Back to School Edition – Fast, Easy and (Nearly) Silent Warm-Ups!

The elusive warm up. Everyone wants to know how to do it. Even Tom Brady* has questions. And everyone has an opinion but just like tuning your instrument, very few people really want to speak definitively about it. Well, I guess I’ll just stick my stupid head out and give it a shot. Wait. What’s that? It needs to be fast? Well, of course it does. You’ve got a big class and it would help if they could be done quietly? Got it. They’re middle schoolers and it needs to be readily accessible? You betcha!

Left Side:

Finger Taps: These are just trills. They can be done with the whole hand or with individual fingers. A few things to watch for:

1. Make sure that the student is activating from the base knuckle** (pictures below)
2. Be sure the student is releasing tension right away. A good release has a crisp, high pitched sound. Taps that are too loud, dull sounding or tenuto are indicative of tension.
3. This is also a great time to integrate other technical ideas. Students could do taps on different strings and practice their left arm angle (parallel motion but isolating the left arm)
4. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that I release my pinky by curling it towards the palm. If you put the pinky straight down it will lock up. When you’re trilling, curling the pinky in at the end of the trill will release it. Using this curling gesture will free up your pinky and make it the equal of the other fingers.

Here’s a video:

Right Side:

To warm up the big muscles, put your bow at the tip and fan your arm up and down. This should be done mindfully, as the student can practice several things while doing this:

1.They can make sure that their bow hand stays stable
2. They can practice smooth string crossings
3. They can practice parallel motion

I’m sure you can come up with even more things to keep an eye on.

Here’s a quick video:

For the little muscles in the right hand you’ll also do some string crossings, but at the frog. This will get all of the fingers going, especially the pinky.

1. Be sure your learner’s thumb is curved and relaxed
2. Encourage the student to allow the natural weight of their arm to sink into the string


Both of these exercises are essentially Sevcik exercises without the bow and will help students get ready for doing the actual exercises down the road.

If you have time, a great vibrato warm-up is to simply do the widest, most tasteless vibrato you can do using a two octave scale. Students can do this with or without the bow. Maybe you can even have a competition! Here’s my entry:

That’s it! Three to five minutes and you’ll be much better off than starting cold. This is not meant to be an exhaustive, elaborately ritualized warm-up. David Oistrakh (one of my heroes) would never approve. This is part of what I use for “bell work” with my students. I wanted it to be easy enough for middle schoolers to learn and fast enough for impatient teenagers. It’s great in a pinch, like if you get stuck in traffic on the way to your all-state audition. I ask my students to go in this order:

Tune with a tuner
Fast and easy warm ups

Hope this is helpful!


*If you don’t know who Tom Brady is, you’re my new favorite person. 😄
**The base knuckle is much lower than most people think it is. It will almost feel like your hand is folding in half if you’re doing this correctly.

Next time: The Beauty of the Korg TM60

Copyright Rising Tide String Project 2018 (Erik Bryan and Chung Park)
Please contact me at if you’d like me to come and lead a workshop. I’m available for student workshops and teacher professional development sessions.