Practice Part I - The Warm-Up
We recently got a dog. We love our new pet, love spending time with him, and love the relationship we are building. And, he is a lot of work. Right now, we are pretty motivated to have a well trained dog, and that means a lot of consistent practice sessions. I can feel my role as a jazz educator influencing how we train, and I can in turn feel my jazz pedagogy being effected by learning through dog training. Yes - you read that right. I am learning to become a better teacher because of Dog Training.
One of those ways is how I need to prepare my dog for the hard work of training. I need to take the time to make sure that the space we are in as well as my dog's mindset is appropriate to accomplish something within our training session. He has to warm-up! Working with my pup has given me a new perspective into the importance of prepping the mind before we attempt to make music, or engage in a practice session that is going to be intentional in anyway.
In the simplest terms, the warm-up is about prepping yourself to make music this includes the mind, the fingers, the air, embouchure, and instrument. A good warm-up should include exercises that engage all of these aspects and allow musicians to focus on critical aspects of sound production. I have done enough video work-outs to know that nearly anyone can go through the motions, but to truly benefit from any of this stuff, we have to engage the mind and create a sense of in-the-moment focus.
Smallest Common Vibration
Warm-Ups should start with a focus on the most critical aspect of creating sound - vibration. Before focusing on the entire instrument, take time to listen to the quality of the vibration going into the instrument. Reed players should play on just the mpc and reed, brass players should buzz into just the mouthpiece and/or mpc and leadpipe. I think a lot of sound and intonation issues are directly related to issues with the core vibration. Speaking as a saxophonist, most of use are too tight. Learning the correct mouthpiece pitch and being able to nail that before heading to the horn is critical. (Hmm, sounds like another blog post)
Let's face it, holding tones out for an extended period is not the most exciting aspect of making music. Yet I know of no better way to intentionally develop tone and focus on clear, warm sound. There are many varieties of long tone exercises, but the common purpose is to create steady arcs of sound by focus on engaging
Flow studies are long tone variants, but the number one difference is that they engage the fingers and connect different pitches along a consistent stream of air. One of my go-to's is to start on a pitch in the middle of my range - something very comfortable and fan out chromatically from that pitch alternating ascending and descending and adding one chromatic pitch in each set. ex: B-Bb, B-C, B-Bb-A, B-C-C#, B-Bb-A-Bb, B-C-C#-D, etc...
Generating sound is important, but how we attack notes is also important. Including and exercise our two that isolates this can be a game-changer for students. Here is something really simple Play a quarter note four sixteenths followed by a half note for each pitch in a major scale. The goal is to articulate the 16ths as light as possible, almost to the point of "missing" the articulation. This helps develop a good legato articulation that is necessary for jazz playing.
With all of this, the most important factor is to get you head in the game. Daily warm-ups are meditative in a way. They provide an opportunity for us to not only center our musical selves, but to center our self in general. Wouldn't it be great to begin each day centered, calm, and engaged. That can also be the value of a strong warm-up routine.