18 Nov 2013

Lesson Breakdown: The Warm Up

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The Warm Up – Why it’s important and why it doesn’t have to be boring!

When a student walks in my door to begin their lesson, it’s time to warm up!  Should they be doing some warming up before they come to their lesson if they can?  Definitely.  This will minimize the amount of time we have to spend on it.  But we have to spend SOME time on it either way.
I’ve actually had parents who bunker down to their 30-minute sessions ask me if we can skip the warm up to free up instructional time instead of lengthening the lesson.  But really think about that and the example that it sets:

  1. The student probably won’t execute complex pieces well with hands that are not well warmed up. Playing without warming up can often cause a student to play with tension, and tension is the #1 silent killer of good technique.
  2. If students perceive that you don’t value the warming up process at their lesson, how likely are they to recognize it’s importance enough to do a solid warm up at home?  Teaching routine is important!
  3. The passages and exercises used as warm ups are standards that provide the strength, speed and dexterity students need to play proficiently.  Therefore any instructor should monitor that they are being done properly and find ways to make them fun and motivating to practice.

That last detail is really important.  If you’re trying to get scales and other warm ups out of the way quickly and are always playing them the exact same way, the chance that students will eventually find them boring is really high. Showing students that scales, arpeggios, and other exercises are fun is important, but takes time out of a lesson.

Try them with swing so they take an interest in jazz.  Try them as duets with chords so they get to hear something different and more complex than what they hear practicing them alone at home.  Have speed challenges where they start slowly with you and have to keep up as you push them faster.  Make them into interesting patterns using dynamics and interesting rhythms.  Doing these things instills in students the idea that it’s important for warm ups to be learned well at home so they can keep up with the activities you may use them for at their lesson.

Sometimes I ask students to design a unique warm up activity of their own to teach to me at their next lesson.  I’ve had students do this based on the premise that if it’s helpful to me, I would start using it with other students, and the very thought of their creation being used to teach other students THRILLS them.  They take it seriously, they work hard at it, and they usually have a great explanation to go along with their exercise.  (To make sure I know how helpful it is of course!)  Win-win.


About the Author

Amber Staffa is a performing arts graduate of Rowan University. She holds a BA in Subject Matter Teaching for K-12, and a BM in Instrumental Music Education with a Piano Concentration, and is currently licensed in the state of NJ.

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