THE FLUTE NERD blog

Maximise Your Practice with Flute Warm-ups

Adding flute warm-ups to your practice routine will make sure that you get the most out of your practice sessions!

Making sure that you warm-up before practicing is just as important for flute players as it is for athletes. Warm-ups help prepare our bodies and our minds to make sure that we get the most out of our practice sessions. But what makes these flute warm ups so vital? 

Warm-ups offer you time to turn your attention inward to your first instrument, your body. Without your body and breath, the instrument useless. The aim of any warm-up should be ease of play, fluidity and openness.

Also, they act as a barrier between the distractions of your day and the focus needed for practicing and make sure that exercises can get both our mind and body ready for engaged, smart practicing. 

In this blog, we’ll have a look at what makes flute warm-ups so essential. I’ll share some of my favourite warm-ups and resources, and discuss different approaches, which will allow you to customise your routine based on your skill level, goals, and personal preferences.

So let’s dive in!

What’s in This Blog

Why Add Warm-ups to Your Flute Practice?

Just like athletes need to warm up their bodies, it’s a good idea for musicians to do the same. Playing an instrument is physically demanding, so warm-ups help prime our muscles, enhancing dexterity and reducing strain during intense playing sessions. This alone makes them vital in preventing overuse injuries—a common problem among instrumentalists.

But they’re also a great for our minds. Warm ups act as a sort of transition between our everyday lives and focused practice mode. 

And while we’re busy warming up our bodies and minds, we’re also doing super valuable work—on tone, posture, breathing and technique. And the best thing is that because they’re warm-ups we often are working on these things very slowly, really reinforcing good habits (hopefully). 

There’s also a bonus benefit. If we approach warm-up exercises as just that—a way to get the body moving—we remove the pressure of sounding immediately ‘good’. Instead of expecting great sound from the first note, we give ourselves permission to get into that sound. 

By dedicating a few minutes to these exercises, even if we’re not practicing for very long, can help focus us and make sure that we get the most out of the practice session.

My Favourite Warm-up Resources

There are so many good resources out there with good warm-up ideas, but here are my personal favourites.  

One of my favourites is Stephen Clark’s The Flute Gym. There are plenty of great exercises in this book, of which can make great additions to any part of your practice, I particularly love using his Warming Up exercise as the first notes I play every day and his Focus exercise is great when working through some tone. 

Moyse’s De La Sonorite is hard to beat when it comes to opening and warm up your sound. But I also love Philippe Bernold’s La technique d’embouchure. It has 25 different melodic vocalises that run through every key (as well as loads of other exercises) that are a great way to get your sound warmed up.

The Trevor Wye Practice Book (available either as six individual books or as a satisfyingly massive omnibus) is another great one for warming up. The Tone book has some excellent idea for warming up each register and playing with colours. The Technique book has the Machiavellian exercises, which I love using to warm up my fingers. And there are some great tonguing exercises in the Articulation book. 

A recent edition to my shelf is Roderick Seed’s 7 Daily Vocalises for Flute. These are little vocalises, that feel like you’re playing real music rather than boring warm ups, and help wake up your lip muscles and work on flexibility. I’m a particular fan of Vocalise 2 Hommage à Poulenc to help soft, gentle attacks on high notes.

Reichert’s Seven Daily Exercises and André Maquarre’s Daily Exercises for the Flute are great ways to warm up the fingers with some melodic scale patterns.

The Paula Robison Flute Warmups Book is another great one, and I love that it includes physical exercises as well as finger and sound warm ups. 

There’s also Fit in 15 Minutes by Elisabeth Weinsierl & Edmund Wächter, which is full of miniature exercises categorised as either Tone, Articulation or Finger exercises that make a great selection of warm ups. 

For more advanced players, you may wish to try Paul Edmund Davies’ The 28-day Warm Up Book. There are seven different exercises to work on Sonority, Fingers, Articulation, and Intervals. But these exercises are not for the faint of heart!

And these are just a handful of the many, many books available!

Where to Start?

While it’s great that there are endless possibilities for good flute warm ups, and countless resources full of ideas, it can be overwhelming deciding what to use in your own practice. 

My advice is to incorporate warm ups that help you mindfully focus on your weakest areas. If your tone is something you feel like you constantly battle with, then using tone, sound and breathing exercises are a great way to warm you and your body up!

On the other hand, if your technique is tense and clunky, try using some body and finger warm ups which will help you find posture for easy technique and wake up those fingers.

Some of My Favourite Warm-ups

Here are some of my favourite flute warm ups that I’m often either playing every day or rotating between.

Body warm-ups

Just like athletes we need to warm our bodies up as much as our breath, embouchure and fingers. Here are three of my favourite body warm ups that I try to make sure I start every practice with:

Sinking into the back

Lie down on your back with your knees bent. Hold your arms gently out, a few inches from your sides, palms up. Take several breaths, and every time try to imagine that your shoulders and back are melting further into the ground. This exercise helps reset tense shoulders and back from days spent hunched over the computer. 

Ragdoll stretch 

This is a great exercise to help us find balance and warmed up before we start playing – plus it feel so good to do! First, reach up tall towards the sky and feel the stretch in your arms. Then hang down towards your toes, imagining that the top half of your body is a floppy ragdoll. The top of your head should hang heavy towards the ground. Shake your head ‘no’. Shake your head ‘yes’. And then roll up, stacking each vertebrae on top of each other, keeping the head heavy like a bowling ball until it is the last thing to come up. Don’t let your shoulder tense as you come up! Try to hold on to that lovely tallness as your continue your practice.  

Wrist stretches 

Hold your right arm out in front of you, palm up. Using your left hand, pull your right fingers up towards you (bending only from your wrist). Hold for a few seconds. Switch to pulling your right fingers down. Flip your arm over so that your palm faces down, and then pull your fingers to bend your wrist up and down. Repeat on the left arm. 

Body & breath warm-up

Here’s a great warm up that not only wakes up your body, but helps stimulate your breath as well!

For this one, stand nice and tall and then reach down towards your toes. Swing your arms up in front of you while pulling yourself up and breath in deep and hold that breath. Throw your arms out wide breathing in further and hold. Then move your hands above your head breathing in again before releasing the deep breath and dropping back down towards your toes.

I find this warm up particularly useful for warming up before stressful situations like a performance or audition as it gets you blood moving and exercises your lung capacity.

Breathing warm-ups

Flute playing is just as much about breath control as it is about finger dexterity so its important to warm up your breath too!

Here are some exercises that I rotate through regularly—though I will probably only limit myself to one or two a practice session. 

1. Inhale a large breath and then continue to take in small amounts of air until you can hold no more. Be Careful! This can go too far, don’t push yourself too hard! (Fun fact: the lungs could inflate much larger than they do, if not restrained by your rib cage.) Repeat 3 times

2. Exhale keeping the same air speed until there is absolutely no air left in you—imagine you’re squeezing every last drop of air out. Then hold yourself like that for a second. Release lungs and just allow air to fill back in, try not to actively breath in. Repeat 3 times. This exercise encourages a more reflexive breath. Notice how when you simply relax your muscles after completely exhaling, your muscles naturally create a vacuum that pulls air back into your lungs.

3. Sizzling… Exhale making a loud hissing noise until there is no air left, the relax your lungs and allow them to fill up on their own accord. Repeat 3 times. The sizzle creates resistance which helps wake up your breath support.

4. Set the Metronome to 60. Play a B above the staff and count how many seconds I can hold it. Repeat 5 times, push yourself. Always try to get one second longer than your body tells you is possible. For a bonus, also have a tuner handy to make sure you don’t allow your intonation to go flat as you start to run out of air.

Tone warm-ups

Now that we’ve warmed up our body and breath, here are some of my favourite exercises that will help wake up your sound. These aim to stretch your embouchure muscles and help you find the core of your sound.

I’d like to stress, though, that the aim for the exercises I’m about to share is about getting your sound going and warming up all the muscles involved in producing a good sound. It’s not about serious refining, as this should be considered part of your regular, focused practice session. (For more on tone, see my other post here.)

Pretty much any of these exercises can, and should, be used in a more focused way, but I also find the very useful in getting everything going at the beginning of my practice session, which is why I’m presenting them as warm ups here.

Noodling around and transposing a short melody 

For my very first sounds of the day, I love to noodle around to see what’s working and what needs attention. This helps me ease into my sound without the pressure of sounding ‘good’.

Then after noodling, I’ll choose a short melody to transpose chromatically in different keys. This will give me space to warm up my sound and really focus on those areas that needed attention. 

One of my favourite exercise for this is the Warming Up exercise in Stephe Clark’s The Flute Gym. Here he presents a short melody that fully establishes a key. I particularly like these because he introduces a bit of harmonics in the mix, which are another of my favourite ways to warm up my air, mouth shape and sound. He also conveniently transposes this melody for you (both up and down) so you don’t have to think too hard!

Vocalises

Taking that last warm-up a bit further, every day I will run through one of Philippe Bernold’s 25 vocalises from La technique d’embouchure.

These are delightfully short and melodic vocalises that cycle through every key to help get your full range of sound moving. They explore most of the flute’s range but are easy to extend to include higher notes for more advance players.

I like these vocalises because they are presented in progressive order, so every day, I’ll move on to the next exercise for a slightly harder warm-up, before eventually cycling back to the beginning after 25 practice days. I have found these to be the quickest way to wake up my sound.

Long tones

For tone or sonority warm-ups, you simply cannot beat a good long tone. These little gems work wonders in improving both breath control and sound quality.

But remember, warm ups are about waking up your sound and air. So long tones, as they should be practiced (aiming for your richest most beautiful sound), should really be part of your more focused regular practice. So, I use a slightly modified version of long tones that I like to use as a way to warm up my air, body and sound before I do that more intentional work.

For this exercise, play three chromatic notes in a row, starting on a low B. The focus is not on the sound, but on ease of play. How open can you play them? How easy can you feel that air flow through your body?

Repeat these three notes a few times until you find that ease and openness. Then continue down to the next three notes.

Think of these a bit like yoga for our sound. Each pass sends us a little deeper in the the stretch, deeper into the sound.

Moyse’s Fullness of Tone

Marcel Moyse’s classic De La Sonorite is full of tone exercises but I particularly like using his Fullness of Tone exercise as another way to wake up my air and sound before I start my more intentional tone work.

Moyse suggests a group of 9 notes to focus on for every practice session, but who’s got time for that?? I personally pick a single note and only repeat this exercise on its octaves.

For this exercise, start your note as quietly as possible – aiming to find the moment the air catches and begins the sound. Then, holding the note, simply relax, allowing the note to grow slightly to a piano. Then breathe and starting again at piano and growing to mezzo piano. And so on.

The point here is to grow in volume only as loud as you can manage without tension. Each increase in volume should feel like a relaxing, opening, widening of the sound, rather than any kind of forcing.

Moyse Flute Fullness of Tone

Focusing again on ease of play, groundedness and openness for this exercise is a great way to wake the body and air up.

Finger warm-ups

Flutes are born to fly and we often find ourselves playing super fast technical passages. So ensuring that we’ve properly warmed up our fingers is so important to avoid injury or strain.

I’m going to share a couple of my favourite finger warm-ups, but I think it’s worth taking a quick moment to reiterate the difference between finger warm-ups and technique exercises. Warm-ups are meant to wake up the muscles, while exercises are about building strength and stamina and creating and reinforcing muscle memory.

So scales and scale patterns are technique exercises, not warm ups. They should be practiced with focused, careful attention.

The goal of any finger warm ups I share here, is to wake the fingers up and get them ready for this more focused technique work.

Reichert’s or Maquarre’s Daily Exercises 

So… yes, scales and scale patterns should be treated as focused technique work rather than warm ups, but we can also use them to warm up the fingers. I know, what am I like?

I personally like using melodic scale patterns, like Richert’s or Maquarre’s Daily Exercises.

Just like the tone warm-ups were about finding ease of play in your sound, here your focus should be on a physical ease of play rather than precision. How relaxed and fluid can you keep the fingers? Are your elbows, shoulders and neck open and free from tension, ensuring easier, faster movement?

The melodic nature of these exercises also allows you to focus on the breath and how it connects to our scales, so bring your attention to the air and how it changes throughout the pattern. Does it feel forced, or free?

Gentle trill exercises 

Cycling through a handful of trills can help warm up the fingers gently. But I say ‘gentle’ as we don’t want to jump straight into some super quickly twiddly fingers – otherwise our fingers might tense up and seize, which is the opposite of what we’d want in a warm up.

Instead, start by gently lifting your trilling finger and replacing it in a controlled, but easy manner. The movement should be free and relaxed. Then allow that finger to gradually speed up, but while still holding on to that sense of freedom.

Stop before your finger becomes tense. If you don’t get very fast by the time you stop, that’s OK. It’s better to find the limits of the free movement than to practice in fast, but tense trills. As with all these other warm ups, the focus is on ease and fluidity.

Articulation warm-ups

It can be easy to forget to warm up your articulation as well, as it’s usually happens in addition to other exercises. (We often articulate many of the above exercises in various ways). But it’s worth spending some time on an articulation warm up.

Basic articulation warm-up

For this exercise, I will often chose a single note and practice a range of articulations, starting slow and concentrated and then trying to speed it up, while keeping the core of the articulation precise. For this you can use single tonguing, double tongue (tu-ku/du-gu), backwards double tonguing (ku-tu/gu-du), all on ‘ku’ or ‘gu’, breath articulation (ha) or using ‘pooh’. 

But whatever the articulation, make sure you stop before you get tense.

As with other warm-ups, the focus is on ease and openness. Turn your attention to where the articulation starts. It should feel low, in the breath and then abdominals, rather in the mouth.

Andersen Etude Op15 #9b 

This nasty little etude is a great way to get your tongue moving. But if using this as a warm-up, I highly recommend only choosing a short section to work on. If you try tackling too much before your articulation has been fully warmed up, you’re likely to find things seize up and get tense… the opposite of what we’re aiming for.

Integrating Warm-ups into Your Routine

Like stretching before a run, these help get your body and muscles ready for the task ahead. By setting aside time at the start of each practice session for targeted exercises, you’ll not only be developing skills, but also ensuring that you avoid injury and getting the most out of the time you have. 

Ideally, warmups should be the first thing you start with. Again, the focus is on waking your body and breath and finding fluidity and ease with everything you do. But just like athletes are encouraged to stretch before and after a workout, it’s not a bad idea to add some of the more gentle warm ups to the end of your practice session as a cool down. 

I personally like to spend roughly 20% of the time I have to practice on warm ups. So the longer my practice session, the longer I spend warming up. But this isn’t set in stone. There are days when I spend much longer warming up as my body just seems to need it. And there are times I feel warmed up much quicker. The key is to listen to your body. 

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