Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Warming Up, Who Needs It?

The following blog was written and targeted for my Japanese students but the content is appropriate for all brass students everywhere. rb

Athletes always warm up; a pitcher always spends time “the bullpen” before a baseball game; swimmers, track runners, shot putters and every other kind of athletes all perform better in their events after they warm up.

Ballet dancers always warm up by stretching on the bar before practice, rehearsal or performance; they wouldn’t think of starting any other way.

And far closer to the discipline of playing a brass instrument; singers need to vocalize (warm up) to be their best in performance. Singing and brass playing are very much the same because the sound source is organic; with singers it’s the vocal chords (larynx), with brass players it’s the lips.

When I lived in Florence, Italy, in the 1990s, I would occasionally play with the Maggio Musicale Orchestra, that’s Florence’s symphony and opera orchestra. One of the projects I was involved in during that time was a production of several performances and a recording of Verdi’s Opera Il Trovatore featuring Luciano Pavarotti. In my playing career I always enjoyed arriving early for performances, so I could relax, have a cup of coffee, make a good warm up, and to observe the performance preparations of the great artists that I’ve been privileged to work with. Maestro Pavarotti had three things he always did before a performance: He would put on his makeup, he seemed to enjoy talking to people and he would vocalize. The vocalizations that he did were particularly interesting to me because one of them was exactly what I had written several years before in my book of brass warm ups, Mastering the Tuba. My joke is that it makes me very proud that Luciano Pavarotti used the Bobo Mastering the Tuba book as part of his vocalizing --- or in brass jargon, as part of his warm up routine!! Of course, that’s a joke, but then, where did he find that same exercise? The fact is, many of these vocal exercises have been around for hundreds of years and because they’ve proven to work so well for voice, and because of the strong similarities between singing and brass playing, it’s only logical that these old vocal materials were frequently borrowed and adapted by the brass teachers and players of the time. This book is no exception; much of the material has been adapted from those old vocal methods, and some from less old, brass methods, which, probably originated from older vocal methods.

Warming up, like vocalizing for singers, prepares the body and the mind to play well, it helps the necessary muscles to be as performance ready as possible; breathing, embouchure, flexibility, dynamic control and sustaining power all function in a more beautifully after a good warm up.
But the benefits of a good warm up go much further than just performance preparation, it develops the brass playing skills needed for fine playing. A well-planned warm up can help extend both high and low registers, dynamic range, intonation control and articulation. Further it’s a sure way to maintain the skills that we have already developed. 
There are many very good books of warm ups for brass instruments besides Mastering the Tuba, which is written in treble clef, specifically intended to be usable for all brass instruments, not just tuba. A student should trust his or her teacher to choose warm ups that are best suited for the student’s needs. As time passes a student can acquire a repertoire of good warm ups and then can make the personal choices what work best.

Unfortunately, there’s a belief with many students, most, who are tried from their intense academic schedules and would much rather have an extra half hour sleep than a good warm up; they seem to think that warm ups are really not necessary and are something they must endure once a week in their lessons with their sadistic teacher! The fact is that everybody sounds better after having warmed up. I urge all students to make a 20 to 30 minute warm as the way to begin their daily practicing. 
December 12, 2012 (12, 12, 12), Tokyo, Japan