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In this issue: How to warm up and prepare for practice.
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What's The Point of Warming Up?

Sharpening your mental and artistic preparedness

Playing piano is a physical activity which needs a lot of precision, agility and looseness, and you shouldn't go straight into the most demanding part of your repertoire without making sure that your fingers and hands are ready for it. Some physical as well as mental preparation is needed at the beginning of your practice session or before a performance. Note that the mental part of it is at least as important as the physical one. Therefore your warm-up should consist only of things that make you feel good about music, about your own playing, about the sound of your piano... in short, things that make you tick.

The traditional method of warming up – that is, playing scales and broken chords and/or a number of studies or exercises, might not always be the most efficient way for everyone. Scales and exercises form a vital part of the classical pianist's education, but you don't necessarily have to include them in your everyday warm-up routine unless you enjoy them particularly and feel confident playing them. Playing a beautifully shaped scale is not easy; in fact it is a skill you can keep improving for the rest of your life, and one of your most important assets as a pianist if you are good at it.

To play scales only to get the fingers going is to reduce the importance of one of the most vital elements of classical piano playing. If you include them in your warm-up, make sure you treat them musically and not as a senseless finger exercise.

What about other exercises? Basically, the same rules apply here; if they are exercises that you have already mastered completely and enjoy playing, feel free to include them in your warm-up. Just remember to play them musically and with care.

How about creating a warm-up routine that is more adapted to your personal needs and preferences, and also more directed towards sharpening your mental and artistic preparedness? The warm-up should never feel like an achievement. To warm up efficiently, you should imitate the procedures of good athletes, who always know how to save their energy to the crucial moment.

The main point here is that the warm up should consist only of things that you are competent to control more or less completely, and that it should be treated as an artistic and musical activity. No sprinter warms up by running as fast as he or she can, and no high jumper warms up by trying to beat his own personal record. You should warm up by doing something you are already good at, nicely and steadily.

Why should you warm up like this?

Firstly, it gives your hands and fingers the chance to adjust to more difficult tasks later in the practice session. If you have a particularly demanding piece to work on, why not try to invent a tailor-made little exercise that will set you up for the real thing? Trying to make a simplified version of difficult passages in your repertoire will prepare you physically, mentally and musically.

Secondly, doing the really easy things first will ensure that you keep feeling good about your own playing. Warming up by simply playing a piece that you know well and enjoy playing might be the best warm-up of all. Not only will it get your fingers going, it will make your whole body relaxed, set you up in the right musical mind frame and remind you of why you are playing the piano at all. With a start like that, you will be ready to take on new challenges with the right, positive attitude.

So, here are the basic tips for a good warm up at the piano:

1. Only include things that you find easy or are already really good at

2. Treat it as a musical activity, not a senseless finger exercise

3. Try to find or invent relatively easy exercises that will prepare you specifically for your current repertoire

4. Just play a piece that you know well and that you really like

5. If you include scales and exercises in your warm-up routine, treat them musically and with care

David Wärn, pianist
Piano Street

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