Monday, January 11, 2010

How important is a warm up?

Certainly we all agree that it is more fun to play in the band when the band sounds really good. One of the key elements in getting that "good sound" is a good warmup routine, both in individual practice and in the full band rehearsal.

You can find many good articles on the internet about warmup routines for your particular instrument. I have just two tips in today's posting:

For percussionists... work on making the sound of each hand be the same. You can practice this little exercise anywhere with just a pair of your favorite drum sticks:
L R L R L R L rest R L R L R L R rest (repeat ad infinitum, at all speeds, but start slowly) Have a friend or family member listen to you and try to tell which hand you started on. The objective is to make exactly the same sound with either hand.

For everyone else:
Play a scale... any scale. Do it slowly, and go over as much of your instrument's range as possible. Listen for the one note that has the very best tone... nice and full, resonant, and it seems to envelop you and fill the space around you. Play that note over and over 6-8 times, holding it a long time. Then try to get the same exact tone quality on the note 1/2 step higher. When you get that done, try 1/2 step lower. Over a period of weeks or months you can expand your "beautiful tone" range over the entire range of the instrument.

For a full band warmup we have two objectives which are related. We want to achieve agreement among all the players on pitch and on rhythm. Playing a scale in unison and in chords is good for matching pitches. Of course you have to listen to yourself, to your neighbors, and most importantly across the band to everyone else. Things like playing 4 notes on each scale tone, playing "oom-pahs" and playing scales with various rhythm patterns help clarify the feeling of pulse in the band and help us play rhythms exactly together. That very part of the warmup that you personally dislike, is probably the part of the warmup that can help you the most as you improve as a musician. Put your entire energy into the warmup and strive for perfect pitch and rhythm matching across the entire band.