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Daily Warm-ups

I heard that Pepe Romero once said that every day he has to make friends with his guitar again.  He’s obviously talking about a warm-up routine.  What should a warm-up routine consist of?  How long should you warm-up for?

Well the first thing is to understand is that you can probably sit down with the guitar and play a piece that you are working on with little to no warm-up.  Depending on your experience of sitting down and playing a piece all the way through, it might even be a successful performance (maybe not your best, but successful).  So what can warm-ups offer?  I think of warm-ups as a mental work rather then physical work.  In sports, you do stretches and warm-ups to get the body moving, the heart rate up, and better flexibility in the muscles.  However, in music warm-ups I feel are more for the mind.  Even though we use physical movements to play the guitar, a majority of our work is mental.  We have to understand and clarify what the movement we are looking for should be.  Also we need to hear the results as we play.  A proper free stroke is going to sound a lot different then an improper one.  At the same time, there is obviously a physical aspect, thus some warm-up exercises should work on that as well.

What should be in a warp-up routine?
I don’t believe there is only one answer.  However, I do look for certain kinds of exercises/drills in my own routine.  These include right hand and left hand individual and together work.  I’ll refine basic scalar and arpeggio figures, left hand stretches that I find awkward, etc.  While some of these exercises are for physical warming up, I find a majority of them are more about mentally understanding the correct movements necessary to execute a certain skill/technique/exercise.  Some great resources to look into for ideas for warm-up exercises are Scott Tennant’s Pumping Nylon and Richard Provost’s Classical Guitar Technique Volume 1.

How long should I warm-up for?
Again, everyone is different and will feel comfortable with different amounts of time.  However, I find it a lot more common that people are on time constraints.  They don’t have all the time in the world to practice the guitar, thus they often will leave out warm-ups because they feel it takes up too much time.  I know for me, I thought the exact same thing, until I created a routine.  I generally give myself anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes for my warm-up.  I do not count this as part of my practice, but rather in addition to, so my 4 hour practice day turns into a 4.5 hour practice day.  Some people may do about an hour, and will go through ever exercise known to man.  I’m about working smarter, not harder.  So if the exercise doesn’t make anything easier for me throughout the day, I’ll ditch it.  I’ll only do exercises and examples that will add to my playing.  Because of that, I’ve been able to pick a few select exercises that I do daily, and keep that amount of time I work on them down to a reasonable level where within 20 minutes or so I feel ready to play a piece of music at my fullest potential.  This means, if I ever run into a situation where I have to do a performance at the drop of a hat, I can warm-up for 20 minutes or so, run through a few passages of piece and feel confident on stage.

The way I’ve developed my warm-up routine was to take note of certain aspects of my playing that I felt I needed more attention or that I felt too me a while to get into the groove of.  I tried out different exercises, and kept the ones that worked for me.  For instance, I’ll start my day off with doing open string notes with repeated fingers.  I check the release of the finger, the follow through and the general mechanics of the stroke.  From there I’ll go into alternating my fingers to see if I can keep though things going.  I may add a chromatic scale or a left hand finger pattern to again see if I can keep the mechanics going, as well as start to wake up the left hand.  This may happen within a matter of minutes, and be over with by 5 minutes.  I’ll work on some speed bursts on open strings, staring with 5 note bursts going all the way into a full measure of 4/4 (which would add up to 17 notes, 16 in the measure plus the downbeat from the next measure).  I’ll do this at a variety of different speeds to get the fingers warmed up.  I also take out repertoire examples.  I use certain arpeggio sequences from Giuliani’s Rossinana No. 1, Op. 119 that I find awkward and work on the mechanics and the left hand issues.  I also use the octave and 10th sections of the finale of that same piece to work on left hand balance and shifting issues.  These are just examples, and I didn’t start off with this, but it was the outcome of experimentation and observation of what I felt I needed to keep up on in my own playing.

My suggestion is to either work with your teacher, or do your own self evaluation.  Experiment, and see what works and what doesn’t.  Obviously a teacher will help guide you in the right direction, and see things that you may overlook.  Set aside a small amount of time, be it 10 minutes or 30, or more if you’d like.  Be consistent and keep track of the progress.

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