Warm Ups Are My Secret Weapon

There’s a lot to get done in one orchestra rehearsal. Time management is always on my mind as I make lesson plans and determine the most effective ways to help my students learn and progress. It may sound strange, but I spent more time planning warm ups than any other portion of rehearsal. That is because warm ups are my secret weapon. Carefully crafted warm-up activities set the stage for the entire rehearsal and help students learn repertoire more quickly. Warm-up time is when every new skill is learned and reinforced.

Warm-up activities should never be random. I feel warm-up time should serve a specific purpose to help the students throughout the rehearsal. At the beginning of a rehearsal students are fresh and ready to work. During my 5-10 minute warm up, students are first introduced to new skills away from sheet music. We might practice a new rhythm and bowing using a familiar scale or learn a new note sequence by rote. Students are focusing and absorbing new skills without the worry of reading from a page.

Once new skills have been taught they must be reinforced. Warm-up time is perfect for reinforcing and solidifying necessary performance skills. Below are some ideas and examples of warm-up activities that reinforce skills.

Rhythm Cards

Make slides featuring the various rhythms your students need to master. Students can practice by clapping/saying the counting, playing on open strings, or even playing each slide on a different note of a scale.

Finger Patterns

Encourage students to practice finger patterns on various strings using this chart (click on it to see a full size, downloadable PDF):

Warm Ups Are My Secret Weapon 1

Using this chart, I can call out any color and any string and students will play the pattern. For example, I could say, “Orange, A” and students would play the orange pattern on the A string: A, B, C natural, D, E, D, C, B, A.

Finger-pattern Exercises

Have students practice patterns which are needed to master concert music. I created a series of drills to help students practice correct finger patterns based on the key signatures. This page of examples is from my book Finger Pattern Drill Warm-ups for String Orchestra, available for purchase at orchestraclassroom.com.

Piece Previews

Create excerpts of difficult passages from your repertoire in Finale to use for warm ups. Students can learn their concert music so much more quickly when challenging passages are drilled as a class during warm-up time. You can view this entire warm up by clicking on the image below:


There are so many ways to play scales. Instead of having students mindlessly play through a scale, add variety to keep them thinking. Using a standard scale, students can work on bowing, rhythm, dynamics, tone, intonation, balance, and ensemble skills.

A regular G major scale might start to feel really easy, but you can add some difficulty with a little creativity. Have students play double notes on the way up the scale one octave apart (see example below) or add a difficult bowing. (Click on the image for a full-sized PDF.)

I consider warm-up time to be the most important part of rehearsal. Warm ups should serve a purpose and be applicable in the repertoire. With carefully planned exercises, students will be better equipped to reach success.

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