Warming up is something that is more commonly associated with athletes. However, like all musicians, Violinists should also limber up before they start rocking it like Amadeus!
As each instrument has its own optimal exercises, we’ve put together a list of the best violin warm ups you should do before you take to the stage (or any time you play, basically).
Why do Warm Ups?
In three simple words: to avoid injury.
That’s not just my opinion. Most violinists recommend it, including American concert violinist Anne Akiko Meyers who was quoted as saying: “As playing the violin is so physically demanding and requires much repetitive movement and focus, it’s important to warm up one’s body before a performance like an athlete.”
There’s a big risk of injury and bodily harm if you just dive in and start practicing vibratos at full tilt.
Before You Start
Before we get on to the exercises, one of the first things you need to do is make sure that your violin is warm before you start to play.
If you’ve had your violin in its case for a prolonged amount of time (even just on the way to a gig), then you will need to let it out for it to acclimatize to its new surroundings.
If the temperature is cold where you’re located, you can try to gradually raise the temperature of your violin by slowly increasing the temperature gauge at your home to room temperature.
The same care needs to be taken of the violin strings to make sure they don’t quickly lose pitch while you’re playing. There’s a specific technique that you can use to warm up the strings.
- First, tune up your violin to full pitch.
- Next, take a microfiber cloth, and, while adding a little pressure, rub the string up and down for about 15 seconds. You will want to start with the G string first and work up to the other strings from there. Try to avoid hitting the bridge while you’re rubbing each string.
- Activate the G-string by simply bowing it right by the bridge using slow bow strokes with pressure. This will make the strings vibrate on the bridge, which is where the strings need to settle in the most.
- The final step is to gently reduce the pitch of the G-string by one full step, before bringing it back to its final tuning. The entire process should take about 10 minutes to complete and will get your violin concert-ready in no time.
The following are some of the techniques that you can use to improve flexibility and help prevent injuries that often occur when a violinist fails to incorporate violin warm ups into their routine.
Long Open Strings
This is an excellent one you can use to improve your coordination and bow handling.
It is important to make sure to use full bows and maintain the correct bow grip while you play. The whole idea of using long open strings is to stay focused on producing a full tone with every stroke.
One of the many benefits of practicing using long open strings is that it allows you to practice consistent intonation with every bow stroke. This allows you to get more familiar with the weight and proper speed of the bow as it moves across the strings.
Another major benefit of practicing long open strings is that it teaches you the proper positioning of the bow so that it remains in the correct position on the strings in relation to the bridge.
To make sure you’re doing this right, stand in front of a mirror and place the bow on the violin at the right point. Now, gently pull the bow across the string and focus on a clear and consistent tone while playing each note.
While playing, check the bow’s point in the mirror and tweak your positioning until you get it right. This could take quite a few tries before you get the positioning perfect.
Needless to say, having correct finger placement is key to playing the right notes on a violin.
But, learning where to put your fingers on the violin is going to take a good bit of practice. The best way to do that, especially for a beginner, is by starting off by playing simple scales in first position.
This will train the fingers to recognize the correct positioning on the fingerboard in relation to the other fingers (you can also use some violin finger tape to help guide you).
Furthermore, this easy exercise will also help train your ears to hear the current notes that need to be played.
The good news is, you do not have to be an experienced violinist to practice this technique. All you have to do is choose a scale and play each note as slowly and separately as possible.
Fourth Finger Practice
While practicing this method, you will find that placing the fourth finger on a string is going to give you an identical note as the subsequent higher open string.
Using the open string is easier and ensures the correct finger placement when playing a note.
But, you will need to strengthen your pinky finger, which will come in handy when you are unable to access the open string to play the note.
Listen closely while mimicking the note using your pinky on the lower string during practice, and you will strengthen your pinky finger over time.
In violin terminology, a slur means playing two or more notes with a single stroke of the bow.
To practice a slur, first place the end of the bow as close as you can to the frog (if you don’t know where the frog is, check out our article on violin anatomy).
As you bring the bow across the strings, slowly place your finger on and off the strings after regular intervals while keeping the bow steady.
You can use a metronome to make it easier.
Another great technique that you can use is string crossing.
To do this the right way, you need to first place your elbow at a right angle.
Trace an imaginary line that links your shoulder and bow where it touches the strings to create a square.
Now, while practicing this bow technique, rock the bow on each string.
While doing this, it’s important to keep your bow and arm remain steady in place and use the weight of your arm while rocking the bow to each string.
Basic Yoga Poses
Ask any string musician, and they will tell you that playing can take a toll on not just your fingers, but also your arms, shoulders, and back.
This is why limbering up exercises can be extremely beneficial for violinists.
Practice some basic yoga poses before you start playing the violin to keep your body nimble and remove any stiffness in your arms or shoulders.
One of the simplest activities you can use to keep your fingers nimble is spreading your fingers as far back as you can and holding them in place for a couple of seconds before squeezing them together.
Another one is to place your hand on a flat surface, then lift your fingers slightly as far back as possible and holding them for a couple of seconds before releasing them back in place.
Using some or all of these exercises before a concert or a jam with friends is a great way to get of making sure your fingers and body are supple enough to withstand long hours of playing.
They should also serve as the first activity in your practice routine.