I've worked over the years to develop a program of war-ups that engage as many of the muscles used in keyboard playing as possible. Let’s start here with five of my favorites. Some might make their way into your improvisation; others are presented simply to get your technique going in new directions. Practice these in all 12 keys, hands together, one octave apart, up and down for at least two octaves.
1. 3-4-5 Diatonic Major
The fourth and fifth fingers are the weakest on the hand, so I like to attack them with techniques that put them in unique positions, like these in Ex. 1. Once you’ve gone up and down for two octaves, it’s time to invert.
2. 1-2-3-5 Whole Tone
Ex. 2 gets your thumbs and the rest of your arm involved in the process. You can really move with these! Invert this exercise after two octaves up and down as well.
3. Dorian with Added Major Seventh
Ex. 3 engages the muscles that you use when ‘crossing over.’ This one keeps working that fourth finger.
4. The “Stockdale”
Ex. 4 features a series of whole steps, alternately inverted. The extremely talented saxophonist Kurt Stockdale came up with this on his horn as something to really let loose on for uptempo solos. I found the fingering to be challenging on the piano, so why not warm up with it?
5. The “Ferber”
Another inspiration of mine, trombonist Alan Ferber, uses the patterns in Ex. 5 in his solos and they never sound like an exercise. Stack upward perfect fourths twice, then octaves down to the fifth, then play two half-steps down, and repeat the entire pattern up a minor third, much like a diminished pattern.
6. The “Downward Ferber”
Ex. 6 is a five-note pattern also built on fourths. The pattern goes down two perfect fourths, up a whole step, then up another fourth. Repeat the entire pattern down a half-step.
“Music is more than just chops—your personality, artistic expression, and sense of camaraderie all make you stand out as a player. But if your chops aren’t happening, it makes everything else that much harder,” says David Cook. Currently musical director for four-time Grammy winner Taylor Swift, he has also accompanied Jennifer Hudson, Natasha Bedingfield, and Marianne Faithfull. Cook’s debut album Pathway is available now. Visit him at davidcookmusic.com.