A few warm-up exercises can help young students avoid unnecessary injuries
By James Reel
Playing in pain is a hot topic in the string world. According to one recent study by the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians, 84 percent of professional string players complain of some work-related medical problem. Another survey found that 79 percent of teen players think it’s perfectly OK to play in pain.
One of the best ways for a musician to avoid pain is to establish good form and warm-up practices from the start. It’s never too early to teach your students the habits that promote dexterity, flexibility, and relaxation, says clinician Kathleen DeBerry Brungard.
It all begins, of course, with good posture, and a teacher must be merciless in demanding that students assume and maintain the proper position. Beyond that, a few short physical exercises right before each lesson or practice session will do wonders to relax the body, develop independence of arms and finger dexterity, and promote development of the bow hold and stroke.
Brungard offers several warm-ups and exercises in Orchestra Expressions, a pair of books she co-wrote with Michael L. Alexander, Gerald E. Anderson, and Sandra Dackow, and published by Alfred Publishing Company. Here are a few routines, many of which she uses herself on a daily basis. Most are described for violinists, but they’re easily adapted to players of other stringed instruments.
First, exercises for beginning students:
Shaping the Left Hand
1. Left-Hand Strumming Keeping your thumb in place, strum the strings with your left hand by reaching across all four strings with the fourth finger.
2. Left-Hand Pizzicato Keeping your thumb in place, pluck the individual A, D, and G strings with the fourth finger of your left hand.
3. Fingerboard Sliding Place the instrument in playing position with the left hand set to play E on the D string. Rest all four fingers lightly on the string. Do not press into the string. Slide your entire hand so that your thumb comes to rest in the crook of the neck. Lightly slide back to the E-note position. Make sure all fingers slide on the string and that your thumb moves with your hand.
4. Fingerboard Tapping Place the instrument in playing position with the left hand set to play E on the D string. Tap your first finger four times on the string so you can hear a sound. Move your hand so your thumb comes to a rest in the crook of the neck. Tap your first finger four times here. Repeat with each finger.
Shaping the Right Wrist and Arm
1. Penny Push-ups While seated, balance a penny on the back of each hand with fingers pointed forward. Slowly move up and down, side to side (knee to knee), and in straight lines from your left shoulder to your right knee. Let your wrists bend.
2. Ping-Pong While seated, hold a small Ping-Pong ball in your right hand with your palm facing down. Curve all fingers and thumb. Slowly bend your wrist upward and downward and side to side, and then wave at the teacher. Keeping your knuckles facing forward, trace a straight line from your left shoulder to your right knee. Keeping your palm facing down, trace a straight line from knee to knee. Let your wrists bend.