April 18th, 2022 • Teacher Tips
Teacher Tip: The Run Down on Warm Ups
Provided by Thomas Gunther, voice Artist-Faculty
Have you ever wondered what warm-ups are for?
When I was younger and actively playing sports, I don’t know that I ever thought I needed to “warm-up.” I never understood why I needed to “get warm.” I was young and just “did” whatever I was asked to do.
BUT warm-up is not always about “getting warm” or getting the blood flowing in the sense of temperature. It is about mental preparation.
Does your teacher ask you to make weird sounds with your instrument? Do they ask you to do scales? Or repeat the same thing over and over? Believe it or not, this is all about muscle memory. Muscle memory is, in my opinion, the number one most important part in getting better at your instrument. And a warm-up is mental preparation in muscle memory reinforcing synaptic pathways in the brain. Warm-ups are meant to have you go through the motions of your skills so that you can execute them at will.
So if you find yourself just running through the music without warming-up and not improving as fast as you might like… Try this instead: Imagine the best version of the song/piece you are learning, OR listen to what you believe is the very best version of your piece you can find, (YouTube, Spotify, Apple Play, Pandora, SoundCloud, etc.) and ask yourself if when you perform “what makes this version the best?” and “How can I make my version sound like theirs?” Break down your piece into little chunks and try to mimic the chunks of your favorite performance. (This can be your warm-up!) This builds muscle memory and listening skills. Then you can further ask, what sort of things do I need to practice to be able to perform those chunks every time without messing up?
At the very beginning of learning a piece: 1. Go slow. Start with singing/playing the correct notes (notes written on the page). 2. Then learn and add the rhythms. 3. Then do them together. 4. Add another skill to those, legato, staccato, phrasing, onset, etc., and continue adding different skills – Each small skill you learn to combine needs to be added in layers. Eventually your practice will make those skills automatic. You will see noticeable improvement guaranteed.
Professionals, especially the ones at the top, spend their practice time/warm-ups layering different skills on top of one another. Sometimes those skills seemingly contradict one another! HOWEVER, each skill you layer can take entire practice sessions just to combine with previous skills. So be patient, go slow, and enjoy making music. I have not found anything more satisfying than performing something to the best of my ability, especially after practicing skills to be able to communicate exactly how I feel.