Think about it! Your gym teacher has you warm up and stretch before exercising for the same reason that professional athletes take time to warm up and stretch before practice or a game. Stretching helps prepare your body for the exercise it’s about to get.
But, even before you stretch, it’s important to warm up first. Warming up helps raise the temperature of your muscles so they’ll be ready for exercise and prevent injuries! Warming up also gets more blood and oxygen flowing to your muscles, so that they work more efficiently.
Usually just a few minutes of warming up is sufficient; warming up your muscles for playing each instrument will be different, but you should definitely do some before you jump in and start playing your technique — you know, scales, chords, arpeggios? Uh huh. There’s good reason why your music teacher always says to work on your technique first. In itself, playing technique is a warm-up to get your body ready to play your pieces.
All good! And, there’s more. I am a firm believer in doing a warm-up BEFORE your technique warm-up. Especially, if you are an aspiring piano player. Trust me, I learned the hard way when it comes to skipping the pre- and the actual warm-up.
One year while I was trying to cram a month’s worth of piano practice into a couple of weeks, thinking to myself, ‘Yeah. My scales, etc. are all good. I don’t need to work on them just now.” My resulting injury was tendinitis in my elbow, and I could barely lift my left arm. In order for my injury to heal, I had to wear a special elastic bandage on my elbow and stay away from the piano for six months! While this may be good news to some, it was a sad lesson for me. Yes, folks, it is possible to injure yourself playing the piano!
Here’s a no-nonsense, warm up to do before you even sit at the keyboard:
- Take a couple of deep breaths, to centre yourself.
- Raise your shoulders up to your ears, hold to the count of 3, release. Do this at least three times.
- Let your arms become completely relaxed by your sides so that they feel like very heavy, wet spaghetti, and let them dangle a bit.
- Put your arms in front, make tight fists, then make them flat at least 5 times to get the blood flowing to your fingertips.
- For joint strength, make “O’s” and press hard with each of your fingers against your thumbs.
- Deep breaths again. NOW, sit down and warm up by playing your scales, chords & arpeggios and/or Hanon exercises.
After your practice, take a couple of minutes to cool down. it always feels good and helps to avoid stiff, sore muscles. Here are some feel-good, post piano playing stretches:
- roll your shoulders forward and backward
- hunch shoulders up to ears and down
- let your head fall forward and slowly and gently look to the left and then to the right
- stretch one arm in front, across your body — holding the upper arm with the other hand, hold for 10 seconds, then stretch the other arm
And there you have it! Another day of piano practice and no injuries!
Audrey Shonn, Piano Teacher