As a beginner, you’re probably wondering why you need to warm up before you play. Especially since, your practice time is likely to be somewhere between 20-30 minutes.
“Wouldn’t a warm up just be a waste of time?” “I warmed up my coffee, isn’t that enough?” “I really need to get working on the Chopin Polonaise my teacher assigned me.”\
Well, a great man once said, “Warm ups are like vegetables, they are necessary for a balanced diet, but don’t forget they can be delicious too!”
Ok, no one ever said that.
Well, in today’s article, I am going to provide you with five great piano warm ups for beginners that should get you ready and limber before your practice session begins.
Let’s get started!
First, a good warm up will incorporate some of the things you are trying to achieve either in your weekly lessons or daily playing. Warm ups build strength, dexterity, flexibility, speed, and finger independence.
They’re sort of like vegetables in that sense!
Seriously, your fingers and brain do a lot of work when you are playing the piano. Daily warm ups help you avoid injuries to the hands and wrists, carpal tunnel, back and neck strain, and provide you with a routine that engages your mind and body.
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Here are 5 basic piano exercises that you can develop into your daily warm up routine.
- Basic Stretches
- Footsteps in the Snow
- 5 Finger Pentascales (ascending and descending)
- One Octave Legato scales
- Playing 3rds
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Basic Stretches-Corn on the Cob
Before you begin any physical activity, it is important to warm up and stretch. This is what I’m referring to as Corn on the Cob. It’s a great vegetable that’s easy to make and tastes oh so good! You can add more to it to enhance the flavor (butter, salt, pepper, or old bay) or leave it plain. Stretching is the same way. You can always add more to your basic routine; as long you stick with the standard. Every day before playing, you should stretch.
Here are some basics you should be doing. Start off by stretching and reaching to the ceiling with your hands over your heads (breathe in as you do this) and exhale when you release your hands at your side. Stretch you’re one hand over your head and lean side to side. Bend over and touch your toes five times. Roll your shoulders forwards five times and then roll them backwards five times. Lift your shoulders up (breathe in) and then down (breathe out) 5 times.
Massage your shoulders.
Gently massage the back of your neck. Instead of rolling your head around in a circle, lean your head forward and press your chin to your chest, then bring it upright.
Lean your head to each side and upright. Lean your head backwards before bringing it upright again. Shake your arms at your side.
Shake your hands in front of you as if you are waving. Shake your hands at your side as if you are trying to dry them without a towel.
Gently use one hand to pull backwards on your fingers so that your palms are facing the ceiling.
Repeat for opposite hand.
Take one hand and gently pull your opposite hand and fingers towards the floor. Switch hands. Gently massage each hand. I’m only scratching the surface here.
To find out more how this can impact your total health and playing, also check out the Alexander Technique. Some musicians have been using this for years.
Footsteps in the Snow- Crudités
Bring out the hummus! Crudités sounds so fancy, huh? Carrots, cauliflower, sliced bell peppers and dip. It’s not at all fancy, and neither is the warm up. Before we start, you will need to: be able to locate middle C and understand basic piano fingering in each hand: 1 (thumb), 2 (index), 3 (middle), 4 (ring), 5 (pinky).
This exercise is from Pianist Magazine and it’s a great way to start your warm up. Start out by placing your left hand on the last two black keys lowest end of the keyboard. Yes, you need to go left of middle C. Now place your right hand on the three black keys right next to your left hand. Now you are going to play left hand first (3,2 fingering) and then play your right hand (1,2,3 fingering).
After you play your left hand and then right hand, your left hand will cross over top of your right hand. Your left hand will play and then your right hand will cross under your left hand. You will be only playing the black keys here. The idea here is to alternate hands and create small semi-circles as you move up the keyboard. This exercise will give you a relaxed, fluid feel when playing. Start at the top of the keyboard and come back down. Repeat the exercise and concentrate on relaxing your shoulders the second time around.
5 Finger Pentascale- Tomato and Cuke Salad
By now, you are thinking that I’ve lost my mind. Not yet. I was thinking that we needed something that has five ingredients. This salad came to mind. Tomato, cucumbers, red onion, feta cheese, and oil and vinegar. That’s six. Yes, but I tend to think of oil and vinegar as one ingredient.
Do you know your pentascales? A Pentascale is a five finger pattern that is related to the scale and key of the first note in the pattern. The C pentascale starts on C and ends on G. The right hand will play C,D,E,F,G or 1,2,3,4,5. The left hand will play the same notes with the fingering as 5,4,3,2,1. When you play pentascales in different keys, the notes will change, but the fingering will remain the same.
Try this. Place hands in C position. Right hand thumb will be on middle C and left hand pinky will be on bass C. Play each hand separately. Start with the right hand and play 1,1,1,1,2,2,2,2 etc. Each note and finger will be played four times. When you reach G, come back down and play until you stop on middle C.
The idea here is keep your other fingers relaxed as you play each repeated note and finger. Repeat exercise with left hand 5,5,5,5,4,4,4,4 etc. Another way to play the pentascale is to play 1,2,3,4,5,4,3,2,1 for each key. Start off with pentascales in the keys of C,F,G. You should become familiar with pentascales in the keys of C,D,E,F,G,A,Bb.
One Octave Legato Scales- Avocado Toast
Ok, hear me out on this one. Avocado is a superfood, right? Scales are like superfoods for the fingers and mind. Toast some of your favorite bread and spread a couple of slices of avocado on top. Make sure you salt and pepper the avocado for flavor. And these scales certainly have flavor. The idea here is to play your scales super slow and connected. Legato refers to how the notes are articulated. Legato means to play smooth and connected. Go ahead and play the scale from middle C to treble C and come back down to middle C.
Treble C is the next C to your right. You can use any finger to get started. You can play the scale starting on middle C with the right hand as follows: 1,2,3,1,2,3,4,5 (ascending) and 5,4,3,2,1,3,2,1 (descending). Remember to tuck your thumb under your third finger when you are moving from E to F. Start moving your thumb when your 2nd finger has started to play. You can practice this slowly and this help you develop a quick thumb. When you are playing the scale descending, your third finger will go over your thumb when moving from F to E. Play slowly.
Take your time. This is a common fingering for many of the one octave major scales. The trick here is start playing the next note before the previous note is released. Start your day off with some avocado toast and your favorite scales. Remember, concentration and slow playing is key here.
Playing 3rds-Fried Green Tomatoes
This is the last of the piano exercises for beginners. If you have made it this far, you deserve a reward. Go ahead and fry up some of those tomatoes, breading and all. Make Grandma proud and make some dipping sauce to go with them. Once you are done, start practicing your 3rds.
You may have learned 3rds early on as a student because they are referred to as two note chords. Two note chords are an accessible and a fun way to start learning chords. However, playing 3rds for this exercise is a little more involved and requires some coordination, dexterity, and strength.
Let’s begin in C position. Make sure your right hand thumb is on middle C and your left hand pinky is on bass C. The right hand will play first. Play 13,24,35,24,13. You are playing both fingers together at the same time. The left hand will 53,42,31,42,53. Try to connect each 3rd and play as smoothly as possible.
As in the previous exercise, don’t release the first two notes until you begin striking the second group of notes and so and so on. Try this. Start with your right hand. 13,24,13,24,35 and back down 35,24,35,24,13. The left hand will play as follows: 53,24,53,24,13 and then 31,42,31,42,53. Once you have mastered playing 3rds together, try playing them separately. You will use the same patterns as above.
Building a Stronger You
We’ve had some fun learning some new warm ups and pairing them with my favorite vegetables dishes. My goal was to show you that warm ups (just like vegetables) should be an important part of your routine and should be incorporated into your playing on a daily basis. If you only have time for one or two warm ups, don’t sweat it! You don’t have to do all five warm ups every day.
Although, I do recommend doing a bit of stretching before you play. You can vary your warm ups based on what you are practicing and how you are feeling that day. It’s ok to spend more time on one warm up than another. Explore the web and look for new warm ups. The websites that were provided will give you a good start. Sometimes teachers will create warm ups for their students based on what they presently playing.
Are you having trouble with measures 16-19? Instead of playing the piece from beginning to end with the same mistakes, create a warm up based on those measures. In the end, you’ll be better off because you will have already practiced the tricky measures in your warm up. Best of luck, and don’t forget to eat your vegetables!
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