Practice Series for Strings: Warmups

Taking you through a successful practice session, one step at a time

You’ve finally set aside the time to practice—no easy feat amidst all the commitments we have to our work, our peers and ourselves. Congratulations on choosing a rewarding and creative commitment to add to your schedule; you won’t regret it! Now, let’s make sure you get the most out of this session for which you’ve sacrificed your time.

Unsurprisingly, all good practice sessions are planned. If you take advantage of the incredible human affinity with patterns and habits, you can make each practice session structured and rewarding. We all have days when, although we know we should practice, we just don’t feel motivated. Forming strong habits can help us work through these days; even just by doing our usual warm-ups, we can convince the body and the mind to get on with it and suddenly, we’ve achieved our full practice session with minimal suffering. Given this power of the first step, a strong warmup routine is perhaps the most important aspect of practice sessions.

Designing an Effective Warmup

Whether today’s session will be fifteen minutes or three hours, you can get the most out of it with these tips:

  • For short sessions, budget about 1/5 of your practice time for a warmup. For sessions longer than an hour, budget about 10 minutes.
  • Focus on only two things: physical comfort and good sound production. The entire body, especially both hands and both shoulders, should feel comfortable.
  • Begin making sound on the instrument in the simplest way possible, so as to keep your mind only on these two aspects. This encourages your brain to link good sound with relaxed muscles, not tense ones.

Now on to the specifics. As a string player I will write from my biased perspective, and let Jernej offer a woodwind perspective in a separate post.

The Everyday Warmup

This can be altered to take more or less time. Once you finish the initial warmup you can repeat it with focus on relevant techniques like pitches and shifts, depending on time.

  • Stand with comfortable, tall posture. Shoulders roll back and downward as far as is comfortable.
  • Instrument in playing position, bow in hand with a good bow hold. Check in once more to ensure you’ve remained relaxed despite holding the instrument.
  • Begin with 10 (or 5, if time is tight) long bows on the highest open string, all the way from the frog to the tip (or as much as your arm can straighten comfortably which might not necessarily be all the way at the tip!)
  • Repeat these long bows on each string, in order, noticing that the arm gets heavier, the bow goes slower, and it comes closer to the bridge in order to produce the same healthy sound on the lower, thicker strings.
  • Do your best to keep the sound exactly the same quality and volume for the entire bow, all 10 repetitions, on every string.

Is that really it?!

Yes! There are many variations you could add to this basic structure, but this is the starting point. This warmup should take some time and you should finish feeling like you’ve focused quite intently. By bringing your brain into deep focus, but not for so long that it is exhausted, you will feel “in the zone” enough to move on to the next step: scales. Believe me, if we use too much effort on the warmup we’ll never make it through scales, which build on the sound production we’ve worked very hard to achieve here but add the enormous distraction of notes. While you’re still not using left hand technique, appreciate the time to focus just on your right hand, which is your voice as a string player. In many ways the right hand is more important than the left!

And with that, happy warmups from LGMS!

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