Warm-ups vs. Exercises
Way, way back in the dinosaur days when I was a naive little flutey in my first year of university, I had a lesson where I spoke (*cough* whined) at length to my teacher about being exhausted during my practice sessions because my warm-ups were taking so much time and effort. I remember getting the “what’s wrong with you” side-eye from her before she asked me what I was doing in my warm-ups. I went into a whole list of exercises: long tones, scales, Taffanel & Gaubert, Kujala, and possibly more. It probably took 90 minutes to go through the routine.
“Do you need to go through all of these exercises every day before practicing or going to rehearsal?” she asked.
“That’s not a warm-up. That’s a practice session.” She went on to explain that a warm-up should only take a few minutes. Much like going to the gym, the warm-up should be brief, a chance to literally warm up the muscles before working out. This is probably one of the biggest “duh” moments I think I’ve ever had.
Warm-ups vary from person to person. For me, the most important part is that I need my embouchure loose and flexible and I need my air moving. That takes about five minutes, max. I start with some time with the Breath Builder (link) to move my air and re-engage with my support. Then I pick up my flute, play a couple of notes, starting on something easy and working my way to the bottom of the register. Once on low C, I play the harmonics exercises on page 6 of Trevor Wye’s Practice Book for the Flute: Book 1, Tone (check your local music store, or try here). Then I’m good to go. If I need to play piccolo, I’ll play some harmonics on low D and check my octaves with a tuner as well.
That’s it. After that, I’m ready to practice, teach or receive a lesson, play a rehearsal, or play a concert (although there are always things I want to review or practice one last time before the downbeat!). My air and support are engaged and ready to go, my embouchure has played in each octave, and I’ve worked on some flexibility. Those are the areas of my playing that I prioritize—if I only have five minutes, that’s what I do. If I have time, I’ll play some scales with articulation exercises or dynamics, but those are targeted practice.
An important distinction I make, and again I feel I must stress this is a personal opinion based on what works for me, is that exercises may vary on a daily or weekly basis but my warm-up does not. It may be the same for you, but there’s a good chance it’s different. That’s ok. We’re all different, we all have different needs and priorities, and we may all have different methods of getting to the same place.
What works best for you? Share in the comments!