Warming Up vs Building Fundamentals

There can be a big difference between warming up in band and working on fundamentals, but many rehearsals I have seen treat them as identical. Both are necessary for the development of a school ensemble, but all too often the time spent on warming up and on fundamentals is ineffective and disliked (for good reason). Here is part one of my analysis of what needs to be done to warm up and work on fundamentals effectively--please share your thoughts.

Warming Up

We've all been there. The band director steps on the podium, (most of) the students put up their instruments, and the first sounds from the ensemble are remind you of a blender filled with marbles. Why are the trumpet players straining to play the G on top of the staff? How can the alto sax player get any sound at all with that dry, cracked reed? At least the flute players grimace, but you're not sure if it's because of the sound of the band or their own pitch problems. What has gone wrong? The players in the group are not warmed up.

It may seem obvious, but before playing anything technical for the day, musicians (especially students) must be warmed up in order to play well. While that concert B-flat scale is a simple and everyone can play it (except the trombone player who always plays A in third...), it is NOT a warmup. I'll write it again: A scale is not a warmup. What do the students need to play with a good sound, right away? Watch any athlete and it makes sense. As a batter is warming up before stepping up to home plate, he is stretching his arm and leg muscles, twisting his trunk, and thinking the whole time. A musician's warmup is similar. You need to limber up your face, arms, and fingers and help your mind become sharp and focused for the task at hand.


In addition to warming up, the early part of a rehearsal often focuses on helping students improve certain basic musical skills. Every director realizes that students need to get better at playing scales, tonguing, subdividing and pulse awareness, playing dynamics, music reading, and other skills. The more clean tonguing, for instance, becomes a habit, the less time has to be spent in rehearsal cleaning up passages that require very precise articulation. These habits do not happen in one rehearsal, or even in a week or a month. They take years to develop, and progress in them requires constant and consistent attention.

The Start of Rehearsal

So what is the start of rehearsal for? Can an ensemble warm up and work on fundamentals at the same time? Or are they stages to go through each day? Is it even possible for an ensemble to address warming up or working on fundamentals, or are they so individual that time spent as an ensemble is ineffective?

I'll spend time in my next post explaining what I think about these parts of rehearsal and how to deal with them effectively.