Warm-Up & Warm-Down


Julie Lyonn Lieberman

Imagine playing your instrument without strain, loss of stamina,or residual aches and pains. It's totally within your reach. Theparticular type of focus and care dedicated to those crucial initialand final moments on your instrument will determine what happenswhile making music, as well as how you feel the next day.

When you approach your instrument, you are coming from a mind-to-bodyconnection that reflects the activities you participated in beforeplaying. Your system needs specific information to create a qualityexperience when you play. If , in your pre-practice hour(s), youwere breathing shallowly, clenching your jaw, and deep in thoughtrather than listening carefully, don't expect those settings toautomatically change just because you've chosen to make music.

Keep in mind that it isn't what you play during warm-up, it'show you play it. Just because an etude or a scale is describedas warm-up material, that doesn't mean that you are warming upproperly. Your muscles need heightened circulation, created throughcardiovascular movement, deep breathing, excellent posture, andfluidly relaxed muscle use. Special attention needs to be directedtoward desired technical changes, so that the brain-to-musclehookup is in place before you launch into playing a piece of music.If you warm-up by reading an exercise from a book, you are activatingyour visual cortex: this is the part of the brain that handlesvisual information. It is tremendous in size, and scientific studieshave revealed that the use of the eyes diminishes our other sensesby as much as 75%!! This is not a good prelude to an effectivepractice session.

Here is a suggested warm-up procedure:

1) If you haven't had any exercise before playing, then gentlyrotate your torso from side to side while letting your arms relaxand swing with the motion;

2) Start with long tones to focus on listening; if your mind wanders,redirect your attention back into your ears to transition fromrandom thoughts to focused concentration via deep listening;

3) Check your breathing, and if it's shallow, relax during thein-breath to increase oxygen intake, and exhale through lip ortongue trills, which help loosen the jaw, tongue, and lips;

4) Check your posture by imagining that someone is gently pullingthree hairs on the top of your head: your neck should automaticallylengthen in response; then make sure that your knees are soft(bent slightly) so that your lower back can relax;

5) Scan yesterday's practice or performance session for any weakspots that showed up in your technique and invent a warm-up exercisethat will focus on strengthening that aspect of your technique(all the while scanning posture, breath, and focus). Keep youreyes closed, or let your eyes stare off into space.

Once you have established points of awareness and specificmuscular settings during warm-up, you will be able to carry thesepoints of awareness into playing demanding pieces much more effectively.

Most musicians complete their music session by packing up theirinstrument. That isn't enough. You must check your body, and ifyou feel any achiness, throbbing pain, or local fatigue (repetitivelytired muscles after every session), it's important to take careof these issues at some point in the day or evening before goingto bed.

Techniques that can be used, include:

1) muscle balance: exercises that use the muscles opposite tohow they were used on your instrument. (See my book You Are YourInstrument, or its companion videos for further specifics)

2) hot and cold compresses (See JulieLyonn.com for details)

3) gentle stretching exercises

4) bodywork such as massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic (SeeYou Are Your Instrument for a complete listing)

Educating yourself further about playing healthy signifiestaking responsibility for your well-being. It's an insurance policythat will provide you with a quality experience on your instrumentand a lifetime of healthy music-making.


Julie Lyonn Lieberman,© 2002. Published with permission.All rights reserved.

About the author: Julie Lyonn Lieberman is an improvising violinist,singer, composer, educator, recording artist, author & producer.Formerly on faculty at Julliard and New York University,she is the author of six books. Julie may be reached throughher website, JulieLyonn.com.


The term "ischemia" describes a restricted flow of bloodthrough the capillaries due to excessive muscle tension. Thiscan result in the reduction of oxygen delivery to the tissues.If this condition persists for even a short time, the cells inthe area can become sore or very painful. Once the muscles adjustto a chronically contracted position due to excessive effort,pain mounts and muscles can spasm. Since musicians tend to breatheshallowly in conjunction with increases in effort, they are alreadydepriving themselves of much-needed oxygen supplies.

If the cycle is kept up long enough, then an even more serioussituation may evolve. If a local area is deprived of adequateoxygenation for an extended period of time, considerable amountsof toxic chemicals, such as lactic acid, can poison and weakenall of the cells in the area. Toxic wastes may even actually killindividual cells outright, and when this happens their spacesare filled in by scar tissue which accumulates to form fibrosis,connective tissue deposits that can permanently limit stretchand movement in local areas.