Imagine that you play on the US national soccer team and you’ve just arrived at the stadium for the World Cup final game. Game time is in 30 minutes. Do you see your teammates sitting around, listening to headphones or just talking to one another, or better yet, kicking the soccer ball as far as they can? I’ll give you the answer. Nope. You are going to see them warming up, stretching, and mentally preparing for the game ahead. Now imagine another scenario. You are sitting in the balcony, ready to see the North Carolina Symphony play Mahler’s 1st symphony. The concert starts in 30 minutes. Is the stage empty because everyone shows up right before the first downbeat? I’ll give you this answer too. Nope. Chances are, everyone is either on stage or backstage warming up. You can probably guess why soccer players warm up. They’re going to be physically exerting themselves and their muscles need to be loose so that they don’t pull a muscle or become injured. Well what’s the point of a musician warming up? First, it gets their instrument warmed up (yes, temperature affects the intonation of instruments) and second, it loosens up either their embouchures and/or fingers, depending on what you play. But hey, there’s a big difference between stretching out someone’s arms and legs before the game and buzzing your lips or wiggling your fingers. Your lips and fingers are comprised of a multitude of much smaller muscles that have to make much more complex movements than arms or legs, and can get injured just the same. Yes, you heard right, you can pull a lip muscle. And as a musician, haven’t you ever noticed that you don’t play your best right off the bat? You need to warm things up before everything will work properly.
Now you’re probably thinking back to your class warm up in high school and remembering how boring it was doing the same long tones every day. Well simply put, it doesn’t have to be, and you can and probably should change it slightly on a frequent basis! I’m going to walk you through a sample warm up/ daily routine outline for you to try.
- Do just a little bit of free buzzing and/or mouthpiece buzzing of very simple tunes. This is to get your brain sending the correct signals to your lips. You should spend no more than 5 or so minutes doing this.
- Next, go to your horn and blow shorter, relaxed notes in the middle register. It can be a scale or chromatic in half notes with a break in between each note, preferably going down. Playing long tones first like you do in almost every single high school band is actually very taxing and hard to keep sustained and even when not already warmed up.
- From here, you are basically “warmed up,” and what you do now could be considered your daily routine and fundamental work. I’m putting these in an order, but you can swap them around depending on what you prefer. Based on the time you have to warm up, you might pick an exercise that most relates to what you will be playing later. For example, if you are going to be playing something fast and technical, you might start with articulation exercises, or if you will be playing something lyrical, you might start on slurs.
- Slurred chromatic scales with a metronome get your fingers moving in time and get you using consistent airflow. You can do one or two octaves, but always try to push yourself farther each week, whether in range or in tempo. Once you’ve played going up, then try them going down to work on your low range as well.
- Same-fingering slurs help use the correct embouchure and air support across partials, and help you develop evenness throughout the horn. Start with your open fingering or 1st position and then work your way down by half step. Feel free to make up slurring patterns and don’t just do the same one day in and day out. You want to be able to slur anywhere on the horn!
- Articulation exercises work on both your tongue speed and finger-tongue coordination. I would suggest articulating on the same pitch to work on tongue speed first, and then playing scales to work on your coordination. And again, tonguing exercises you can make up, or there are plenty to find online. Scales can be found online, and you should try and go through every scale each day to keep your brain and fingers nimble. Once you’ve mastered all the major scales, you can start adding minor scales and different modes.
- If you aren’t tired by now, you can work on multiple tonguing or flexibility training, which I just use the exercises out of the Arban book. If you don’t know what that is and are really serious about music, you should look it up and get one, because it has great exercises to work on everything. There is an Arban book for every brass instrument.
That wraps up a full warm-up/daily routine. I intentionally left everything vague because it is up to you to create new exercises and figure out ways to practice the things that you know you need to practice. Hopefully this blog post has convinced you to never go without a warm up because you either don’t think you need one, think they’re boring, or don’t know what to do. Warming up has a negative stigma about it, but it doesn’t have to. You can easily make it into something that you actually enjoy doing every single day!