Warm Up To This Idea…

Why warming up before you practice is so important.

By Jeff Beights

Over the years, in various playing situations, I have closely observed the playing habits of different players.  One common behavior, more so in younger players, seems to be the lack of pre-playing preparation, specifically the warm-up.  Now, some will argue that they don’t need a warm-up.  I have witnessed on many occasions players show up to morning rehearsal 5 minutes before the start, pull their horns out of the case and start playing.  Coincidently, is seems these are the same players that struggle with the fundamentals of playing in general.

Warm-up routines do vary quite a bit between players, some more some less, but the fact still remains that there is value in warming-up before you practice or perform.

Allen Vizzutti suggests that a practice session should consist of three equal parts; warm-up, technical practice and music.  That would mean the warm-up portion of your daily routine is equally important to technical practice and the music you practice.

Over the years my warm-up routine has changed quite a bit based on my changing skill level.  I don’t change my routines daily like some do, but I will use a routine for a while and let it evolve as needed.  I am one of those players that need to spend time warming up before I play.  If I don’t take the time to get warmed up, I fatigue quickly and my tone quality is not good.  I also notice much discomfort in the upper register.

There is great value in warming up.  However, the bottom line is that there is no such thing as one size fits all.  There is no one warm-up regiment or set amount of time everyone has to follow.  But, the benefits can be consistent with anyone who invests the time in a good warm-up routine.  I spend about 15 minutes warming up before I start my daily routine.  I use to spend as long as an hour before school started when I was in high school.  Nevertheless, as Doc Severinsen points out,

“Brass playing is much more physical than sometimes believed to be. As in any physical endeavor, a constructive preparation of warm-up should be truly beneficial. Not only does it enable us to become properly attuned physically, but probably more important, it assists us mentally, in that it motivates. That is to say, it gives impetus, direction, and is a precise launching pad to get a practice session off the ground, so to speak. Many well intended practice sessions may grind to a halt because of a lack of direction or a plan. If the “warm-up” does nothing else, other than providing those important, initial guide posts, its function is highly important. Without a beginning, how can there be a middle and an end?” by Carl “Doc” Severinsen

Here is a list of some of the most important reasons to invest a little time priming the pump so to speak:

  1. Stretching:  As with any athlete, stretching is important.  All of us who study Claude Gordon’s method know that playing the trumpet is a physical exercise that affects the whole body.  In fact, I have felt stiffness in my calf muscles, lower and middle back, arms and abs, along with the muscles in my embrasure after a long practice session. Simple body stretching exercises can help prepare the body for the workout.
  2. Breathing: I don’t typically breathe the same when I a working in the office as I do when I am practicing.  So, going through the breathing exercises Claude prescribes is a great way to not only stretch the lungs, but prepare the proper posture.  Always try and stand while you practice as well.  This simple truth alone can improve your breathing and playing ability.
  3. Blood Flow: Soft easy warm-ups help increase the blood flow to the lips.  In my experience it feels like my lower lip gets firmer, almost like filling a flat tire with air, as I warm-up giving me more control over each note.  I cannot play much above a High C cold, but warming up allow me to play much higher and easier and longer.  Having the blood flowing increases endurance and reduces the risk of injuring or traumatizing the lip tissue by forcing the embrasure to work.
  4. Review the Basics: Warming up is a great time to remind yourself of the fundamentals such as; breathing, tongue position, articulation and flexibility.  Our goal should be to practice fundamentals until you develop a reflex.  Even after that, it is always good to spot check.  This can increase the chances of avoiding problems with the embrasure or playing as you develop.
  5. Focus: We all have busy lives to contend with daily.  Situations at work, with family, and personal issues can be distracting.  The mental component to playing the trumpet is huge.  Having that transition time that a warm-up offers gives the player time to place on hold the demands of life outside the practice room and focus on the task at hand.  Remember, it’s not about the amount of time you put in the practice room; it’s about the amount of quality time you put into the horn daily.  Focused productive practice time is where development takes place.
  6. The Warm Down: For the same reasons we spend time warming up, we should do the same at the end of a practice.  It is important to leave your chops relaxed after a practice routine.  This is a great time to hit the pedal tones.  Relaxing the muscle tissues in the embrasure encourages blood flow to the tissues so that they can regenerate.  The warm down is usually only a couple of minutes of easy playing and should not be as involved as the warm-up routine.

So, are there musicians out there that don’t have to warm-up and down at all and are still able to perform at a high level?  Sure there are.  However, in my experience I have found some kind of warm-up to be an important part of your daily routine.  What do you think?

About the Author:

Jeff Beights began playing the trumpet in the fifth grade.  By his senior year in high school, Jeff had received awards throughout Indiana and Michigan for his Lead trumpet and solo performances.  To the surprise of many, he put the horn away in the spring of 1988 to study at Ball State University’s College of Architecture and Planning.  After graduation in 1993, Jeff went on to start a successful Information Technology Consulting Services company in Indiana.  In 2009, after many years away from the instrument, he started playing again.  Jeff Beights is currently studying with Certified Claude Gordon instructor Bruce Haag.  He is a Brass Instructor at Concordia Lutheran High School and current member of Old Crown Brass Band.

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