warming up: cobi

We often hear that classical music is a sport, and it’s true that there are many parallels. Playing an instrument, like playing a sport, requires body awareness, efficient muscle movement, and endurance. To satisfy my own curiosity about what other people do at the beginning of their practice sessions, this brief series will feature several individuals’ warmup routines. Some people do very little, and some people do a lot. Some people are very structured, while others approach warming up from an exploratory and improvisational angle. Below are my friend Cobi’s thoughts about the warmup process!

13479893_10153769519787198_1692534143_nCobi A.:

To paraphrase Juilliard piano faculty member Julian Martin, we should not need a warm-up period in order to feel technically comfortable at the instrument. Instead, the musician’s physical understanding should be so intimate and familiar that calling upon facility and ease is instantaneous. This makes sense to me; if a pianist cannot achieve a sense of technical freedom every day without a warm-up, how does he or she expect to maintain that freedom in a performance, when one’s physical awareness is blurred by nerves and adrenaline?

One caveat to Martin’s view is the fact that not all musicians have already developed such an indelible and prompt connection to the operation of their technique. Accordingly, it can still be beneficial for many musicians to warm up before practicing, as long as it is done with the proper goals in mind. In other words, as long as we use a warm-up period to improve our understanding of how to call upon the sensation of effortlessness both in general and for a variety of particular technical challenges (rather than becoming reliant upon warm-ups as the only path to that sensation), I see no reason not to warm-up before practicing.

I have never followed any particular routine at the beginning of my daily practice, instead preferring to start with any kind of exercise that suits my current physical state. That’s because I have not found any one exercise or piece that unfalteringly vitalizes my body, arms, and hands. I am still recovering from an injury that resulted from many years of practicing without developing feelings of ease and comfort, and as such, my grasp on technical facility is fickle.

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passing out


Calvin’s take on testing, by the inimitable Bill Watterson

Note: This post was edited on August 28, 2019 to fix/replace broken links.

Alternate title: acing those placement exams.

Congratulations! You made it past auditions, and now you get to be a fancy masters or doctoral student and live out all your fantasies of striding down the halls of the music building while wee undergrads swivel their heads in awe! Not so fast, though: there’s just one more hurdle to leap over. (As if those applications, pre-screenings, and auditions weren’t enough. But come on, if you wanted life to be easy, you wouldn’t be a musician.)


The theory and history placement exams nearly all incoming graduate students will have to take are just preliminary assessments to see where your theory/history level is at. So theoretically, you don’t have to study at all, particularly if (a) you’re a theory/history BAMF and could practically teach a class yourself, or (b) you’re happy to wither away, wasting hours of your life in remedial classes while your peers are practicing, performing, etc.

Neither of those options are for me! So, let’s study together! Yay! Here are some resources for your summer reviewing pleasure.

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