The Case Against Warming Up

April 24, 2012

I know, I know, it’s been a long time since my last post.  This school year has been full of change for me, which we’ll discuss another time.  Today the subject is “Warming Up.”  

I stopped “warming up” years ago.  While teaching at St. Joseph’s College, Tuesdays and Thursdays were the long teaching days, with rehearsal ending at 5:30 p.m.  At that time, the Buselli/Wallarab Big Band played at 7:00 Tuesday nights at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis- about a 90-minute drive from St. Joseph’s College.  After discussing the problem with the bandleaders (as being late makes me crazy), they told to get to the gig as soon as I could, and if it’s a tune or 2 late, it would be okay.  This meant that on Tuesdays, my regular schedule was to teach up until 5:30, hop in a car, drive 90 minutes, walk into the Jazz Kitchen (where they band was usually playing, or just about to start), sit down and play lead all night. At the time, I was worried that without time to warm up, I wouldn’t sound good, or even that I might hurt myself.  But you know what I found out-it didn’t make any difference.  

Let me make clear that on these Tuesdays I was practicing.  I start my day with a long practice session of fundamentals.  Part of my job at St. Joseph’s was teaching trumpet lessons, so I certainly would be playing throughout the day.  

So I started experimenting.  My practice stayed the same.  I start the day practicing fundamentals on all of my horns.  Later in the day I practice music.  But when I go to gigs, I set up my stuff and walk away until downbeat.  And it works great.  

As I thought more and more about this and talked to colleagues and students, I discovered why the term “warming up” bothers me so much:

Players can use their warm up time as an excuse to not sound good.  Since warming up is getting ready to play, the sounds that come out of the horn at that time “don’t count.”

Here’s the problem: It counts!  When I come into my office at 7:00 a.m. to start practicing, I try and make that first note of the day (and every one after it) sound as good as I can.  There should not be a time when playing that the goal should be anything but sounding great.  

So stop “getting ready to play” and just play.  




  1. I agree 100%! Daily routine consisting of core fundamentals with sound as the main objective at all times! Great stuff Professor Tartell!

  2. This is the way MANY singers view warm-ups because there is something to getting blood to the vocal folds so they can operate properly. However, I also agree that warming up should be based on a specific goal of beautiful tone, followed by technical excercises to increase skill and assist in creation of beautiful music on whatever music you are singing. Too many just go through the motions until they work on a “real” piece of music

  3. I agree 100% on the concept of every note counting. I agree 100% on starting with your best playing right away. My next question (perhaps playing a little devil’s advocate) is even the greatest brass players I know improve over the first few minutes of their playing. Everyone seems to “settle into a groove” of sounding (and some feeling) good. I have yet to hear a brass player play a simple phrase or “warm-up”-type of passage a few times and not hear an improvement on the second or third go. I’m not advocating that we give ourselves a free pass, because then we wouldn’t have less improvement with lowered expectations. But I have to ask- If it’s not a “warm-up”, then what should we call it and how should we teach about it? I may be nit-picking semantics, but you may be in a position to create the new term we use. Care to set a new trend?

  4. If you’ve played and practiced all day, you already have warmed-up. I’m surprised so many people aren’t aware of this. Thanks for shedding light on this for those who don’t know, Joey. #BAM

  5. I only have so many notes… why waste them in the warmup!

    I was lucky that my first teacher told me in the first lesson that I didn’t have to warm up if I was in a pinch.

    your last paragraph hits the nail on the head!

  6. Joey, thanks for this, this makes perfect sense to me! If you are looking for inspiration for your next blog post, I’d love to hear your take on the differences between “warmup”, “routine”, and “practice” in the way that trumpet players most commonly use these terms. I’m often confused as to whether trumpet players that do a half hour session they call a “warmup” really mean that they are practicing, or whether they feel like they need to do something like this, perhaps an abbreviated version of this on days where there are time restraints, to feel warmed up and ready to start their day/gig?

    This is probably just a nomenclature thing, but the manner in which these three words seem to be interchanged has confused me. My take: as far as the literal sense of “warmup”, as in getting the blood flowing and stuff, this probably only takes a few minutes after you haven’t played for a long period of time (say, overnight), but stuff you do beyond this is actually practicing.

    The reason why I’m anal about this is that I shudder when I think about some young kid being introduced to a half hour “warmup” (say, but a non-brass playing band director or something), and the thought of this kid thinking that this is something he should be doing before any sort of playing to prevent injury or at least sound their best, knowing that many of these “warmups” can be pretty taxing.

  7. I agree. We should always practice sounding good (from the first note to the last note). Mostly the warm-up is about remembering how we want to sound. The rest is just practice.

  8. Nice. I was hoping that you would give me permission to not play all day, then show up for the gig. I functioned that way (though not so well, of course) for many years… Don’t touch the horn, then show up for the midnight salsa gig & blow your brains out. THAT’s what I thought you meant by the title of the blog. Playing all day IS warming up. not playing before the gig is just saving your chops. 🙂
    I hope you’re well Joey.

  9. I am not a professional player, but I do perform a lot. As I have a day job, and no interest in getting up at 6pm every morning prior to my workday to “warm-up,” I have throughout the years chosen to NOT PLAY the day before a hard gig. But, on the day of the gig, I always play at least twice – three times if possible – before arriving at the gig. First-of-all, I want to know early in the day if there is any part of my playing that is “stiff.” I want to know ahead of the gig if there are any holes in my chops that day. That way, I can work to fill those holes with specific exercises to remedy the issue.

    Showing up to the gig without playing earlier in the day is simply unprofessional and undesirable, particularly by the other cats in the band! Showing up “ready-to-play” means you are actually AWARE of how your chops are operating that day. How are you to know if you haven’t given them a whirl-or-two prior?!

    So, I agree with you wholehearted, Prof… put the horn on your face early and often, but not for too long each session. You’ll be rewarded at the gig with a buttery-smooth tone and great flexibility. Well, as good a tone and flexibility as you’re gonna get if you’re me!


  10. […] Speaking of warming up, I HATE to hear people say, “I didn’t get a good warm-up today.” Does that mean you’re not going to sound good for a while? Isn’t sounding good why we play? My ‘warm-up’ happens in my head. I get in a state of mind that allows my body to reproduce the proper way of playing without going through a ‘routine’ or a lengthly warm-up. (My friend Joey Tartell has a thought provoking blog post titled ‘The Case Against Warming Up‘) […]

  11. Joey, Joey, Joey! LOL! I’d love to talk with you in a PM or private setting about this. I wonder if it would work for every player in every situation? Would you “warm-up” for that session with Gary Grant and his crew?

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