Even Olympic-level athletes have pre-game warm ups. So why wouldn't a musician add some easy yet helpful exercises to their music practice? Whether you're playing on a brass, woodwind, string or percussion instrument, your greatest performances result from your familiarity of the physical actions that create your music. Those who are exceptionally skilled barely even notice these actions during a performance; and if you're still in the beginning stages, you're probably looking forward to the moment when you can perform with the same carefree spirit.
Ponder some of the benefits of finger exercises and warm up routines, and you'll probably agree that it only makes sense to include them in your practice routine.
Pre-practice warm ups can help you avoid injuries, and even speed up the healing of existing injuries. They're also a superb way of keeping your mind off everyday worries, and more focused on your instrument. By including warm ups in your routine, you'll notice quickly that your playing will become easier and more accurate. Some musicians even include their warm-up routine into their regular exercise programs to improve their health, posture, breathing, and mood. Remember, your body is most valuable instrument of all, and anything that can benefit your health will contribute greatly to your continued desire of performing music.
Here's another upside to warm-up exercises: Because of the repetitive movements involved with playing, musicians (novice players especially) are prone to injury.
For string performers, skipping a warm up increases the risk of an injury to the back, neck, and shoulders. Players on wind instruments could be subjected to neck, shoulder and arm injuries, as well as their nose, throat, lips and ears. For brass players; shoulder, back, neck, and wrist problems are quite common, and even eye injuries are possibleif an attempt is made to exert undue air pressure.
Leaving these kinds of injuries untreated can lead to serious pain, or even long term issues like carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel thoracic outlet syndrome, bursitis, tendinitis, andQuervain's tenosynovitis. Of course, these problems can be easily avoided by simply warming up with exercises before playing.
Here are some easy steps to decrease your chances of injury.
For keyboardists, try using various Hanon keyboard exercises for finger dexterity. They've been proven to work ever since Charles-Louis Hanon first published them in 1873. Brass players warm up by blowing through their mouthpiece, and an excellent practice tool is known as the B.E.R.P. For orchestral string players, numerous fingering and bowing exercises are extremely beneficial, and even contribute to more efficient playing. Thankfully, there are all kinds of great musical exercise books and DVD's available to help you become a greater performer.
Below are a few physical exercise suggestions to benefit you, regardless of the instrument you play. If you have specific physical needs, you might want to consult a qualified medical professional before you begin any exercise routine; especially if you already have an existing injury or pain.
These exercises below are intended to release tension, and to relax and stretch your muscle tendons. These are not supposed to cause any pain, and stop immediately if you begin to feel any discomfort.
During your warm up, concentrate on the feeling in your tendons and muscles. Get the blood flowing through them, and prepare them to do your musical bidding soon after you're finished the warm up.
With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand and swing your arms from left to right while moving your shoulders. Think of your body like a rag doll, and your arms are like elephant trunks that move back and forth. Feel your body loosening up while twisting gently at the waste in response to the weight of your arms.
With your arms in front of you, do arm circles both clockwise and counter-clockwise.
To stretch your smaller hand muscles, first clench your fists, then open them while your hands are straight out in front of you. Practice it palms down, palms up, then with both palms facing each other.
Do these exercises gently, and hold each position for a few seconds. Don't forget to relax and breathe between sets.
Using your right hand, grip your left wrist and hold it to the back of your head. Pull your arms both left and right. Do it again with your other hand.
Reach upwards with both hands, and if possible, rise on the balls of your feet. Bring your arms down and your feet flat on the floor, and reach up again with alternating arms. Then, while stretching one arm up at a time, bend at your waist to the opposite side without twisting.
Loosely place your hand around the inside of your right knee while bending forward. Reach your left arm upwards and turn your head to the left, and try to view your left hand. Repeat this on the other side.
Grip your left wrist with your right hand and hold it behind your head. Pull your arms to the right and then to the left. Do it again with the other hand.
With your left or right arm straight out in front of you, move the fingers of one hand with the other. Softly bend one finger at a time, including the thumb, as far back as they will go before it hurts, then hold for a few seconds. Remember, never pull back until you feel pain; only until you feel resistance.
Place your palms down on a flat surface, straighten your fingers and thumb, move them apart, then bring them back together.
On a table in front of you, place a folded towel or cushion. While standing with your fingers relaxed, palms down and wrists bent, place your hands on the cushion, but don't spread them apart. Lightly move your body forward with your arms straightened, but without applying weight to your wrists and hands, and feel the stretch on the back of your palm.
While your elbow is straight, expand one of your arms outwards. Allow your hand to flop down. Take your free hand and place it in front of the other, then softy pull your fingers back to you, stretching the top of the hand. Reverse, and do the same with the other hand. Repeat with each arm, but with the fingers of your stretching arms pointing upwards.
Listed below are some exercises exclusively for the fingers:
Put your palm flat on a table, then one at a time lift and lower your fingers. To improve muscle control, try moving each finger in a mixture of patterns. For example, start with your middle finger but jump to the pinky finger, and conclude with the index finger. Or, start with your index, then work your way down to the pinky. In other words, try various sequences to keep the exercise interesting.
Place your palm on a table, tightly bring your fingers together. Now open your fingers like a fan, so they stretch as far apart as possible. Then, return to the starting position by sliding your fingers together again. Repeat this about 10 times, completing one set with each hand. The more your finger strength increases, add extra sets and repetitions.
With your palm on a flat surface, spread your fingers a fair distance apart, then walk them over to your thumb. Begin with lifting your index and moving it close to the thumb. Then, repeat with your middle finger and move it to your thumb, followed by the ring and pinky finger. During the exercise, try not to move your thumb and wrist.
Within your fingers and thumb, hold a piece of paper. Then, extend your arm out in front of you. While extended, crumple the paper into a little ball using just the fingers. Try to crumple as quickly as you can. Repeat this with new pieces of paper until your fingers, hand and forearm get a good workout.
Put your hand out in front of you. Bend your thumb over your palm and touch it to the outer edge of your hand under the pinky finger. Then, return your thumb to where you started, and touch your thumb to the tip of your index finger. Repeat this exercise as many times needed until the movement becomes easy and smooth.
Finger walk exercises can greatly assist the strengthening of your forearm, finger joints and hands. While standing or sitting, place your palm up to a flat, smooth wall. Then, concentrate on using separate fingers to move your arm up the wall. Gravity will provide you with more than enough resistance. After you walked the arm as far as it will go, hold it there for a few seconds. Then repeat with the other arm.
The following exercise is recommended by the Doctor of Musical Arts Yoshinori Hosaka: While your fingers are slightly curved, hold your right hand upwards. With both palms facing, reach over the fingers on your right hand with the fingers on your left, and cover each right-hand fingernail with your corresponding left-hand fingernails. Now, while resisting with your right hand's fingers, push down with your left-hand fingers. Practice this with each individual finger, then with the entire hand. Lastly, reverse hands to give them both an equal workout.
It's not necessary to do all of these warm ups before every practice or performance, but selecting a few of them each time is a good idea. After performing these exercises, you will feel more relaxed, looser, and overall alert. And remember, you shouldn't feel any pain or discomfort when performing these exercises. These warm ups are meant to increase your flexibility, motion and strength, and the physical and mental benefits should be felt almost instantly.
After you're finished these warm ups, try some calm exercises on your instrument to prepare the various parts of your body that will be used in a performance.