Just like before any physical exercises, warming up is essential for clarinetists of all skill levels. One of the great things about warm ups is that many of them are the same basic concept regardless of how long you’ve been playing. Once you’ve developed your warm up routine, it can remain a constant that just gradually increases in skill level over your playing career. Not only will it help your clarinet sound better but it’s also one of the best ways to improve your dexterity and and tone quality.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the clarinet warm ups and exercises you can do before you play to get you ready to practice or perform.
Warming up your Body
It’s commonly believed that you only have to warm up your instrument but, as your body is involved in creating the sound we’d recommend you warm it up too.
Starting by warming up your body can help build good long-term habits for playing the clarinet and just life in general.
These exercises can help increase strength in your muscles and lungs to make practicing clarinet more comfortable and easier.
Disclaimer: This post is not to be considered medical advice and you should not attempt these exercises if you have any injuries. Always consult your own medical professional and attempt these warm ups entirely at your own risk.
Stretching and Mobility
Stretching is not only important for playing an instrument but it can also help to improve a lot of aspects of your life, including your posture.
Bad posture amongst musicians is common, but it’s good to strive for correct posture especially for playing the clarinet.
Stretches that help to strengthen your forearms and wrists are also incredibly helpful since the instrument is held up solely by your right thumb.
This is why the stretches that primarily focus on your back and arms are the most beneficial to your performance.
Stretches don’t necessarily have to be done right before you practice, but it’s a good idea to do your stretches often.
The Door Frame Stretch
Door frame stretches are some of the easiest for helping to improve posture which is necessary to get proper airflow through the clarinet.
This will improve your intonation and sound quality while also helping you to increase your range.
To do the door frame stretch, you’ll need to stand facing a doorway with your elbows touching each side of the door frame.
Gently lean forward and as you do you’ll feel the stretch in your neck, back, chest, and shoulder blades.
Just lean far enough to feel the stretch being careful not too lean too far as if you do you can strain your muscles.
Hold the stretch for about 15-20 seconds and repeat on the other side arm.
Desk Press Stetch
The clarinet can easily strain a musician’s wrist or forearms since it’s held up solely by the right thumb.
Desk press stretches help strengthen these muscles and reduce stress on them.
Sit or stand next to a desk to perform the desk press stretch.
Place your palms against the underside of the desk and gently push up.
Shoulder Circles and Open Arm Stretch
This warm up focuses on the shoulders and will help to improve posture similar to the door frame stretches.
Hold your arms out horizontally and then slowly move them in circles, getting larger and larger with each circle.
Aim for 10 circles in each direction and then try one going each way.
Once finished, move your arms in front of you with your palms facing upward.
If you don’t feel your shoulder blades getting stretched out, cross your arms over each other and hold for as long as it feels comfortable.
Forwards and Backwards
This is a stretch that becomes so natural that most clarinetists forget that they’re even doing it.
Simply, hold your arm out in front of you with your palm facing the ground.
Using your other hand, bend your hand back until you feel the stretch in your wrist and forearm and hold the stretch for a few seconds.
Then, bend your hand down in the same manner to stretch the top of your wrist.
Repeat the stretch in both directions with the other arm.
To play any wind instrument, you’ll need to practice your breath control as this is crucial to help strengthen your lungs and increase their capacity.
Practicing these breathing exercises can also improve intonation, sound quality, and dynamic range all adding to make you a better clarinet player.
Most of the breathing exercises can be done with a clarinet but we’ll cover a few that can be done away from your instrument
In and out
The first breathing exercise is an easy one that you may even do as a group during ensemble practices.
Breathe in for 10 amount of seconds.
Hold for five seconds.
Then breathe out for 10 amount of seconds.
Try to keep the stream of air steady at all times.
The balloon exercise isn’t as well known, but it’s a breathing exercise that also helps you ensure that you’re using good embouchure while playing.
Put together your mouthpiece and barrel and attach a balloon to the end of the barrel.
Then, take a deep breath and blow into the mouthpiece to try to blow up the balloon.
There will be a lot of resistance so it’s helpful to puff out your cheeks when doing this exercise.
If the clarinet squeaks while you’re trying to blow up the balloon, your embouchure is too loose or you have too much of the mouthpiece in your mouth.
The goal is for the balloon to expand while you maintain proper embouchure.
*Don’t try this exercise if you have a latex allergy.
Warming up your Clarinet
Once you’re done with the physical and breathing warm ups, it’s time to warm up your instrument by playing it.
Temperature has a remarkable affect on almost every instrument and the clarinet is no exception.
By warming up the clarinet before practicing or performing you’ll find it a lot easier to stay in tune, play faster and be overall ready to go.
Here are some exercises we recommend going through before you start playing.
Most instrumentalists dread long tones but they are a great way to improve intonation in general as well as get warmed up.
Choose a few notes to practice long tones on, up to a whole scale.
Turn on the metronome to a slow setting and play each note for about eight to ten beats.
While playing these sustained notes, focus on embouchure, posture, steady airstream, and the sound quality that you’re producing.
Practicing your scales is another great way to improve your clarinet playing and warm up the instrument at the same time.
For your warm up routine, we’d recommend picking two or three scales but don’t choose the same ones every time.
It’s a good idea to do at least one major and one minor scale during your warm up too.
Tonguing and Articulation
Another very important aspect of your warm up should be tonguing exercises which are needed to help you pick up speed with accuracy.
Pick a note and set a medium tempo on your metronome, say around 60 BPM for beginners, and as you progress you can increase the speed
Then, try to play a measure of sixteenth notes at that tempo and slowly increase the tempo until you can barely hit the last note on time.
To keep it fresh you can mix it up by doing this exercise with different articulation like legato or staccato.
You should see improvement over time that allows you to be able to hit quicker tempos on this exercise.
Playing around with the chromatic scale is another good way to warm up your instrument as it means that you play every single note on the clarinet.
Choose a moderate tempo and play through the chromatic scale from the bottom to the top of your range on the clarinet, then turn it around and go back down.
This should help you ensure that the clarinet is in tune and that your reed is playing well.
You can also choose to use the chromatic scale for your long tones or combine it with any of the other warm-up exercises.
Dynamics are often overlooked, especially by novice musicians and so integrating them into your warm up routine can work well for developing technique and musicianship.
The good news is, that you don’t need to add more warm-up exercises just to practice your dynamic range.
You can add dynamics to the warm-up exercises that you’re already playing to get more out of them.
Long tones can be played with a crescendo on the first half of the note and a decrescendo on the second half.
The natural dynamics usually include a crescendo on your way up a scale and a decrescendo on your way down.
Do one scale like this and then try the opposite on another scale.
Be ready to play your dynamics and know that you’re warmed up well enough to play at any volume whether that’s pianissimo or fortissimo.
Why it’s Important to Warm Up
It can be tempting to skip warming up before you play your clarinet, especially if you’re in a hurry or feeling lazy.
But there are a number of benefits to warming up before you play.
Warming up helps to ensure that your clarinet is in tune and proper playing condition.
It gets both you and your instrument ready to play as your clarinet will cool when it’s in the case.
But, having a warm up routine ensures that the clarinet is ready to play and that the tuning should stay consistent.
You also gain the focus necessary to practice or perform to the best of your ability.
That’s it for our Clarinet Warm up Guide
Anyway, we hope that helps give you some ideas for your next warm up session.
Although they may seem relatively simple exercises and not that interesting, these warm ups are essential when it comes to improving your abilities on the clarinet.
You wouldn’t see a professional sprinter jump straight into a race, they would take time to properly warm up and get their body ready.
It’s the same with any instrument, no matter your skill level.