session.
- Slow practice. Just as athletes take is slow at the beginning of a training session, so should we. Work on a short section of a piece, whether problematic or not. Practicing slowly can allow you to be in total command of your instrument and develop greater awareness of what there is in the music and your approach to it.
- Change things from time to time. There are some pianists who brag that they have a set warm-up that they have been following for years. What a dull way to start your practice day. The more interesting you can make your first minutes at the instrument, the better off you will be for the rest of it.
- No warm-up. If none of the above resonate with you, it may be worthwhile to reconsider the validity of warming up at all. Why be burdened by the need to do a fixed activity at the beginning of a practice session when it feels better to jump right in and get work done.
What's your method of warming up?
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