The left-hand and fingers (especially the fingertips) really need to be warm in order for us to play well. For the right hand and arm however, the word “warm-up” could be substituted by the term “loosening-up”. We need to get all the joints – fingers, knuckles, wrist, elbow and shoulder – loose, mobile, active and reactive.
Playing long legato bow strokes on one string is not the best way to achieve this. It is the mobility required for string crossings and bow changes that really get the joints of the right arm moving and active, especially those of the wrist, hand and fingers. Long legato bow strokes allow us to find our sound, calm our mind and rediscover our bow’s tactile contact with the string: this is the Tai-Chi (or yoga) part of a warm-up. However, there is another more active component of a good warm-up: in order to get the wrist and hand ready for their athletics session, it is very useful to play busy string crossing passages and exercises in separate bows.
String crossings require the up-down wrist motion, while bow changes use more the left-right movement. It is these movements that we especially want to encourage in our right-hand warm-up. Material that combines lots of string crossings with lots of bow-direction changes is thus ideal warm-up material because it really encourages our wrist and hand to move. The simultaneous combination of these left-right and up-down movements produces the circular wrist movements which are a very important component of a smooth fluid relaxed bowing technique. The Leaps Across Strings exercises page provides a lot of suitable material for this.
There are two ways in which we can maximise the utility of these warmup exercises for mobilizing our wrist and hand.
- If we play all these short notes (busy passages) legato and close to the frog, then we automatically require more wrist and finger movement than if we were to play them detaché (shorter) in the upper half of the bow.
- Alternatively, playing these passages spiccato also requires great wrist and finger involvement (although in a slightly different way).
These two practice techniques complement each other and both help to activate the hand and wrist to a maximum.
Warm-up is a time for encouraging looseness and ease rather than careful fine-tuned precision, therefore it can be a good idea to choose passages that are easy, for both hands.
For the right hand, in order to make the bow-level control aspect easier, we can favour the double-stopped versions of these leaps, as in the following examples. The direction in which the wrist circles will change according to the bow direction at the crossing. In the “easy” direction, all of our wrist circles will be clockwise. In the “hard” direction those circles will be uniformly anticlockwise, while in the “mixed” direction it’s probably better not to think about the circles as they come in both directions so it can get very confusing.
These bowing exercises are both deadly boring and unpleasantly dissonant on the open strings so we will add some left hand to make the warmup more interesting. We can start with the simplest left-hand progressions such as scales on the top string only, and then, to slightly increase the interest level, scales in sixths on the top two strings. All these can also be done in the minor keys. We will change the chord only as often as we are comfortable.