Before practicing at home or performing live, I always begin with a warm-up exercise. Warming up has been an essential part of my musical routine since I was five years old. Not only does it help improve my technique and dexterity, it also protects me against injury. Limbering up your hands and arms helps you make a strong mind-body connection with your instrument and your music. Here are four exercises on which I rely.
1. Major Thirds Workout
Ex. 1 is a warm-up that can be practiced in all 12 keys. Here, it goes up and down in major thirds. Always keep both hands synced throughout the exercise, and keep the fingering consistent. The fingering should go up in both hands sequentially, i.e. 1-2-3-4-5, until the last turnaround, when the fingering changes to set up the return. Note that each segment is five notes. Begin this exercise by holding down the first note and continuing the rest of the segment staccato. Do the same going back down, but remember that you will be holding down the opposite fingers. As with most exercises, don’t use the sustain pedal—use only your fingers for dynamic expression, control, tone, and consistency. Without sustain, you’ll be better able to judge your clarity of execution.
2. Scale Practice
Scales done in different variations can be great warm-up exercises. Ex. 2 incorporates the dominant scale in the key of F#, along with the Db dominant scale, played with the interval of a tenth between the left and right hands. It’s important to play this as evenly as possible, with both hands synced. Execution should be clean and clear. This exercise helps develop finger control, while simultaneously offering a great warm-up. To add an extra challenge, use the C major fingering for your right hand, (1-2-3, 1-2-3-4), and apply it to all 12 keys. Try the same with the left hand fingering. This will make your fingers move in ways you wouldn’t normally use them, eventually adding more control that will spread to other areas of your playing.
3. Descending Diminished Tones
Ex. 3 is a pattern based on descending diminished tones. Try this in all 12 keys. It can be also used as an improvisational point in the appropriate situation. Practice each hand separately and make sure that both hands are able to play with clarity and confidence. As it tends to be weaker, pay special attention to the left hand, and practice separately if needed.
4. Augmented Arpeggios
Ex. 4 incorporates augmented arpeggios. Note how the left hand comes up and the right hand comes down. Arpeggios are terrific ways to warm up. Try moving your hands in the opposite direction for an added challenge. Make sure your sound is even when playing this—each finger should press down with an even strength, producing a tone that’s consistent throughout in both hands.
At just 25 years old, Grammy-nominated pianist Eldar Djangirov is one of the most sought-after musicians on the jazz scene today. Eldar is releasing back to back albums in Spring 2013: the jazz/pop crossover Breakthrough and the classical Bach/Brahms/Prokofiev. Find out more at eldarmusic.com