I’ve been doing in-school sectionals with middle and high school students over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve been noticing a pattern. The students don’t warm up during their at-home practice sessions. Even the ones with private lesson teachers! Many of them don’t know what to play as a warm up during their practice sessions, and just want to get working on their music.
As music educators, we know that practicing is the key to our students' success, and part of that practice needs to be warming up and working on fundamentals of sound production. 🔥🔥🔥Here’s my hot take though: the whole-band warm up that you play in class isn’t appropriate for at-home practice.🏠 For any band student.
I usually try really hard to stay in my oboe-specific lane, because that’s my specialty, but I hope we can agree that there are instrument-specific skills that each band student needs to master in order to play well.🎶 For every instrument. 🎺🎷
So today, I’m going to offer you my warm-up structure for any wind musician. I hope it’s helpful for your students! When you share it with students and colleagues, please attribute it to me, and let me know how it goes in practice!
5 steps to a successful warm up:
Always use your metronome. Your inner metronome is NEVER as accurate as the metronome.
Breathing exercise: Find your breath and make sure you’re taking low lung/belly/diaphragm breaths that fill your whole ribcage. Metronome at 54. Exhale, then breathe in for 2 counts, and blow out for 10 counts. Repeat at least 4 times.
Mouthpiece work (Crowing for oboists and bassoonists): Set up your air/embouchure balance for the day, and make sure your air is really flowing. Metronome at 54. Exhale, then breathe in for 2 counts, and blow through your mouthpiece for 10 counts. Repeat at least 4 times.
Long Tones (Note of the Day/NOTD): Connect the breath you just focused on with one single note, and form your air/embouchure balance for the day. Pick a note to work on. Metronome at 54. Exhale, then inhale for 2 counts, play that note for 10 counts at mf. Repeat at least twice. Using the same counts, play that note at mp at least twice. Move on to practicing very slow dynamic changes. Take 8-10 counts to fully > or <.
Slow scales: Playing slow scales is a good transition from holding a long tone to faster technical work because you can think about each note as you come to it. Think about this as an extension of the breathing and NOTD practice you started with. Metronome at 54, play your scale in quarter notes, all slurred.
Technical exercises: This can be faster scales, arpeggios, articulation practice, double tonguing, etc. Always use a metronome to build smooth, steady technique! Metronome set between 72-92 (aim for the same tempo across all keys!). Play your scale all slurred in 8th notes. Isolate and work on any intervals or fingerings that weren’t smooth, connected, or confident. Repeat the scale. Play any other subdivisions of the beat you’re working on (triplet scales, sixteenth note scales), then move on to arpeggio study.*
*I study one key at a time, so all my scales are in the same key. I sometimes play a random scale, but more often look at what part of my music has a scale-like passage and play the scale that matches the key signature of that passage. It’s a great way to prepare to play a difficult passage!
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