Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Warm Up on the Piano

Step-by-step instructions to get ready for performance the right way

In this video, Robert gives you step-by-step instructions to warm up correctly for an impeccable performance.

Released on October 23, 2013

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a subject today, how to warm up on the piano. All right, we're gonna cover some warm up routines for you. Well, this is an interesting subject and there are books written with warm ups and all of that. I'm gonna break it down for you, and really it's not as complicated as you think. Most of it is really common sense, so let's start holistically.

First of all, any warm up is predicated upon you being physically healthy because if you're tight and have muscle problems and stiff back and all of that, there's not much you can do that's going to really translate to the piano. Of course, if you have physical problems like that, it's even more important that you have some sort of way of easing yourself into piano.

So here's what I recommend. First of all, make sure before you even start playing the piano that your hands are warm. If you have cold hands, that means your blood is not circulating well and if you just sail into some virtuoso music when your hands are ice cold, you could do hand damage. You can run them under some warm water. Just get comfortable. That's the first step.

I strongly recommend doing some sort of stretching on a regular basis whether it's yoga or exercising of some sort. This is thinking holistically which I've talked about so much. If you're physically healthy, you eat well, exercise, you're much less likely to do any damage in your piano playing.

Now, once you have warmed up your hands, assuming you're moderately healthy and in decent shape, you sit down at the piano. Well, this is very important, how you sit and where you sit. Take the time to make sure the height is proper. Now sometimes you might have limited time. Let's say you study at a music school and you go from room to room. You go into a certain practice room. You finally find a halfway decent piano, but there's no bench in there. You sit down in a chair and you're really low trying to play like that. This is very dangerous. You must take the time to adjust your seat to the proper height, even if it means hunting down pillows or books or something to sit on.

So how to know when you're at the right height? The arms should be straight. If you find yourself hunched where your elbows, where your wrist is doing this, your elbows are down or up, obviously that's not going to be comfortable in the sustained practice.

So once you're sitting properly, you can start with something slow. Now, some people like to start with scales and if you're going to start with scales, don't sail into fast scales. One note to the beat with nice raised fingers, just like the stretching you would do in yoga except with your hands.

[music 00:02:52]

You could go up the full four octaves with a metronome, playing one note to the beat. Do that several times and work up gradually to fast speed. But you know what? It doesn't necessarily have to be a scale or arpeggio that you start with or an exercise. It could be any piece of music. Sometimes when I sit down to practice and if I haven't played the piano yet that day, I'll start with a beautiful sarabande.

[music 00:03:28]

Or, perhaps a slow movement of a Mozart sonata, something that is not technically extraordinarily difficult but something that does sustain a beautiful melody so you can sink into the keys nicely, get a beautiful sound. Get comfortable in your seat. Make sure you are sitting at the right height and the right distance and you get in tune with the piano physically.

So to recap, be sure that you try to live a lifestyle so you're less likely to injure yourself in anything you do. You want to have some kind of regular exercise and stretching in your routine. Try to rest well and eat well and all the rest of it. You cannot underestimate the importance of this for maintaining good physiology on your instruments. Then, be sure your hands are warm. Start with something slow, whether it's an etude, a scale arpeggio, or a beautiful slow movement. Once you feel comfortable and you've played a while at something slow, then you can ease into other repertoire, always being mindful how you feel. Be sensitive. Take breaks on a regular basis. Walk around so you're not just sitting in the same position for hours.

I hope this helps you and if you have any additional questions, you can contact me, I really appreciate all of you visiting and I'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Cindy * VSM MEMBER * on January 26, 2022 @8:39 am PST
Some good suggestions for warm ups. But I would suggest you need to check your posture as well.
Robert Estrin - host, on January 26, 2022 @12:02 pm PST
That's another good subject!
Kuky Zauderer on January 26, 2022 @7:04 am PST
Congratulations for your explanations
Robert - host, on January 26, 2022 @9:48 am PST
It's such an important topic not just for successful practice, but for avoiding injury!
Seun Akin-Ajayi on August 17, 2017 @12:54 pm PST
Great tips.
Ioannis Raftopoulos * VSM MEMBER * on July 20, 2016 @5:00 am PST
hi! I usually tend to improvise something of my own, it sometimes turns to be sweet, or melancholic, sometimes agitated. sometimes I end up playing the first measures of Beethoven's "moonlight sonata" part two, the quick consecutive scales. it's like starting talking, without knowing what you want to say, finding your words on the way. does this help warm up? I am very curious to know your opinion! thank you!
Robert Estrin - host, on July 20, 2016 @8:20 pm PST
I have always enjoyed improvising on the piano since I was a child. It can be one of the best ways to get intimately acquainted with a piano - finding its voice. The sound can inspire new directions in your music!
Mark Kugman * VSM MEMBER * on March 29, 2014 @1:29 pm PST
It was amazing to me to see Glenn Gould playing with his chair whereby he was extremely low and looked miserable.
his playing was spectacular however
Roberta from Italy on November 4, 2013 @1:17 am PST
Great post, Master! Just what students at the Conservatory need to keep in mind: imagine an important visiting Professor, everybody anxious to show up at their best, on a different piano than they are accustomed to, and your advice becomes really precious... good job as usual!
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