Warming up is an important part of playing a brass instrument at a high level.
However, one of the most important benefits of the warm-up has nothing to do with what you play – it’s about the mental game of deciding how you want to play today.
I start almost all lessons off with some sort of warm-up exercise. Sometimes it’s long tones, sometimes lip slurs or harmonic series exercises, and sometimes scales. Many times these are fairly basic exercises – not very high, or loud, or fast. However, the point of these exercises is to get the student used to sounding good.
In the beginning, we’ll often stop during these basic exercises and ask the student to make a couple of adjustments. After a couple of times, they notice right away that things either sound better, feel easier, or both.
Every note you play is a decision on how you want to sound.
Eventually, it gets to the point where I can just use one or two words (like “articulation” or “connect”), and they make exactly the right changes without needing further prompting.
It’s at this time that I point out that the troubles they are having with their music are directly related to the passive way they are warming up.
Once you reach a baseline level of skill, every note you play is a decision on how you want to sound. If you don’t decide to play with clear articulation, or a smooth slur, or good finger rhythm, then you’re actually deciding to play without it.
The warm-up is turning those decisions into muscle memory. When you’re playing a challenging piece under pressure, this muscle memory will be your “go-to” response. Make sure that you give yourself as many good reps as possible by actively deciding to sound good every time you pick up the horn!