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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Quick Practice Tip: Warming Up is Hard to Do

I have never enjoyed warming up. I understand the reasons why warming up is a good thing, but in general, I have never been very good at it. Even when I exercise, whether weight training or running, I tend to move right to the good stuff rather than start slow with stretching or slow movement.

Warming Up for a Recital

When I am preparing for a recital, I find it useful to "warm up" on the very first piece that I intend to play on the recital, at least the first half page. That is because in my experience I feel "cold" when I begin a recital, no matter how much I have warmed up before the recital. Despite this cold feeling I am confident anyway, because I have practiced performing this part of the recital from a "cold" start. Nothing unsettles me psychologically about the "cold" start anymore because I have prepared myself to perform well under these conditions.

Also, when I am playing regularly, I seldom actually go "cold" in the first place. My memory and physical state stay ready. The most that I have to do is use some hand lotion to lubricate my dry skin. Otherwise, I am pretty much ready to go.

Warming Up for Practice in General

Still, I understand that there is a value to routine, and so I continue to construct a warm up routine that will suit my lifestyle of the moment. At this moment, I have little free time because I am teaching at a strings camp in a neighboring town over an hour away. So what warm up or practice time I have is limited in time and scope. I need to pack a wallop in a short time. I have turned to Kreutzer to help me do this.

I have identified four of the earlier Kreutzer etudes, and I play them every day. You might select four different etudes to fulfill your needs, but the four I selected suit me perfectly for right now. I play through #5, 8, 10, and 12. Here are my reasons why.

#5 causes me to hold my left hand a little higher to accommodate the Eb finger patterns. My left hand is quite small (I should be playing a 7/8 size violin), and Eb is tiring unless I hold my hand a little steeper. I play this etude and focus on keeping my left hand high enough to keep a nice curved shape to my left pinkie. I might add one or two of the bowing variations suggested.

#8 causes my left hand to stretch to play the E and B major finger patterns contained in this etude. These finger patterns are huge reaches for me, so practicing this etude daily helps to keep my left hand limber and unfurled. I also add one or two of the bowing variations, but just playing through the etude is quite a chore by itself.

#10 is one of my favorites. I have always enjoyed this one since the day I first learned it. My teacher Helen Kwalwasser had me perform the etude at opposite ends of the bow. I would play a whole bow on the first eighth note and the next groups of 16th notes at the tip, and then play a whole bow on the next eighth note and play the 16th note grouping at the frog. This style encouraged me to play equally at opposite ends of the bow. I would be careful to make good contact points at the tip and to use the appropriate amount of finger motion at the frog. I would work to make my notes at the tip sound stronger and my notes at the frog match the volume of those at the tip (and vice versa). There are good opportunities to make thoughtful shifts as well.

#12 is a good exercise in shifting, intonation, arpeggios, and extended fingers in the higher positions. I have always found this etude to be a little tough, because it requires the extended reaches at the top end of the arpeggios. I can easily play this etude if I were to rewrite the fingerings to a more accommodating position for my small hand, but I find it useful to insist that I continue stretching my left hand at every appropriate opportunity, always being careful not to over do things and injure myself.

Every day I play through these four etudes. Even after a few days, I noticed a huge improvement in the ease of playing them. Maybe sometime down the road I will switch to four different etudes. There are occasional days when I do different Kreutzer etudes just to add variety, but generally, I like these four etudes. I hope to have them completely memorized so that I can draw on them at any moment.

What are your favorite warm up routines?

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