Warming Up on the Run, Part 1

A masterclass from the July 2013 issue of KEYBOARD
Publish date:

For a keyboard player, practicing while on tour can be difficult. Sometimes sound check before a show is the only time we get a chance. In Part 1 of this two-party series, I’ll illustrate some melodic-based exercises I often create on the spot to help me find my center when time is tight. Next month, we’ll explore more rhythm-based means to the same end. Remember—these examples are just guidelines. It’s not so much what you play as it is the mindsetyou bring to your playing that makes all the difference.

1. Progression-Based Lines

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Ex. 1 illustrates how I often begin my warm-up routine. Here I’ve created a simple melodic line delineating a minor II-V-I progression. The target chord I’m shooting for is the Abmin7. Try warming up by building your own simple lines on various chord progressions.

2. Melodic and Harmonic Variations

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In Ex. 2 I start tinkering with the line and anticipating the beginning note. I’ve also changed the first note from C natural to Db and I’ve added a little “wrinkle” to the end of the phrase. Notice how I change the target chord from Ab minor to Ab major. In bar 7, I alter the phrase and return to C natural on the downbeat.

3. Adding Notes and Syncopation

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In Ex.3 I continue toying with my melodic line, adding notes to jump-start my mind and keep it malleable. Notice how in bar 3 I’m implying an A triad starting on E natural—I like that sonority against the Eb7 chord. Also, because there are less notes in the line at this point, it accentuates the syncopation and adds a new degree of rhythmic interest.

4. Phrasing and Fingering Practice

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Ex. 4 shows how I continue to add notes to the line to continue my workout. As you add notes to a phrase, you’ll find it necessary to speed sections up in order to make some of the phrases fit. Play around with fingerings to find the most effective way to execute your warm-up lines, and you’ll keep your hands nimble and your mind entertained!

5. Changing Directions and Rhythms

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Ex. 5 illustrates how I’m continuing to warm up by adding notes, changing directions, and playing with rhythms. Sometimes even the slightest alteration can affect and inspire your phrasing. Things start to get interesting in bar 3. . . .

6. Key Changes

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In Ex. 6 we’re changing keys. Now the target chord is Gmin7. Notice how the line is now very similar to our first one. You will find that one line can fit more that one set of chord changes or tonal centers, often with very little adjustment. In bar 5 I’ve substituted the D7 chord with a more “out” sound, an F# triad over D. You’ll have to adjust your fingering and most likely play the A with the third finger in order to land the F# in your right hand.

7. Altered Chords

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In Ex. 7 we change keys again, making the Bmin7 chord our new target. This time I adjusted the left hand to accommodate the G natural in the right hand by playing an altered F# chord. That led me to the Bmin6 chord variation quite naturally.