Rethinking the Warm-Up

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At an extreme, warm-up routines come in two flavors: etched in granite, or free-form.

This past weekend at Arizona State we hosted Prof. Jeffrey Agrell of the University of Iowa for a horn day event. One topic area that came up was warming-up, in the session he titled “Warm-Ups: Horn Math: a New Look at an Old Topic.” A couple elements of this really challenged me to think.

Earlier in his career when he was playing full time in an orchestra he had a very set, long routine. Many orchestral players do. I also had a long, set routine that I did with little variation for many years (ask anyone who played with me in Nashville!).

The positive for this type of long routine is it is consistent, sort of a base of operations as a horn player. Start at the beginning and play to the end, go from being cold to being totally warmed up and ready to go. Does not require a lot of thought, could do it reading a magazine or watching TV, feels good.

The negatives are that this type of routine can will become deadly boring over time, and it will only maintain your playing.

Turning back to my initial thinking on the topic, in my University of Horn Matters article I wrote that 

… I am really not convinced that every published warm-up you will find is actually realistically what the author normally personally did. Maybe it is, but then again maybe it was more what they hoped to do or recommended to people when a publisher wanted them to fill some pages with the topic, but when push came to shove they had other ways to warm-up that set up their chops better for actual performances. There is no one-size-fits-all plan for warming up, and there is a very good argument to be made that if you don’t vary it over time you will not progress on the horn.

For those very familiar with the series, that last sentence is one I changed after Prof. Agrell left. A good sports trainer does not give you one routine and that is all you ever get! No. What happens is you work out a routine then they/you modify it progressively to continue your training progress.

A lot of horn players don’t do that. They work out a routine based on elements from books and teachers and then stick with it for years, maybe forever. Their goals never move forward.

There is a better way. Prof. Agrell will be publishing more in an upcoming book so I won’t tip my hand too far on what he said, but what I am now experimenting with personally is changing up more elements of what I do on a daily basis.

In my own case, my normal routine for a while has been based on a repertoire of elements of a warm-up routine, which I then plug into a general warm-up format. I have been through many phases on all of this, with one recent phase being more use of a tone generator, as noted in a very recent article. But it was not the same every day.

Clarke-snipMy general goal now is to break down those elements further and play them in variations that focus on specific “problem areas” and are

  • slower
  • faster
  • shorter
  • longer

AND also to generally warm-up less. I can get pretty ready in 10 or so minutes really, ready enough to move on to music that starts out not too difficult for another 10 minutes and to use that to extend the warm-up.

Right now I am also working on a lot of music for a recording project, so to more formally morph the end of a shorter warm-up into the beginning of practice is much more efficient use of limited practice time. With a more tangible example of what I am doing being instead of the familiar Clarke study seen above (which I have down!) I have gone back to working on perfecting better a minor key variation of this study found in the Al Vizzutti trumpet method.

These are just some of my thoughts as of now, but they are stated to encourage readers to vary their warm-up, to focus in the elements you need to do to physically get ready to play, and to focus on problem areas of playing without getting hung up in a long, etched in granite routine that never varies.

And if this topic seriously interests you as one you want to think over for personal improvement on the horn, be sure to click on the “related to this article” tab below for more.

UPDATE: For another angle on rethinking the warm-up see this article: shorter is better. 

University of Horn Matters