“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
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, my warm-up will culminate with speed-building exercises. If I’m backstage getting ready for a show, I’ll focus on soulful expression and the emotional fabric of my repertoire.
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 blast 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 contribute to the prevention of music-related injuries.
We should start at moderate tempos, therefore, and gradually step up speed, intensity, and range. We can begin with any sort of material, as long as it’s undemanding, infusing every phrase with habits of excellence.
5. Mix It Up.
Our opening routines should give us wide-ranging control over our instrument and also fire up our imagination. To that end, I avoid beginning with the same material each day. Instead, I typically start with some gentle improvisation. I next proceed through a variety of techniques and registers.
Whatever your musical style, soulfully explore an assortment of material during your warm-ups, and be open to whatever you experience. If a particular technique feels odd, you might invent or review some targeted exercises.
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, some of us warm up more quickly than others, and different instruments and music come with different demands, so be flexible.
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.