Monday, February 9, 2009


Warming up seems to run the gamut from the 'slap a reed on and play' technique to the 90 minute warm-up. I think we can all agree that the first technique is not your best choice! Having said that, I don't think the 90 minute warm-up is the way to go either.
Here's why:

The purpose of the warm-up is to - you got it - warm up! It is not to make substantial improvements in your playing, it is to relax and loosen muscles and get blood flowing. That's it. I think of it in three parts; tone production, technique and articulation. We need to warm up all muscles involved in these areas, namely embouchure, voicing and air support muscles, hands, fingers and tongue. Along with this we should be working towards relaxed arms and shoulders as well as good posture.

This should not take over an hour! Those of you who swear by your 60 - 90 minute warm-up, read on - I'll explain!

As stated earlier, warming up loosens and relaxes muscles, gets the blood flowing, and reaffirms the physical memory involved in playing the instrument. This is a direct parallel to stretching before a workout, or starting a run at a slower pace before warming up to your workout pace. At the risk of being redundant, it loosens and relaxes muscles and gets the blood flowing - this is the primary goal of warming up! I can't stress this enough. Warming up is for warming up. Warming up is not for making major improvements to your playing. This should take 20 minutes. Maybe 30.

Stay with me all you 90 minute warm-up aficionados! Here's the catch -- this 20 minute warm-up is always followed by skills practice. These are two distinct areas of practice and I believe they need to stay distinct for productive and efficient practice. The lines get blurred for many people and these two sections get combined into one long (LONG!) warm-up. To me this is less effective. The warm-up can actually be rushed by placing demands on your results too soon in the session. In other words you expect to sound too good too soon in the warm-up. Warming up for the goals listed above relieves us of this pressure, it allows for a more relaxed warm-up. On the other side, grouping warm-ups and skills practice together also leaves some people feeling that 60 minutes into their practice session they have done nothing but warm-up and now need to begin practicing. Equally damaging.

Let's take a step back and look at a typical two-hour practice session.
I Warm-up; 20 minutes
II Skills Practice; 40-60 minutes
III Etudes/Repertoire; 40-60 minutes

The proportions of these areas will vary depending on your needs at the time. For example, the time spent in Area II or III at the beginning of a new semester may differ from that spent the week or two before a recital. Nonetheless, all three areas should be present in one proportion or another - every day!

Back to the warm-up. It should always include: long tones to address embouchure, voicing and air; scales, arpeggios and other patterns to address hands/fingers; articulation exercises for the tongue.

We use the same items (long tones, scales, etc) in Area II of our practice session. We use these tools to focus concentrated energy toward improving one or more specific skills involved in clarinet playing. Perhaps improved tone, better hand position, clearer or faster articulation - the list goes on! To accomplish this we use these same tools but with a distinctly different goal in mind.

What I want for you to take away from this is the concept of a distinct and clear separation between warming up and skills practice. The most efficient and productive practice comes with this separation, with the goals clearly in mind. It allows for a relaxed warm-up followed by focused, concentrated attention to one or more specific goals.

To recap:
I Warm-up for approximately 20 minutes. Goal: Loosen and relax muscles, get the blood flowing. Use long tones, scales, arpeggios and other patterns as well as articulation exercises.

II Skills Practice 40 - 60 minutes. Goal: Improve one or more specific skills. Use long tones, scales, arpeggios and other patterns, articulation exercises, etc.

III Etudes/Repertoire 40 - 60 minutes. Goal: Improve specific elements of your etudes and repertoire.

Perhaps in the next couple months we can discuss specific exercises for warm-ups and skills practice. Another month we can discuss practice techniques for Area III, etudes/repertoire.

As always I welcome your feedback; questions about this or earlier blogs as well as suggestions for future topics.

Thanks for joining us for Clarinet Talk From Miami! Until next month good health and good reeds!

~ Dr D


  1. Yes!
    I spent the past two years at the University of Georgia doing my MM with Dr. McClellan. He was very big on establishing a well-rounded "warm-up" routine and it has totally changed my life. When I (stupidly) neglect that time for a week or two, I really regret it! I don't enjoy the rest of my practice very much, because everything is twice as difficult as it should be.

    I've also realized that the scales I use for warm-up purposes are very different from the scales I use to really "dig in" to technical practice. I find that Bearmann scales from the Division III book, for example are not the best choice (for me personally, of course!) as first scales of the day. I am much better off to start with something easier, immediately following longtones, which begin in the chalumeau register and progress upward two octaves at a time. It's best to save Baermann for later in the day when I'm good and warmed up.

    Another thing that I have recently integrated into my 40-60 min warm-up period is intonation practice. I love the Tuning CD! I just work with it for five or ten minutes and I'm amazed at how much more aware I am of intonation issues when I go to rehearsal (I now understand why "ignorance is bliss." Ha!)

  2. Once again - you are right on the money, Katie! I also prefer to begin my warm-up with long-tones and some 'gentler' scales :)
    I love the Baermann scales but typically I will use them in the skills practice area of my practice rather than the initial warm-up. I like to start with a low F 2-octave scale and ascend chromatically. It gets the air and fingers moving without placing undue demands too soon.

    As for skipping the warm-up, it can be tempting!! But you are right it never pays off because the practice session is simply not as efficient or productive.

    haha - intonation issues = ignorance is bliss
    So true!!