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Effective Piano Practice: Are Warm Up Exercises Really Crucial?

Updated on December 23, 2010

The need to play chords or scales before practicing the piano

Since the first time you walked into a piano lesson, there has been one key action drilled into your mind: always start with a few scales or exercises to properly warm up your fingers. It is a drill that crosses all lines of study and virtually any piano teacher will do their best to instill a warm up routine into their students. While they can’t stand over your home practice, they can certainly make sure your fingers exercise a few scales or broken chords before beginning a lesson.

I’m sure you have wondered whether a warm up exercise is really essential for proper practice. Of course, there are times when a warm up exercise is obvious and needed. If you have just come inside from a cold or rainy day, your fingers likely ache to be warmed up; otherwise, they would be too stiff to play effectively. However, after a few quick exercises on the keys, they are ready to tackle any piece.

Another time where warm up exercises are noticeably applicable is when you are going to attempt a piece that will extend your normal limits of play. If you are going to attempt a piece with complicated chords or a fast tempo, then it would be difficult to do so without a proper acclimation period. Have you ever wondered what the best warm up exercise would be to achieve your goal? Is there a set task that will not only prepare your fingers for difficult play, but also your mind?

Alternative methods for acclimating the fingers for practice

It would make more sense to devise a warm up exercise that is applicable to the piece you are going to play. If your piece does not contain broken chords or a variety of scales, then it does not make sense to use that as a warm up for practice. What if the piece has complicated rhythmic changes, large key jumps, or difficult areas of hand synchronization? Would it not make sense to warm up based on those difficult skills you will have to master? After all, tennis players perform more than a quick jog around the court to warm up for a game and a runner would not flail his arms to prepare for a run.

Another alternative to warming up with broken chords or scales is to play a simple piece of music that you know well and like playing. It should be a piece that you can play effortlessly, without needing to build up to a certain speed or skill. The greater benefit of using a favorite piece to warm up is that it will put you in a great mood and prepare the mind to tackle the more difficult challenges during practice. You will remember the ultimate goal of piano practice, which is to make beautiful music. That feeling in the back of your mind will encourage you through mistakes and other difficulties much more than monotonous scales or chords will.

However, scales and chord exercises are still important to your piano practice!

Scales and chord exercises certainly deserve a place in your practice sessions. The downfall comes when they are used only as mechanichal warm-up exercises. They become dreaded and seemingly useless exercises, rather than used for the true benefit they actually offer to improve your piano playing skill. They should be incorporated into your practice in creative ways to accentuate that benefit and encourage their use during practice on a routine basis.

Share your warm up routines!

I am sure our readers have their own very useful tips about how to "warm up" mentally and physically before piano practice. Please share your experiences in the comments section below. Perhaps you disagree with the ideas put forward in this hub? Nothing could be more interesting for us to read! 

Inspired piano warm up by death metal drummer (!) Steve Asheim


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    • PianoTips profile image

      Louise Woodcock 2 years ago from Kent, UK

      A daily warm up study is critical to set your mood, prepare your poise and muscles, and establish your focus. Follow up with some sight reading - a hymn book is ideal, then two major, two minor scales. Settle into the practice session!

    • profile image

      Rob 6 years ago

      Eric Cartman: "Get a hair cut hippie!"

      Just kidding! Seriously, this is some really good playing and big time talent! Thanks for sharing the video.

    • Ari Lamstein profile image

      Ari Lamstein 7 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      I love this video!