Creating a Proper Violin Warm-Up Routine

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Classical Violin By: Please log in to see tutor details
Subject: Violin » Classical Violin
Last updated: 17/08/2017
Tags: #howtopractice, music, practice, viola, violin

Motivating oneself to enter the "practice" mindset can be daunting, especially in the midst of a busy world in which we have grown used to having a thousand things on our minds at once. There's no way to avoid the fact that a practice session will only be worthwhile if we are 100 percent focused on the minute details. How do we coerce our minds into focusing like this?

Like any activity, the first step is the most important and colours the rest of the time we spend doing said activity. If we begin our practice with focus, it's much more likely to stay that way than if we begin our practice without a clear plan.

Once we build a habit, it is difficult to break it - and this we can use to our advantage! The habit I am suggesting here is a clear, systematic warm-up for practicing. This can change slightly depending on what technique you might be focusing on later in your practice, but the majority of this warm-up should be consistent, every day. In this way, the brain associates the warm-up with the focus required. Eventually it will also associate a focused warm-up with a focused practice session, which is our goal. The more focused our practice is, the less practice we need. I'm all about less practice and more performing!

Here is a road map of how "The Focused Warm-Up" might look in general, with specific exercises omitted: (Note: All of these would be done with a metronome to reinforce the development of an inner pulse.)

1. Tone production, no left hand

2. Rhythmic variations, no left hand

3. Left hand single-stop scales

4. Left hand double-stop scales (optional)

5. Rhythmic or repertoire-specific variations

6. Etude of choice

Here are some specific exercises that could be inserted for each step:

1. Crotchets at 60, Whole notes on each open string. Focus on whole bow, then lower half, upper half, thirds, other divisions of the bow. Hold notes for 4 beats, then 6, then 8, then 12.

2. Crotchets at 60, play variations on a four beat pattern, crotchets, quavers, semiquavers, dotted rhythms, triplets, combine them in different ways. Be creative and compose a rhythmic cell. Hold the bow at the frog, then at the tip, back and fourth alternating. Collé bowing (extra flexible bow hand) on open strings to focus on bow change motion and finger dexterity. Still no left hand.

3. Add left hand for tetrachords, acceleration scales, shifting exercises, arpeggios. See Carl Flesch Scale System for comprehensive scale patterns in a book format.

4. Thirds, sixths, octaves, (fourths and fifths if you are feeling modern!). Always start slowly and avoid putting slurs in the same place too often. Train the left hand to behave independently of the bowing.

5. Add rhythmic variations to the scales. Try slurring in 5's, 7's and other less familiar patterns. Work on dotted rhythms, triplets, or add a tricky pattern from a piece you will work on later. Use this step to notify your brain that the warm-up is connected to the repertoire you practise later.

6. Always pick an etude for a reason. Are you working on a specific technique? Ask yourself when you look at the etude what it seems to focus on, and keep this in mind as you play. Are you staying consistent with the technique throughout the etude? How will you transfer this technique to the repertoire you work on later? Recommended etude books: Kreutzer, Campagnoli, Mazas, Vieux (advanced) 

I hope this helps inspire you to consider implementing a more rigid warm-up routine in your practice. I have found that it prepares my mind well for a focused session, reduces time needed to practice later on, and keeps my creativity flowing. Remember, quality of practice always beats quantity.

Happy practising!

Jill Valentine Classical Violin Teacher (South East London)

About The Author

Hello! I am a classically trained violin/viola player and teacher. I aim to encourage my students to enjoy the process of learning music, regardless of level and age, and to refine a work ethic that can improve productivity in any aspect of life.

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