Warming Up on the Piano

When one thinks about warming up on the piano, what comes to mind? Scales? Arpeggios? Chords?

It is important to identify what “warming up” means. Exercises are often intended to help one warm up, but exercises are also intended to strengthen and train.

Unfortunately, the two words “warm up” are synonymous with exercising, and does not seem to be very popular amongst students, as it merely spells W-O-R-K. Therefore, many students do not warm up effectively, and is oftentimes not ready to practice or perform a given piece of music.

It is quite simple, actually. With my students, I usually ask them at the beginning of the lesson if they are warmed up. If they say yes, we usually go right into the piece. If not, I will encourage them to warm up.

But what does one do to warm up? If our objective is preparation, then that is what we should be concerned about.

A favorite preparation strategy would be to use the actual piece of music at hand as the warm-up. If one is trying to practice or perform a piece, why not spend a few minutes to start thinking about the piece before playing it? Why the need to play scales and other exercises when they are not a part of the piece you are trying to play? Why not use the existing material from the piece to “warm up”?

If preparing to practice, it is a very healthy habit to spend a few minutes planning one’s practice session before beginning, thereby mentally “getting their feet wet” before “jumping into the water”.

Bits and small sections of the piece can be used as warm up exercises that not only physically prepare the student but also musically. The beginning 1 or 2 bars is a very natural place to start. Especially before performing, practice “false-starting” the piece several times at the correct tempo is very helpful, repeating until the desired tone and phrasing is in place. If the student is feeling cold and slow, then have him/her start the piece at a slow tempo where the tone and phrasing may be expressed musically in time. Another good thing to do would be to play the strongest 2 bars (approximately) of the piece and compare it with the weakest 2 bars – this helps one to gauge how well he/she knows the piece, and will help to start the piece accordingly regarding the familiarity with a given piece.

When he/she is comfortable, one is officially “warmed up” and it is time to start!

Phil Barrow

Phil Barrow

Phil is a guitarist and Director of Resound School of Music, a music school specializing in at-home music lessons. Phil's passion is helping others to discover their lifelong love of music, and he writes about a variety of topics aimed at helping you to become a better musician.

About Us

Resound School of Music was started in 2009 with a vision of providing the finest music instruction available from the comfort of your home. But don’t be mistaken; we’re not your typical, stuffy music conservatory, nor do we want to be. Instead, we are the music school that was designed with you in mind.