The Wisdom of the Warm-Up: The MOST Important Thing You Do in Music!

What would you say is the most important aspect of exceling in music? Daily practice? Is it mastering technique? Developing artistry and musicality? Becoming experienced in live performance? These are all admirable elements of becoming a well-rounded musician, however, long-term success is built on a solid foundation. That foundation is built on Warm-ups!

Look at any athlete worth their weight as they prepare to compete and you will see one common thread across all sport categories and classes: these athletes incorporate warm-ups to condition and prepare their bodies to respond at peak level in practice and competition! Similarly, musicians need to prime and prepare their mind and bodies to move and create sound! Music is just as much physical as it is mental – physical preparation and mental focus in both areas are essential for success. One of the most vital, albeit important, things every musician should do before diving into rehearsing or performing is starting with warm-ups! A solid warm-up lays down a solid foundation for everything that happens afterwards in music. 1) Warm up the Body: Physical stretching not only promotes flexibility and blood flow and a calm nervous system, it also helps us pay attention and listen to our muscles and movement. For all musicians, whether playing an instrument or singing, having dexterity and engaging the correct muscles used with healthy posture is vital. Every musician can benefit from starting with light neck stretching. This translates into more flexibility and easier range of motion with our neck and head as we look at our music.

Moving on to the shoulders and arms, these muscles obviously allow instrumentalists to hold their instruments and hands in correct position. Rolling the shoulders and light bicep/tricep stretches help prepare the arms for motion. For singers, relaxed shoulders and loose arms allow for successful breath engagement and support.

Gently twisting the upper body and core (stomach/back) gently helps alleviate tension built up from sitting or desk work. Singers and Wind players understand the core area (which encompasses the diaphragm) as the central place in their body to ground their breath. Breathing from the core/diaphragm while avoiding clavicular breathing from the shoulders, allows for a deeper, more controlled and lasting breath. Proper breathing lays the foundation for tone and sound! For Strings players, Percussionists and Pianists, a relaxed/engaged core allows for deeper breathing which translates into less tension elsewhere in the body and more fluid motion and playing.

Finally, do not forget about the hands! Nearly all instrumentalists use the hands and fingers and gently stretching each digit on each hand can help keep the fingers limber and loose, allowing for more controlled and seamless technique. Gently rolling the wrists clockwise and counter-clockwise can help maintain flexibility. This also helps in preventing overuse injuries that result from tension in the tendons, muscles and ligaments (avoiding repetitive strain injuries, i.e., carpal tunnel).

Check out this awesome quick guide from on stretches for musicians: