Four Pre-Playing Warmup Stretches for Violinists and Violists

November 18, 2021, 2:54 PM · Musicians are all in the same boat in the need for our bodies to work well to play our instruments. In my life as a violist, I’ve experienced my share of tightness and at times, pain. I became interested in movement techniques as an undergraduate music student with repetitive strain in my arms and back.

Photo by Karen Hibbard.

I discovered that learning about movement didn’t only help recover from and avoid further injury. It became an integral part of my education as a violist, and gave me the physical tools to play how I wanted to play. I now teach Pilates and a variety of fascial movement techniques, and it has become my mission to help musicians play how they want to play through movement.

When considering what movements will help you as a string player, a good pre-playing warmup is an excellent place to start. First, a few thoughts on how to think about the body. Our bodies, when healthy, are meant to have a buoyant and springy quality. Think about how you feel when you’re having a great day, walking down the street with a spring in your step. That spring is quite literal! The fascia, a connective tissue that is found throughout the body, has an elastic quality when it is properly trained. This is helpful to know not only in terms of addressing tightness and pain.

To transmit sound and rhythm without strain and rigidity, it’s very important to get in touch with our buoyant springiness. Pilates exercises do this by moving the body in a variety of directions and combinations of movement. If you’re wearing stretchy clothing, you can think of how your clothing stretches and contracts as you move. As the fabric of your clothing moves and stretches, so does your fascia.

You don’t need to be an expert in anatomy to move well, but a few key pieces of knowledge can help. A complete warmup moves the body in all planes. You’ll want to include forward bending (flexion), side bending (lateral flexion), backward bending and toning (extension) and rotation. Coming back to the fabric analogy, when you move your body in all planes, you’re giving the tissues of your body an opportunity to move in a variety of directions. This is important for retraining any imbalances that may have developed in your body over time.

Here’s a closer look at how warming up in all planes can help prepare you to play your instrument:

Here are a couple of brief demonstration videos of side bending and upper back toning (goalpost arms).

There are a wide variety of ways we can get our balanced diet of movement. A good rule of thumb is this: if your body wants a certain stretch, do it. You know when you have that irresistible urge to stretch your arms overhead, or to hug your knees to your chest when lying down? This is your body saying, "I know my fabric needs to be pulled this way right now!"

The more you make pre-playing warmups a part of your routine, the better you’ll feel and and the more possibilities you’ll find for movement in your body. As your movement possibilities expand, so will your possibilities for musical expression.

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November 22, 2021 at 01:24 AM · This subject definitely rings a bell with me. I practice and play daily. I also work out with free weights and machines 4 days a week. From personal experience, I can attest that the two activities don’t conflict with each other when done right.

There are some similarities between your exercises and my pre-workout stretches. For workouts, I follow the sequence of Walk, Stretch, Lift. For violin, it's Walk, Stretch, Play. The sustained walking gets the blood pumping fast, which helps me stay warm a long time. This, in turn, helps the pre-workout and pre-practice stretches.

Once I've done with this routine, then comes the instrument practice warmup itself. I give this segment about 20 minutes at the start of each practice session.

November 23, 2021 at 07:13 PM · I love this, and it’s great to hear that you have a routine that works for you!

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