photo of woman doing warm-up exercise out of doors“Like sensuous opening ceremonies, warm-ups prepare the body, mind, and spirit for making music.”
The Musician’s Way,
p. 37

I always take pleasure in my daily warm-ups.

As I open my guitar case, tune, and play my first notes, I feel inspired and grateful to be able to make music.

Students, however, often lack clarity about how they might warm up.

In response, I’ve developed an adaptable 6-part framework that musicians and others can use to fashion warm-ups.

Here’s the basic design. Details can be found on p. 37-39 of The Musician’s Way.

6-Step Warm-Up Framework for Musicians

1. Breathe, Move, and Center

To transition from everyday life to the higher realm of creative work, I do a few whole-body movements before I unpack my instrument – these help me limber up and achieve a centered presence (see: “The Centered Performer“).

Depending on your musical medium, you might opt to do things like arm circles and shoulder rolls, or you could do movements drawn from the yoga, tai chi, or other traditions. Representative movements are shown on p. 76-82 of The Musician’s Way.

2. Specify Goals

Vivid goals ignite creativity, so, before I unlatch my guitar case, I always pinpoint what I’m aiming to accomplish in my playing. I then craft a warm-up in line with the repertoire I’ll tackle and the situation before me.

If I’m going to practice high-velocity music, let’s say, my instrumental warm-up will culminate with speed-building exercises. By comparison, if I’m backstage getting ready for a show, I’ll focus on soulful expression and the emotional fabric of my repertoire.

“To transition from everyday life to the higher realm of creative work, I do a few whole-body movements before I unpack my instrument.”

3. Mindfully Set Up and Tune

As I unpack my instrument and otherwise prepare to practice or perform, I do so with a focused demeanor that supports my artistic mindset. I never let myself rush through the steps of preparing to play.

As you set up, I invite you to likewise affirm your passion for music. Then, tune with precision, and cross reverentially into the lofty spheres of music.

4. Begin Moderately

Warming up increases the blood-flow in our music-making muscles and stimulates lubrication in our joints or vocal folds. Hence, warm-ups help us execute with ease and also contribute to the prevention of music-related injuries.

We should start at moderate tempos and gradually step up speed, intensity, and range. We can begin with any sort of material, as long as it’s undemanding. The key factor is to embody habits of excellence.The Musician's Way book cover

5. Mix It Up

Our opening routines should give us wide-ranging control over our instrument as well as fire up our imagination. To that end, I avoid beginning with the same material each day. Instead, I might start with some gentle improvisation and then proceed through a variety of techniques and registers.

“Warm-ups help us execute with ease and also contribute to the prevention of music-related injuries.”

Whatever your musical style, soulfully explore an assortment of material during your warm-ups, and be open to whatever you experience, responding accordingly.

6. Finish in 10–15 Minutes

Once you begin to play or sing, ordinarily conclude your warm-up in 10-15 minutes so that you’re nimble and focused but not fatigued. In contrast, extended drills can lead to exhaustion during rehearsals or performances.

That said, be flexible – some of us warm up more quickly than others, some days we need added time to align our faculties, and different instruments and music come with different demands.

For instance, before brief, high-stakes performances such as auditions, we might prolong our warm-ups. On tougher days, we could similarly take our time and incrementally restore our coordination.

More warm-up tips posted on MusiciansWay.com: Vocal warm-ups | General warm-ups
Group warm-ups receive attention in Chapter 6 of The Musician’s Way
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© 2010 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © AZP Worldwide, licensed from Shutterstock