Do you ever feel like after years (or even decades) of practicing scales and arpeggios, your left hand is STILL playing April Fools jokes on you (except…more than once a year)? Yep, me too. By the way, if you can’t relate at all, we need to talk because I have LOTS of questions! Anyway, last year I made an important tweak in my warm-up routine. It became a real game changer for me in the sense that my left hand suddenly felt more consistent and effortless.
I used to start my warmup sessions with scales for years; however, after really thinking about all the technical aspects that scales are made out of (good finger weight distribution, dexterity, coordination, shifts, consistent sound, angle of the fingers, etc) I started doing short exercises for some of these elements to warm up my fingers before scales. As a result, I could finally focus more and more on my bow arm during the actual scales (and repertoire).
These quick warmups are also very helpful for busy people who don’t have tons of time to practice. Ever been stuck in traffic on your way to a rehearsal and upon arrival you have only a few minutes to warm up? Or perhaps you have to limit how much physical practice you do in order to prevent/recover from an injury. I’ve experienced all these scenarios (and know many others who have too), so I decided to compile my top 5 go-to warm-ups for the left hand for such situations. They cover shifting, vibrato, dexterity, left hand frame, and some basic finger independence. Upon getting familiar with these exercises, one can convert them into “mini” versions to suit individual needs (about a minute per exercise).
Because violin exercises are very difficult to describe in text alone, I made a video of them (see below). Toward the end of the video, I also added an exercise that I learned from Nathan Cole last year – this bonus challenge is extremely helpful with creating ease in playing thirds and a better overall hand frame.
Here is the quick list of the warm-ups. They can be done in any order, but this sequence has been very reliable. I encourage you to customize them to your own level, goals, and how your left hand is feeling on the particular day.
- Simon Fischer’s Finger Tapping (from Warming Up)
- Simon Fischer’s Trill exercises (also from Warming Up)
- Schradeick’s first exercise from his first book School of Violin Technics (I recommend to at least memorize the first 5-6 lines; no need to play the whole thing for the “mini” version)
- Very slow and wide vibrato, in combination with an octave shift on the G string (going up chromatically)
- Octaves – Out of all the double stops that you can practice in your scale routine the most important one is the octave, because it really sets your hand frame. Depending on your goals and level, you can choose to spend the time playing an entire scale in octaves or stick to playing broken octaves on just a few notes. Whatever you decide, aiming for quality will make this warmup most beneficial.
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