It’s no secret that pianists need to warm up before the playing gets good.
But how long it takes to warm up varies.
This little tip will speed up your warm-up routine by at least 15%.
Having Stone-Cold Fingers
A few days ago, my piano performer friend came to me for advice on warming up.
She complained that her fingers felt constantly cold and she played 50+ minutes of warm up exercises before circulation in her fingers flowed enough to literally warm them up.
(Yes, I know that feeling! Stiff, frozen fingers…)
As a busy pianist, her long warm up routine cuts into her practice time and adds a lot of stress.
She can’t play properly with stone-cold fingers.
And, playing the same warm ups for an hour every single day gets boring.
Does this sound familiar?
I have a simple solution for warming up quickly– it works perfectly every time, and it’s free.
Getting Rid of Stone-Cold Fingers
Before I reveal the warm up secret, you need to know where the idea comes from to understand it.
Dancers are notorious for piling on the clothes when they warm up, because cold muscles = you could get hurt. It seems right to put more clothes on when you’re cold.
As a dancer, years of training and built-in intuition tells me to layer up when my muscles are cold.
A typical ‘extra layer’ of clothes worn just for warming up might include: an extra sweater and an extra pair of pants with leg warmers; the warm up itself will usually be a stretch and 40 minutes of exercises (especially in ballet).
After the warm up, or even part way through the warm up, the dancers will shed their extra layers, to allow more movement and to let the teacher see form and technique clearly.
Let’s transfer this theory beyond the realm of dance.
The Secret to Warming Up Quickly
The secret to warming up quickly is to put on more clothes.
Wear gloves and even wear an extra shirt for your warm up routine.
It might feel awkward to wear gloves for your warm up routine, but you’ll warm up more than 15% quicker than before– reap the benefits and you’ll get used to it, especially during the colder months.
The gloves help you retain heat in your fingers, so that you’ll spend less time trying to generate heat and getting rid of stiffness.
We all know that mittens actually keep more heat in, but ya’ can’t play piano with mittens on… can you?
Take off the extras when you’re feeling warm because they’ll weigh you down past the warming up stage.
Even if you’re only halfway through your warm up routine but your stiffness/coldness is gone, take them off before going on.
When Does Warm Up End?
You should have your own warm up routine to practice productively — find the warm up that works for your fingers. Having more clothes on during your warm up routine will shorten the entire routine, but the question is: do you stop the warm up routine once you’re warm?
If you’re short on time, then skip the rest of the warm up routine once you’re warm.
But if you’re not short on time, then continue with your normal warm up routine. Do the whole thing.
Why Continue to Warm Up When You’re Warm?
Your warm up does more than warm you up– it helps your fingers stay strong and quick.
Just practicing your standard pieces aren’t enough to maintain the level of strength and dexterity required.
For example, let’s look at a typical ballet class.
(Basically, we’re all brains, bones, muscles, and tendons.)
Students will start with barre exercises (with extra clothes on for the first bit), to warm up, for 40+ minutes.
These exercises are technically challenging, to strengthen and condition the dancers as well as warm them up.
As the class goes on, it’ll get more intense, moving into centre exercises, jumps, patterns across the floor, and possibly choreography at the end.
Almost all the time is used to build strength and technique– most dancers go to class at least 3 times every week. Imagine the strength built up over even one term.
As a musician, you can apply this to your warm up to strengthen your fingers and develop more dexterity by choosing a warm up routine that challenges you, and sticking with it.
Put on some extra clothes (including gloves) during your warm up routine to warm up quickly, then continue with the routine to build strength, so that your fingers can really dance across the keys.