5 Warmups for the Practical Harpist!

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Do you warmup?

Or do you sit down at your instrument and jump right into practicing?  The main technical elements and hand positions of harp playing came relatively naturally to me so I never put much thought into warming up.  Sure, at an orchestra rehearsal I’ll play through my Renie scales and run some arpeggios up and down the harp, but that is only because it is considered rude to work on solo repertoire in an orchestral rehearsal.

My time in school, and particularly at Eastman, instilled in me the importance of getting as much done in the little time that I had available to me at my instrument.  Time was money, and notes were my currency.  Warmups were a luxury for which I had neither time or appreciation.

That is until I read this article, and recorded this podcast

saber-toothed-tigerThe saber-toothed tiger comparison really hit home for me.  I have been living my harp-life as if constantly chased by that tiger; always on the go, with no time for thought of the future.

Since leaving school my priorities have changed.  I no longer live under the same kind of musical pressures that are present in a music school environment.  No more tiger should equal more warmups, right?

Old habits die hard.

perspectiveChange your perspective

Things really fell into place for me when I realized that warming up isn’t just about getting my body ready for a practice session.

Now I think about warming up in the same way that I consider perusing Huffington Post every day or walking my dogs.  These are things that I do to better myself, engage my brain, and to find connection between myself and the universe.

How do you warmup?

This is like asking how you brush your teeth, or how you parallel park your car.  Everyone does it a little differently, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something by observing each other’s practices.  
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Reason I love our community #5,034…

So many people are so willing to share their own materials in an effort to better the community as a whole.  I have found this to be true again and again and again through my work on these blogs and on the podcast.

In my search for a warmup of my own, I put together a list of harpists of diverse backgrounds and ages whose playing I genuinely admire (there are so many more of you, but I knew I had to limit it to a smaller number so this blog wouldn’t be too long!).  I asked each of these harpists to answer 4 questions about their warmups and to record a full warmup session that might be shared.

Again… our community didn’t disappoint.  I am so happy to share what I received in response!!!  Just as we are each individual, each person contributed in their own unique way, creating recordings and answers that are all their own!  I STRONGLY encourage you to listen to all of these, and take away as much as you can to improve your own warmup practices!  I know I will!

Expert warmups:

Andrea Mumm

What resources do you use to create your warmups?
“I pull my warmups from my various teachers, or whatever etude book I happen to carry with me at that moment (I normally don’t leave home without one in my bag).
Are your warmups always the same, or do you change them regularly?
Warmups change daily based on my mood, how my hands feel, how much time I have to warm up, and my surroundings. I always have an arsenal of warmups available because I frequently get bored or mentally checkout of warmups if I repeat them too frequently. I know some brass players practice long tones while watching TV shows, but I have found that my best and most efficient warm-ups happen when I am actively paying attention and not on auto-pilot. Should be a no-brainer to pay attention during warm-ups, but auto-pilot is so tempting!
Andrea-MummWhere is your focus while you are going through your warm up?
I try to pay attention to how my hands feel, articulation, reiterate technique mantras I’ve made up over the years, and, of course, listen to my sound, if the brass aren’t playing too loudly while I warm up on stage 🙂 I never warm up at full volume or full speed, even if my hands probably could. Just like any athlete, a warm up isn’t for demonstrating your 100%, but acclimating your body (i.e. hands) to the physicality of your art.
Why do you warm up?
I warm up because I’m getting older and my hands can’t jump into a concerto like they used to. In all seriousness, I warm up so I don’t injure myself. Muscles need time to loosen and warm up. Most days I will also physically stretch my fingers, forearms, and pectoral muscles before even touching the harp to increase blood flow to cold muscles. Research has shown that static stretching isn’t the best (think of your 5th grade toe touches), so I’ve tried to incorporate active stretching (arm circles, wrist rotations, etc) rather than holding a position.

Some warmups I’ve done recently: Dizi, Bochsa (my first love), Alfred Holy, Larivière , and Grandjany’s unpublished 4 finger exercises and Grandjany’s scale exercises in addition to the one I’ll video.”

Lynne Aspnes

What resources do you use to create your warmups?
“My own– a simple two-hand arpeggio in 10ths (it keeps my ear interested) is something I’ve started with since I was in college. I’ll add in- in order- arpeggios up and down the harp, from current repertoire, then slow chords, and lastly scales. No “stunts” (harmonics, or pdlt, pedal slides, that sort of thing) and no tuning before I start! Tuning is very hard on our muscles and, when they are not already supple, can only contribute to tightening the muscles. Tune last thing at the end of your practice day. That will do for the warm ups in the morning.
lynne-aspnesAre your warmups always the same, or do you change them regularly?
I don’t change my warming up on any schedule. Because it’s a warm up the needs of my muscles determine what I do, and in what order.. my warming up can vary tremendously, depending on how my muscles feel going into the harp to begin with. If I am truly ‘temperature’ cold, I will always start with that two handed arpeggio in 10ths. Slowly, and thoughtfully. If I am temperature warm, I can skip the arpeggio and go right into slow repertoire. Always something without music. See ‘focus’, below.
Where is your focus while you are going through your warm up?
On my muscles, and on how it feels to approach the harp. What does my back feel like? My shoulders, neck, arms, elbows, wrists, palm, and fingers? I am warming up to get in touch with my muscles, so I do nothing that strains or contracts them. Sometimes the warm up can be short, and sometimes… not. When my body needs more time to come into focus with the harp, then I try to take the time. And then, on the sound. I want every sound to be full, round, equal, clean, and.. ringing. Supple muscles, beautiful tone. Always. This is why I don’t play from music when I am warming up. I want my focus to be solely on how my body feels coming to the harp, and the sound that my muscles can make. Reading music just gets in the way of those two things. And when you are reading music, you are… practicing! Not warming up!
Why do you warm up?
Warming up for me is two things, and one thing: it is feeling and hearing: preparing my muscles for the work ahead, and it is the process of coming to the harp, of clearing my mind of distractions, and of setting my intention for my practicing. Warming up for me, means meeting my harp, hearing what it sounds like that day, and bringing my muscles into alignment with the harp to make my practicing and/or performing, fruitful.”

Jaymee Haefner

What resources do you use to create your warmups?
“My sources are always changing. I have created some of my own resources, and use the warm-ups developed by my teachers. I also use the exercises published by Renie, LaRiviere, and Salzedo. If I encounter a challenging technique in my practice, I will sometimes create a warm-up based on this technique. For example, I have warm-ups for trills, cross-fingering, and thumb-slides which I have developed for particular pieces. I also pass these exercises to my students when they are working on the same piece of repertoire.
Are your warmups always the same, or do you change them regularly?
Some parts of my warm-ups stay the same and some parts continually change. I have sets of exercises that I like to use for scales, sets for arpeggios, and sets for chords. I rotate between these favorite exercises and also transpose them into new keys every day— I also work on changing keys mid-exercise. For example, playing a C Major scale, adjusting pedals then playing D Major, E Major, etc.
Jaymee HaefnerWhere is your focus while you are going through your warm up?
My focus is two-fold: 1) Warming up my brain so I can have the most-productive practice session possible. I believe this is the real key to warm-ups. Although we all “think” it’s our muscles that are warming up, none of this matters without mentally engaging. Our muscles actually warm up much more quickly than our brains, and our brains can tune-out if the routine is monotonous. 2) Focusing on techniques, keys, and exercises which complement the repertoire that I am preparing. If warm-ups are detached and unrelated to current repertoire, they aren’t serving their intended purpose. Warm-ups are closely related to etudes, and can be an opportunity to fine-tune and focus on a single technique or skill so it can be better-applied to the music which follows.
Why do you warm up?
I warm up because I see the immediate benefits in my practice. If I try to engage in practice without “syncing” my brain with my fingers, the process is almost always frustrating. I also believe that warm-ups add more efficiency to my practice. The technique work is like the gears which move the hands of a clock—if the gears aren’t regularly maintained, the clock will not run accurately or smoothly. The practice of warming-up provides the maintenance which is fundamental to the entire process of playing this technically-challenging instrument at the highest level.”

Felice Pomeranz

What resources do you use to create your warmups?
“I use several different sources from many different books- the Lariviere etudes, Schmidt, Renie, Salzedo and my own book, Berklee Harp.
Are your warmups always the same, or do you change them regularly?
I enjoy changing them on a regular basis and also playing them in different keys. It always keeps them fresh that way!
Where is your focus while you are going through your warm up?felice-pomeranz
The warm up time is a good time to check in with your fingers, hands, arms, breathing, and the rest of your body. If something is sore, tired, or wrong, you can check in and focus on strengthening, limbering, and getting your body to work for you.
Why do you warm up?
I warm up for many reasons. First, it’s important to warm up for the body. Any other athlete will warm up before beginning his routine and practice, no matter the sport. Gets the body ready to play, gets your breath in the right cycle, and most importantly, gets your mind to slow down, focus, and tune out the noise of the day so you can get some work accomplished!

I always do: Scales in different keys or modes, often with the metronome on 2 and 4. Two octaves, hands together, ascending and descending. I often do scales in canon with the hands, as in the Lariviere book.
-Major and minor triads in progressions. Sometimes the major triad and then its relative minor, sometimes in contrary motion.
-I like to do sevenths, as well, in parallel motion and contrary motion.
-I also like to include some sight reading in my warm up, just to read new things.”

Grace Browning

“A great warm-up at the harp can the best way to jumpstart your practice session and get yourself ready for a fun day of music-making. Although my warm-up routine is usually a little different each day, I’ll always have two major objectives in mind: first, I’ll aim to warm-up my body and make sure my hands/arms/fingers are feeling strong, limber, and flexible. Second, I’ll “turn on” my ears, start engaging with my sound, and experimenting with tempi, dynamics, and articulation.

Intonation: After I’ve tuned the harp, I’ll continue to listen to the intonation throughout my warm-up to make sure the harp sounds good in any of the common keys I’m playing in that day: (for example, if you’re about to play Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, you’ll want to double-check your high F# and G#, unless you’ve had your harp regulated very recently!)

browning-graceBread and Butter: In terms of the actual warm-up, I’ll usually throw together a mix of scales, arpeggios, and chords (the “bread and butter” of harp playing) to cover the major bases. Sometimes, I’ll also add in trills or harmonics depending on what I’m working on that day. Most of the exercises I do are adapted from Larivière Etudes and Exercises, Carlos Salzedo’s Conditioning Exercises, and Yolanda Kondonassis’ Professional Warm-Up. Nevertheless, I personally like to weave together several different exercises to create one long technical improvisation of sorts, so it’s fresh and different each day.

Soundcheck: After the first minute or two of playing, I shift my focus from physical/technical to auditory/musical, checking for consistency of sound, evenness in all fingers, and smooth articulation. I may start to experiment with different colors (i.e. loud/soft, bright/warm, staccato/legato) to make sure my hands are responsive to my musical intentions.

Get Your Groove On: At this point, I’ll start to feel a pulse as I turn on my inner timekeeper. As I continue to play variations of arpeggios and chords, I sometimes pretend that I’m accompanying another musician and following their lead: starting out steady and even, and then getting faster/slower or adding a little rubato here and there. If you’re still in need of musical inspiration, feel free to play an excerpt from your favorite solo (…whatever it is: Ravel, Debussy, Beauty and the Beast, it’s all good…) and simply enjoy yourself!

Spotcheck: If you’re about to walk into orchestra rehearsal or warming up for a performance of any kind, I find it really helpful to go over any tricky technical areas that stress me out, playing through the tough spots slowly, mindfully, and with confidence. In addition, you might practice starting the piece from the beginning (as though in performance or an audition) to get your energy level to where it needs to be.

Ready for Lift Off: Now that I’m all warmed-up (technically and musically), I’ll take care of any final logistics (i.e. wash hands, grab a coffee/water, silence my cell phone, sharpen pencils, etc.) to make sure my session can continue without any silly interruptions.”

I think you’ll agree…

We are all lucky to be a part of this wonderful community!  Sharing is caring, so please comment below with answers to these questions:

1. What resources do you use to create your warmups?
2. Are your warmups always the same, or do you change them regularly?
3. Where is your focus while you are going through your warm up?
4. Why do you warm up?
And consider making a warmup recording of your own!  Share here and on the Harp Column facebook page to keep the conversation going!

A HUGE thank you to my amazing contributors!!!!!!!!!!

Andrea Mumm, Lynne Aspnes, Jaymee Haefner, Felice Pomeranz, and Grace Browning!

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About Author

Miami based Dr. of harp, gown-addict, lover of bulldogs, and fitness enthusiast.

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