The first few days to weeks of graduate studies are already stressful enough. So, why then would we want to worry about the level of our playing in addition to everything else? We don’t want to be worried about the consistency of performance on our instruments when we are trying to do things like adapt to a new environment, fit in with our new community members, start new courses, and perform ensemble auditions. There may seem to be lots of solutions to this wealth of stressors, but I am going to focus on just one preventative action step that you can do this summer to increase your consistency in performance, reduce your stress, and come into grad school feeling confident in your playing. It’s really a simple solution. Take the time now to develop an effective warmup routine and get your fundamentals locked down!
First things first, there is no competition for who has the best warm up routine! Too often, I see colleagues and young performers copying the exact warm up sequence of a master performer or pedagogue that they admire. Sure, there might be some golden nuggets of wisdom buried in that material; but odds are that that performer has adapted their warmup to fit their particular needs at the moment. As should you! Your warm-up exercises and structure should fit your needs, goals, and schedule as a performer.
With that said, we also must understand the purpose of a proper warm-up. Warming up each day is like a toddler going from crawling, to standing, to walking each day, until walking is just normal. On our instruments, or with our voice, we must remind ourselves of the proper way to execute the most simple component skills. These include but are not limited to forming the correct embouchure, breathing naturally, articulating with the correct part of the tongue, etc. I recommend starting with the first component skill that it takes to play your instrument and then sequentially adding exercises in your warmup to build the subsequent component skills on top of one another. On clarinet, I start with stretches and alignment exercises to get my body aligned properly, then move to breathing exercises, then embouchure and long tones, and so on. My full warm-up sequence looks something like this. Notice how each step builds upon the skill that I just reminded myself about in the previous step.
Now, remember what I said before about adapting your warm-up to fit your particular needs? With the proper sequencing of exercises, similar to what I have listed above, you can now spend more or less time in one area of the warm-up or another depending on what component skills need the most work. Say for instance that I am having difficulty with a consistent legato articulation in the altissimo register on clarinet. In order to focus on the technical aspects of that particular skill, I may take my Langenuse exercise, spend more time on it, and spend time only practicing it in the altissimo register. This can be done with any exercise, the point is to adapt it to what you need. You have all summer to get your fundamentals in shape, so be objective with yourself, and work on those aspects of your playing that you are not confident in. You will feel more confident in yourself and reduce your stress levels by the time the fall rolls around.
P.S. A Word About Scales
You may notice that the last step in my warm-up is to practice all my scales. Please do this! Spend the time you have this summer to learn all of your scales, slowly, with a metronome, and in a legato fashion. The goal here should be to combine all of your fundamental skills that you have warmed-up up to this point to create music out of one of the most basic building blocks of musical artistry. The Scale. This will serve you massive dividends in the long run!
Andrew J. Buckley