In the June 2012 issue, I offered some of my favorite general warm-up exercises to get you into prime playing shape. Here are a few more to add to your arsenal, and some of them may even make their way into your songs or improvisations!
1. The Rohde
My good friend, keyboardist Matt Rohde showed Ex. 1 to me years ago, which was possibly inspired by Oscar Beringer’s studies in his acclaimed 1905 book on piano technique. It’s a good line to get your fingers going.
2.The Rohde in 5
Ex. 2 expands on the previous exercise, focusing on thirds and in phrases of ten notes. Try accenting different notes to break down the “five” feel into either 2/3 or 3/2.
3.Hands by Hersch
Noted pianist Fred Hersch suggested Ex. 3 as a warm-up to get the whole body engaged. Clasp your hands so your fingers are interlocking with the right thumb on top of the left thumb. Then play each note of the phrase with the middle knuckle of the left-hand fifth finger. You’ll have to start moving your arms more and more as the notes get further apart, which means moving your torso as well to keep everything aligned. Go all the way from the bottom F# on the piano to the topmost F#. Then start again from the top, moving down towards the bottom. Do them as quickly as possible, but don’t sacrifice good form.
The late, great jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller had a genius way of working diminished patterns into his soloing so that they never sounded like math—they simply sounded like music. Ex. 4 is a pattern based on one of my favorite lines of his, adapted for a warm-up. You can also try using one hand for comping while the other hand plays the line.
Ex. 5 delves into double diminished chords. To start exploring, play a fully diminished chord in your right hand, then play the same chord in your left hand. Now move the left hand chord up a half-step, and you’ve got the nice, dense sound of the double diminished chord to use over an altered dominant chord. I like to invert the left hand down a minor third from there, and move both hands around with a melody in mind for the top note. You can pick any melody you like and then voice out the rest of the chord below.
“Be sure to practice these exercises in all 12 keys, at different tempos, and with alternating phrasing (i.e., staccato, legato, triplet feel, swing feel, and so on), accenting different rhythms,” says David Cook. Currently the musical director for pop star Taylor Swift, Cook has also accompanied Jennifer Hudson, Natasha Bedingfield, and Marianne Faithfull. His new album Scenic Design is available now. Visit him at davidcookmusic.com.