What Makes a Good Warm Up? Part 2

Part II – What makes a good warm up?

In part one I discussed whether we should even do warm up excercises at all. To be obvious yet vague: If you need to then you should! But that critical time at the beginning of the practice session needs to be approached with a mindset of utility not mindless motions.

Here we will talk about what constitutes a quality warm up.

Characteristics of Quality Warm Ups

  • Somewhat Challenging. Starts within comfort zone / sphere of competence then quickly moves slightly outside that circle
  • Useful. Related to current goals
  • Something for each hand / arm
  • Not too long. Does not subtract from energy needed for core practice session.
  • Promotes proper technique and posture.

Somewhat Challenging

  • Start with warm ups within your skill zone but quickly move to warm ups just a bit outside of that zone. This does not necessarily mean fast. This way you benefit from the warm ups physically and mentally.
  • If you do something completely with in your comfort zone (or sphere of ability) then it is not warming you up. A warm up that is too easy or already in your sphere doesn’t warm you up as you were already warm enough! For example, athletes do some form of their activity as a warm up before the main session. Runners often do an easy jog at the beginning of their run. Walking isn’t enough because it’s too easy for the muscles.

Useful. Related to current goals

The warm up must have value and meaning to you and your current goals. I don’t warm up with a French bow as I play German style.

An obvious example is playing the scales that relate to the keys of pieces you’re working on. Working on B major when your solo is in C probably is the most effective approach.

You can make a warmup out of a difficult section of music by playing it much slower, playing multiples of each pitch, taking a tiny musical cell and using it as a shifting or strength exercise.

Get creative! Don’t be afraid to design your own
warm ups. This will get you thinking more
deeply and forge true meaning with your playing. It’s also lots of fun, challenging, and not boring!

For example, while working on a Bach cello suite I needed to work on the two opening chords. Here’s the exercise I cooked up to address strength and intonation. It also helps build my thumb callous.

Other Examples




A simple yet useful example warmup is to do bow strokes to make sure the down and up sound the same and use the same amount of bow.

If string crossings need attention then Frederick Zimmerman’s “A Contemporary Concept of Bowing Technique for the Double Bass” should be in your warmups.

Revisit beginner / intermediate etudes and change fingerings, bowings, dynamics, etc to make them fresh, challenging, and related to your current skill goals. Try fingerings you would never use. Reverse the bowings. This pushes and expands your boundaries.

Something for each hand / arm

Each hand provides a critical component to our playing and both need to be considered and included. String players are notorious for favoring the left hand but the bow is at least as important as the left hand.

You may loathe Sevcik but it works. Sort of like running and weightlifting. 🙂

Sevcik is heavy squats for the bow.

Not too long – Does not subtract from energy needed for core practice session

at the beginning of practice sessions. We don’t want to burn through our entire reserve of alertness and mental agility before we even get to our solos and excerpts.

Our minds and bodies freshest early on in our routine and

Promotes proper technique and posture

Proper technique and posture are critical to longevity and pain free playing. Just bcause you’re working on tone doesn’t mean you can let tension set in.

Thanks for reading and please send me any suggestions or warm ups YOU have!
Next time in part 3 we’ll move from the warm up time to the main
practice event to explore routines and plans effective learning.

Have fun and keep practicing!

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