Drawn from yoga exercises, this sequence of warm up exercises for the pianist was devised by pianist and teacher Penelope Roskell.
Start each exercise from a ‘neutral’ stance – i.e. feet hip-distance apart, shoulders down, spine and pelvis in a neutral position, chest lifted and open, chin parallel to the ground – and keep all movements natural and free.
1. The Swing. Swing the arms forward and back, allowing the arms to fall back through their own momentum/gravity. You can be as energetic or gentle as you like. After a few minutes, your hands should start to feel warmer.
2. Empty Sleeves. Imagine you are wearing a coat but without your arms in the sleeves. With your arms hanging by your sides, twist your body slightly from side to side. Your arms should swing freely, following your torso, as you turn—one wrapping around your body in front, the other back, like coat sleeves flapping in the wind. Keep your shoulders, elbows and wrists relaxed at all times. Increase the movement to extend the swing and start to engage your feet and knees too.
3. The Monkey. Bend forward slightly and let your arms hang loosely in front of you. Swing your arms across your body at hip, chest and shoulder height. Gradually increase the movement, and notice how the opposite foot starts to engage in the move as well. Again, you can make this move as energetic or as gentle as you like.
4. Shoulder Drop. Inhale deeply (“thoracic breathing” – you should feel your chest expand noticeably as you breathe) and as you do, raise your shoulders towards your ears without tensing the neck. Hold the pose for a moment and then exhale, as if you are trying to push all the air from your lungs, while allowing your shoulders to drop down. Repeat five times.
5. Shoulder Roll. Exactly as described. Roll your shoulders forwards and up, then backwards and down, with your breath.
6. Softening the feet and legs. With your feet planted firmly on the floor, start to shift the weight from heel to toe and back again, one foot at a time. Again, gradually increase the movement and walk around the room, making sure each step is carefully planted.
7. Neck Circles. Allow your chin to rest on your chest and slowly rotate the head gently from side to side, ear to ear, in a half-circle move. Repeat a few times, being very gentle as the head comes back to the starting position.
8. Hand stretch. Hold the back of one hand in the palm of your other hand and bend it forward at the wrist. Then bend the wrist back keeping fingers and arms straight.
As with any physical exercise, work within your limits and stop immediately if you are in pain. These exercises are also very helpful in alleviating the effects of performance anxiety.
Yoga for Musicians – DVD by Penelope Roskell with Catherine Nelson
Musicians’ injury – whose responsibility? ABRSM article
The International Society for the Study of Tension in Performance
British Association for Performing Arts Medicine
[…] Have I warmed up? For quick warm up exercises see my earlier post here […]
[…] I have blogged before about the importance of warm up exercises ahead of a practice session (Piano Pilates). Now, as many tired, overworked piano teachers look forward to the end of term, keeping the body […]
You’ve addressed an important subject here. I am always telling my students to do this sort of thing (I have my own exercises, not dissimilar) also during their practice, especially the crazy ones who practise 6 hours a day!
Thanks, Graham. I have found these simple exercises really useful (I do “proper” Pilates once a week as well), and I’ve noticed an improvement in my playing since I started doing them every day. It’s easy to neglect those over-worked parts of our anatomy, as pianists!