Everybody knows that scales are an important part of warming up but there are other parts of an instrument that may be missed by only doing scales.
Here are six other ways to get that perfect sound out of your reed instrument.
WET THE REED
This may seem like an obvious one but the amount of people I've come across who put the reed in dry and try to play is alarming. By wetting the reed beforehand, you are allowing the reed to loosen up; giving it more freedom to vibrate when the air pushes against it, thus making it easier to blow a note. But, when is the best time to wet it and how long for? When you open your case, pick it up and put it in your mouth first. Then it's in there for a minute or so while you're putting the instrument together. Once everything is set up, pop it into place and you're good to go.
BLOW AIR DOWN THE INSTRUMENT
The key is to do this without making a sound. This is more relevant to the saxophone as it's made of brass and when you set it up it will be stone cold. By blowing air down through the mouthpiece, you are warming up the metal. This then means that the instrument will be easier to tune and notes will be easier to produce.
PLAY LONG NOTES
By playing long notes, you are getting used to playing the instrument, allowing less resistance in the reed and more accurate tuning. Start with middle B on the saxophone (left-hand, 1st finger) and middle E on clarinet (also left-hand, 1st finger); they're one of the easiest and most common notes to produce. Play at a confident volume and try to keep the note going for as long as you feel comfortable, keeping the tone nice and steady without any wobbles. After B/E, it's up to you which note you go to, though I prefer to jump up or down a third each time I move. Once I've gone all the way in one direction through the instrument's register, I reset back to the starting note and do the same thing in the other direction. Again, if you don't have much time, it's up to you how many notes you do in this step and how big the jumps between them are.
"Hopefully, once you're into a routine, running through these exercises should take around ten to fifteen minutes."
ADD DYNAMICS TO THE LONG NOTES
Yes, you've probably noticed that you could combine the last two steps with this one, and for time purposes you could do that but the smoothness we are aiming for with these dynamics may not come straight away. By adding volume to the notes, you are increasing your concentration, stamina levels, and your overall sound/tone quality.
I usually start by playing long, loud notes in a similar pattern to the previous step. Then, the same notes at a medium volume, and again at a quiet volume. It may take a little experimentation to find your lowest volume where the note is steady and clear and typically, the lower you get, the harder it will be.
Once you've done that, it's time to put those dynamics together into one long note, starting off loud and gradually getting quieter as you play, ultimately fading to silence in a smooth transition, and all in one breath. Try doing the opposite and you'll notice it is really difficult to do and requires patience. I have blown a note only to have the sound of air for a good twenty seconds before a note starts to come out. The idea is for it to sound natural and not just jump out of nowhere suddenly.
To make this more challenging, set up a tuner and you'll notice the loud notes can go a bit flat, showing that there is such a thing as being too loud. We don't want to compromise the tone quality so keep tuning in mind with your dynamics.
TONGUING TO A METRONOME
It's time to get that tongue working. Using a comfortable note like B/E, set your metronome to a beat per minute of eighty and, in one breath, hold the note and tongue it to the beat. From here, you can do one of two things:
1. Gradually speed up the metronome every time you hold and tongue a note.
2. Stick to 80 BPM and subdivide your tonguing; tonguing quavers, triplet quavers, semiquavers, etc.
The reason why I've added this exercise is simply that the tongue is a muscle and requires a warm-up as well. That way, it's more responsive when you move on to the piece of music you're working on. The more you do this warm-up when you practise, the faster you'll find your tongue can go.
By this point, not only should you feel warmed up but the instrument should feel warm as well. This means we're ready to start tuning the instrument properly. As mentioned earlier, metal instruments need to be warmed up with air and can cool down very quickly, especially if playing outside. The intermittent blowing of air through the instrument when you're not playing will help counter this. When tuning the instrument, the more notes you tune, the better. The reason being, every instrument is different: build quality, type of alloy used, ligature, reed, etc - all these things affect the tuning, as well as your own embouchure technique.
Tuning only one note could mean other notes are now more out of tune than they were before. If you have the time, go through the whole register of the instrument and see the individual tuning of the notes. For me, the low notes can often be a bit flat; the middle notes fairly easy to tune; the octave notes slightly sharp, and then the top notes a little flat again. Only adjust the mouthpiece, barrel, or where ever you extend or reduce the length of the instrument, when you're sure you need to and don't expect that to correct every note. One of the main goals behind this exercise is to gain familiarity with your instrument. At some point, you'll start to know which notes are the troublesome ones and whether they require sharpening or flattening automatically. You'll also be able to hear the tuning better as well, as this is great practice for ear training, which is a completely different topic altogether.
Hopefully, once you're into a routine, running through these exercises should take around ten to fifteen minutes. If, however, you want to go into detail, you could easily spend an hour or more on them. Let me know what your warm-ups involve and whether this was helpful to you.
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