15 Minute Warm-Up Routine for the String Section

Sep 18, 2019

Over the last several weeks we’ve been discussing the need to warm up before playing or practicing. We began this journey with some ways to warm up for piano, followed by guitar & bass, vocalists, the woodwind section, and finally last week we covered warm-ups for the brass section. We’ll be continuing this exploration of warm-up techniques this week with the string section.

One of the most neglected parts of playing an instrument like the violin or cello, is the warm-up routine. Just like the rest of the orchestra, you and your instrument need to prepare before any practice or presentation. If you skip it, you risk injury to yourself, or damage to your instrument – and these odds only increase as you get older. But if you can develop a warm-up routine now – and make sure that you do it each time you play – you can extend the years in which you can play and keep your instrument safe from damage.

Any warm-up routine that takes longer than 15 minutes really becomes a practice session, so you’ll want to keep yours short and specific. Also try to keep in mind that this is only a guide – each musician can, and should, create their own warm-up techniques to suit their own style. This is just meant to help you get started.

Warm-Up Your Instrument

If you’ve had to travel a while to get to your venue, or you’re moving from a cold environment to a warm one, or vice versa, your instrument – made from organic materials – needs a chance to acclimate to the new surroundings. As long as its been kept warm (or at least cool) inside your vehicle on your way to the venue, all you’ll really need to do is open the case and let your instrument rest while your warm yourself up. If your instrument has gotten cold, you’ll need to wait a while – maybe as long as a few hours – before you try to warm up. Make sure you try to raise the temperature slowly. Try bringing it into the garage first, then in the warm house.

It’s also a good idea to warm up new strings. This helps ensure that your strings don’t lose their pitch too quickly and extends their overall life. Try the techniques described here to extend the life of your new strings.

Warm-Up Your Body

All string musicians should absolutely stretch and limber up before playing. There are all kinds of easy, healthy actions that will ensure that your joints and tendons are ready to move. Just like an athlete that needs to prepare their body before they run a race, stretches and agility exercises can help prevent sprains and muscles cramps before they happen. Some of the best options include:

  • Yoga – Even if you’ve never tried the basic yoga poses before, they’re fun and effective for musicians. Playing an instrument is far from ergonomic, which means your body is inevitably under stress every time you play. Because yoga is used as therapy for all sorts of overuse injuries and to help increase circulation, adding a few simple stretches is a great way to keep a number of common complaints away, including repetitive motion injuries in your neck, wrist, or shoulders.
  • Simple Stretches – This is simply increasing your flexibility. Some easy stretches include spreading your fingers as far as you can and holding it for a 2 count, then squeezing them together. You can also try laying your hand on a flat surface and then gently lift each finger as far as you can and hold it for a 1 or 2 count before laying it back down. It’s also critical to stretch your rotator cuff and wrist. With all the bowing you’ll be doing this is should be an essential part of your warm-up.

Fingering and Bowing Drills

This is where all the practice you’ve done comes into play. It’s a good idea to perform these drills slowly; the point is still to warm-up your body, not to start practicing. Start with these:

  • Slow Trills – Try this one string at a time with minimal pressure.
  • Sevcik etudes – These help with the full range of finger patterns. Work slowly and perform just a few to get your hands ready.
  • Scales & Arpeggios – The majors and minors are good to run through, but don’t use vibrato, just stick to minimal pressure and warm-up slowly.
  • Bowing – Just remember to use long, slow bow strokes using even slurring.

Altogether, this warm-up should take about 15 minutes, and is meant to make it easier on your joints, tendons, and muscles when you’re performing or practicing – especially when you’re working on an especially difficult piece. Take your time, keep the minimal pressure, and use the full extension of your bow. Dedicating a specific minute or two to each aspect of your warm-up can be extremely helpful.

Try to keep in mind that this is only meant to act as a simple, rough outline. You might find that adding extra time to your stretches is ideal for you, while someone else might prefer to dedicate more time to fingering and bowing drills. No matter what your personal preference, warming up our body and your instrument is a critical part of playing, and will save you and your instrument from unnecessary damage. Whatever form your warm-up routine takes on, as long as it’s something you enjoy doing, it’s the best 15 minute warm-up routine for you.

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