Using Warmups to Establish New Habits

In the 2017 Ensemble Week Workshop, we paid special attention to warming up and how we can get our bodies and brains ready for practicing. The Cellospeak faculty shared their thoughts, personal routines, and special secrets with participants as they rotated from group to group.

In addition to preparing the brain and body ready for practicing, warmups can help us break bad habits!Often we (or our teachers) identify either a bad habit we’d like to kick or possibly a new habit we would like to establish. Old habits die hard and new habits take significant repetition to become automatic or habitual. To cement a new habit, create a short exercise that requires you to use your improved approach and then repeat this exercise 10 times as part of your warmup. If you add this exercise to your warmup routine and you practice 5 days in a week, you will have used your new approach correctly 50 times in just one week, putting you well on your way to unlearning a bad habit or incorporating a new habit into your basic technique.

For example, if you forget to move your left thumb forward for forward extensions, play a short pattern of notes that varies between a closed position and a forward extension, observing your thumb’s movement each time. Or let’s say your right thumb collapses into a banana shape when you play a piece. Watch your thumb while you play an open string and vary the dynamic. Remember, to establish the new habit, develop a short process that you repeat 10 times whenever you sit down to play cello.

Give it a try! It’s much more effective than having your teacher remind you over and over in lesson after lesson to make the same change. Adding an appropriate habit-building exercise to your warmup routine will greatly speed your progress and you (and your teacher!) will be much happier.

Happy practicing!


Some Suggested Warmups

Though hard to describe in detail, some of the warmups shared by the faculty this summer were:

  • Stretch your hands, arms, legs, and body to loosen up your muscular system and to help ameliorate the risk of injury that could be caused by tension or overuse. Don’t forget to take frequent breaks.
  • Limber up the left hand with the “Cossmann” etude or the trill exercises found at the end of Suzuki Cello School Volume 3.
  • Play long tones on open strings, keeping your upper arm relaxed. Listen to your tone to see if it is squawky (too much weight, too little speed, too close to the fingerboard), feathery, healthy, grainy, or silvery (too close to the bridge, too much speed, not enough weight). Some tones are more desirable than others! Squawky seemed to be a popular choice at camp last summer!
  • Practice bow changes and proper bow distribution by smoothly playing all four open strings on a single bow starting from the C string and rolling up to the A string (and/or starting on the A string and rolling down to the C string), using exactly a quarter of the bow for each string. You can even mark your bow into quarters with stickers or twist ties to help ensure even distribution.
  • Practice octave shifts on the A string, moving your left elbow in a “candy cane” motion. Over time you can switch the beginning and ending fingers to increase the difficulty. This exercise is an ear training warmup, requiring our ears to listen closely to the initial note, the slide, and the final note on the way up and down.
  • And finally, one of the most important warmups is scales, which can be used to refresh a multitude of cello basics, including intonation, shifting, bowing and much more.

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