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Violinist Elena Urioste on why a

thorough warm-up regimen is a necessity


for good practice
Warming up is an essential part of a days practice for the US
violin player, who describes how she rehearses Strausss op.18
Sonata in the December issue
Friday, 29 November 2013

Slow, relaxed practising intimately acquaints one's body with


one's instrument, instead of pitting the two against each other
through mindless repetition. First, however, the body must be
suitably prepared to meet the rigorous demands of playing.
Here I make a quick diversion out of the practice room and into
the yoga studio, because I am of the firm belief that the practice
of yoga is one of the best gifts musicians can give themselves.
Yoga warms and lengthens the muscles, making the body more
pliable and thus more resilient. Musicians are a specific type of
athlete, and we often tend to brush aside the physical demands
of our instruments, discounting them as tertiary to thoughts
and feelings. The fact is, without the proper tools to express
everything we wish to convey through our music, our thoughts
and feelings remain trapped inside of a potentially rigid,
contorted shell of a body. Athletes would never dream of
performing their various acrobatics without first properly
conditioning their bodies why should musicians, who spend
hours each day making intense, repetitive motions, treat
themselves any differently?
Even if yoga isn't exactly up your alley, proper blood flow, an
awareness of breath, and malleable muscles are vital to an
effective practice session or performance. Before even taking
my violin out of its case, I make sure to stretch every part of my
arms and back. I roll my neck slowly in all directions and I make
gentle, progressively widening circles in the air with my arms.
When I feel properly limber and like blood is coursing to the tips

of my fingers only then do I reach for my instrument.


Multitasking has never been my forte, and my warm-up routine
is no exception. To ensure that my hands are in tip-top shape, I
work each one separately. For my left hand, I begin with the first
exercise in evk Part One (my right hand dangling happily at
my side, bowless), feeling the relaxed strength in the bounce of
each finger and enjoying the little thump each one makes
against the fingerboard. I follow up with a few lines of Kreutzers
Etude no.9, making sure I involve my fourth finger in as many of
the patterns as possible. I often joke that my left little finger is
purely ornamental, but I am determined to utilise and
strengthen it, little by little! I continue trilling various
combinations of fingers until they feel warm, powerful and
relaxed, and then I move on to vibrato exercises. Placing my
wrist right where the fingerboard meets the body of the
instrument, I use the wrist to propel the first joint in each finger
to wiggle first once forwards, then once backwards, then two
times forwards, then two times backwards, and so on.
Eventually the first joint of each finger is loose enough to wiggle
in rapid succession, and two or three repeated oscillations melt
into a continuous, measured vibrato.
I retrieve my bow and move on to the right hand, beginning with
slow open strings. I experiment with bow speed and weight,
really familiarising myself with how my hand feels on the bow
and the bow feels on the strings. I pretend that my hand is
pawing at the strings directly (unlike most other musicians,
string players have the disadvantage of having something
intercepting their bodies and their instruments). I make sure that
I am invested, physically and emotionally, in every inch of the
sound. I practise smooth bow changes, keeping my right hand
as still as possible at the frog and making sure it has enough
leverage to maintain contact at the tip. I don't subscribe to the
notion that fancy finger or wrist motions are necessary to
change the bow smoothly when the down bow is over, switch
directions; when the up-bow is over, switch directions.
To tie the two hands together, I play two-fingered scales: with
continuous vibrato, I use only the first and second fingers of my

left hand to play simple scales in first and third positions, feeling
a warm current connecting the vibrato from each finger to the
next, my bow continuing to carve out different depths of sound
from the strings. I switch to my second and third fingers, then
third and fourth: finally, I feel properly warmed up, connected to
my instrument, and ready to melt into my repertoire for the day.
And a little stretching after a practice session never hurts,
either.