Video transcript
The Arts Unit @home Art Bites - Advanced string warm-up

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[music playing]

[viola music playing]

NICOLE FORSYTH: Hi. I'm Nicole Forsyth. I teach viola at various places, including being an orchestral tutor at The Arts Unit for the Department of Education in Sydney.

I'm playing the viola today. This is what I teach most of the time. I play this modern orchestral version. And I also teach a very old version, historic viola, which we concentrate on the 17th, 18th, and 19th century repertoire at Sydney Conservatorium of Music in the historical performance division.

I thought that we might start out today with some warm-up exercises, because warming up for musicians, and particularly for string players, we're just as much upper body athletes as our sports counterparts are. So I'm going to show you a little bit about my warm-up routine, which includes quite a lot for my hands, arms, shoulders, and neck, and also some little exercises that my local physio gave me.

It's really important that you actually go and see a properly qualified Australian physio with a sports qualification to get these for yourselves. These are general ones that have been given to me that can help us, but you also need to go and do that, too.

So first of all, I'm going to start off with something very gentle, talking about the basic movement of our left hand or our string hand, as we learnt when we were tiny. So we're talking about the lift and drop mechanism from the base knuckle, here, at the base of our playing fingers. So a very, very easy exercise just on the C string, and touching, springing lightly with our fingers.

Let's also when we do that think about how we touch the string and be really mindful when we do it, feeling where that touch is on our fingers and feeling the lift and drop in our base knuckles.

Let's go on to the next string.

Are you feeling the lift and drop from these knuckles? And are you resting in your mind on your fingertips?

Here's the A string.

It's really important just to concentrate on this hand when you're doing it. We're not trying to think about sound production with the bow at the moment. We're merely thinking about the musculoskelatal action of warming up this hand. I'll play the whole exercise for you right through now.

The next exercise I do in sequence is a little warm-up for those tiny, tiny fine muscles, what we call the intrafinger muscles, in here, and in here, and in here. So we're thinking about very, very gently warming these up. And it's a sliding action that I would use.

Now, this is really not for intonation at all. It's for the muscles and the joints on your left hand. So we're really not trying to produce an in tune note at all. It's merely for the stretching movement that you can see. So I do this on the C string. I start with the first finger.

And you can see I'm concentrating on two fingers at a time and letting the other ones up, which is not necessarily what we would do if we're thinking about blocking a position. But we're not thinking about that at the moment. We're merely thinking about the warm-up of the hands.

So now if I go on to the G string, I'll start with an open string.

So you can see I'm using my thumb as a bit of a pivot. And I'm also warming up in between each finger as well.

Let's do all that from C string again so you can see what my hand is doing.

And so on up the instrument and back. Don't do this for a very long time. You just need to do it until you start to feel your fingers getting warm. Too far a stretch or if it starts to become painful, stop.

So the next movement that I would do is to think about my shoulder and my elbow and my hand and the swinging motion in the string changing underneath my fingers. So I would do an exercise that goes like this. So we're concentrating on the first finger, and then second finger, third finger, and then fourth finger up and down the instrument.

So here's first finger. That's up and back.

And a very gentle movement, swing the elbow underneath. Watch again.

So we're thinking about balancing on each finger. So here's second finger now.

So as you go up, you're balancing with each finger on the string. And you're also thinking about how your arm works underneath the instrument.

Here's third finger.

And finally, fourth finger.

So let's do all that. And I won't break it up this time. See if you can follow me.


Now we go backwards with this one. So we go 4, 3. So he's the first downward sequence. And then 3, 2. And then 2, 1. And then, finally, 1, 0.

So you should be able to feel a nice swing of your arm and balance on each finger with that one.

Now our hand is a little bit warm. Let's do some exercises for vibrato and also for potential, what we call velocity or going fast with our fingers later. So for the first, they're the same fingers that we're going to use, the same patterns, but we're going to do them first for vibrato, and then for velocity.

So the first pattern is this one. We're going to do it, we can do this on any string, but I think let's do it on the D string today.

So that's an easy pattern.

(SINGING) D, E, F sharp, G. 0, 1, 2, 3.

So with the slow version, we're going to try and do as much vibrato and continue the vibrato from finger to finger. If you're only just up to learning vibrato at the moment, just try and think about it on each finger. Don't try and continue from finger to finger just yet.

Can you see we were varying the power of the vibrato if you're somebody who's learning a bit about arm vibrato at the moment? And hand vibrato. And a little bit of finger vibrato. So we're using all the different muscles in our arms, hands, and fingers. Let's do that once more.

Now the velocity one, same pattern with your fingers, but as fast as you can, as many times as you can under your bow. Like this. Go!

How many did you do? I'm not sure how many I did.

So our next pattern for our fingers is 3, 1, 4, 1. So we're stretching this frame of our hand.

(SINGING) 3, 1, 4, 1. Like this.

So are you resting in your mind on your finger? Are you thinking about balance where your finger is? What muscles you're using?

So there's your slow vibrato warm-up one. And now the same pattern as fast as you can. 3, 1, 4, 1.

How many did you do? And did you notice that time I was keeping my first finger down as much as I can?

The next pattern.

(SINGING) 3, 4, 1, 2. So G, A, E, F sharp.

Like this.

And then as fast as you can. I got a bit mixed up with that. But 3, 4, 3, 4, 1, 2. It sometimes changes into a 1-2-3-4 pattern, but you can hear it, too.

And the final one is 1, 3, 2, 4. This is probably the trickiest one. Like this.

(SINGING) So E, G, F sharp, A.

And then as fast as you can.

Fantastic, everybody. Could you go faster than I did?

So that's, how is your left hand feeling? That's our warm-ups for our left hand. Are you feeling as though you could do something with your shoulders and your arm and your head now? I think we might do a little bit of physical warming up. We shouldn't do this right at the beginning. It's like sport. You need a little bit of blood flow to your muscles and your tendons before you actually start to stretch anything in your body. So I would, and then start to warm up the rest of you.

Here's a little bit of upper body warm-up for string players. This is probably good for violinists and viola players the most. It's fairly string-specific at this point. Cellos, you can probably do the head and the shoulder bit, but I would recommend, again, as I said at the beginning of the video, talking to your own physios to set yourself an instrument-specific program.

They can, there's lots of fantastic Australian-qualified physios who are really into research for musicians and particularly orchestral musicians. So you're working in a really good era for prevention of damage to your body. We are upper body athletes. So remember that.

The first of the simplest stretches is probably for all the muscles just around the base of your head. So very, very simply get yourself into a comfortable position standing on the floor. Feet probably about shoulders apart. Arms hanging by your side.

Tilt your head so you're looking at the floor until you can feel that stretch along the back of your neck. Just a gentle stretch. It shouldn't hurt. Straight down at the floor.

Let's hold it there. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. OK.

And now let's look up at the ceiling. So you should feel the stretch along the front. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. OK.

And come back to the centre. And let's put our, tilt our head so we have our right ear to our right shoulder. I'm quite locked up on that side, because I've been playing all my life.

But you will be much more flexible than I am. And the object is to keep it that way if you possibly can. Just a gentle stretch, putting your ear towards your shoulder. And you should feel it along those muscles here.

And head into the middle again. And now left ear to left shoulder. And again, I'm quite locked up, too, because I've been playing all my life. And I haven't been, we didn't have the advantage of this kind of research when I was growing up. I've been working on it, but I'm still not as flexible as I might be. But I hope you are.

And we should be feeling it along this side. Come back into centre.

Now let's look down again. We're going to just try and stretch a tiny bit the diagonals across our neck, which are really important for playing. So if you look down with your chin, and then roll your chin towards your left shoulder. So you should feel a diagonal stretch across your neck.

And then come back to the centre. And look up again. And let's look down with our chins to the floor. And this time, put your chin towards your right shoulder and look down. So you should feel a diagonal stretch across the opposite part of your neck.

And come back to the centre again. And look up.

Now, if you wanted to increase the stretch on your neck, you could put your hand gently on the top of your head, but don't pull. It's just a slight bit of extra pressure. I'm not doing that at the moment, because I am quite inflexible in some parts of my neck. But some of you might need to increase the stretch just a little bit. That's just a very gentle head-neck warm-up.

So now for our arms and shoulders, this is a neutral stretch. So for the nerve that goes down, this is particularly good for our left hand or our playing fingers. This is for the nerve that goes down through our hand here. And you will be able to feel this stretch most on this finger.

So if you have your hand facing in towards your shoulder, and we're going to go up towards the roof, and then over in a wave. So our hand's in line with our shoulder and facing downwards. And you should be able to feel the stretch through our middle finger. It's a stretch of the nerve.

So coming back again, if we do this up and over glide and neural glide, neural stretch just a little bit. And once more.

And our string playing on our left hand will be always a little bit more stretchier than our bow hand. So same thing with our bow hand or our right hand. Palm in towards your shoulder, and then up and over with the neural glide. And you see my hand.

And once more. So up, and over. And up, and over. So it's just to feel the stretch in that nerve in the middle of your finger, middle finger of your hand.

Thanks, string players. So that's a little bit of warming up for the upper body for both violin and viola players. Next time we might show you a little bit about warm-ups for your bow hand and a few more warm-ups for your back and your neck as well. So until then, thank you very much, and see you soon.

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