“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.
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.
Vocal warm-up tips posted on MusiciansWay.com
Group warm-ups receive attention in Chapter 6 of The Musician’s Way.
© 2010 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © AZP Worldwide, licensed from Shutterstock
These tips you give on warming up are so helpful. You comments on preparing the mind and body for playing are so valuable in creating an open, receptive and conscious state. These tips have helped me to more fully enjoy my practice and make my time spent more productive.
As a guitarist I too greatly see the need for warming up for the various reason you have described. It loosens and limbers up the muscles necesary to use your instrument in the physical aspects but also, and I think this is more importantly so, readies you mentally for the task at hand. Music is such a mental task and I believe many musicians forget just how important it is to be in the right mindset and truly hear what they are doing and why they are doing it. I know that I myself am guilty of sitting down every once in a while and just playing the guitar but not really making music and I beleive that is a key problem in that many people play their instrument but are not really doing it to make music. I also feel that this non-music making activity has it’s place and use (such as a warm up intended only stretch and limber up) but should not be done as constant activity. I believe music should be the balance between both these physical and mental aspects and that warm ups should be used as a time to work it out and balance it out into a proper state.
I completely agree with the importance of warming up before practicing or performing a piece of music. I am also a music education student and I feel that warming up your voice is needed to loosen up your vocal chords because I know that when I get out of bed I cannot simply go and perform a song correctly. Because your body is in a dormant state most people probably need to “wake it back up.” I also agree with needing to have a physical warm up because even though you are working your muscles during your vocal warm up you may also need to stretch them so that they don’t strain from being stressed too far. Do you have any pointers for ways to keep a constant quality in your tone. I have a small issue with staying constant and if you have anything that might help me I would really appreciate your insight. I really did enjoy this article and will definately use the information for my benefit in the future.
I found your article very inspiring. Along with Danielle, I am also a music education student. All of my times in high school, my warm-ups had nothing to do with the actual pieces we were going to sing during the class. I am glad that someone else views that you should always incorporate your warm-up with your music. After all, isn’t that what a warm-up is?
Also, I agree with the physical warm-up. You should always be limber while playing an instrument or singing. Without that, you risk loosing better breath support and a wonderful tone. In our choir, we never did a physical warm up. But when I went to Regional Choir, we always did something physical every day of the festival. I felt that it improved on my tone and breath support personally.
I am also a percussionist and I know from experience that if you cannot play it slow, you cannot play it fast. That’s why you always take it at a slower tempo. A lot of times I see that students always want to take it fast or rush the tempo and then toward the end, there is a wreck.
Over time, I believe that this system would work. Thank you for this article.
Hi Danielle – thanks for the supportive words.
The long-term benefits of holistic warm-ups will be challenging if not impossible for researchers to pin down (too many variables). Nonetheless, such warm-ups are widely recommended by musicians, teachers, and arts medicine practitioners. So I encourage you to continue exploring creative, personally meaningful ways to warm up and connect with the boundless joy of making music.
Thank you for this lovely article. As an undergrad music education student, I look for ways to improve in my art, which I feel includes strategies for preparing for music-making. Unfortunately, my vocal professor believes that ‘warm ups’ have no notable effect, since his students tend to talk throughout the day, and are therefore using their vocal folds. Your blog, however, shares my feelings about preparation for performing. The performer must be prepared as a whole, including the muscles, the lungs, the mindset, etc.
I especially enjoyed the bits about focusing on music, and your passion for it. Too often, I find that my colleagues and I lose sight of why we love music in the first place, since we tend to get bogged down with all the technicalities of our major. Perhaps if we took the time to appreciate our art and to reflect on why we’ve fallen in love with it in the first place, less music education students would lose faith in their major and drop out.
I would be interested to see the benefits of meaningful warm-ups like this over time, verses going without warm-ups or merely doing physical warm-ups.