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?
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 closer look at what warm ups really do, and I’ll share some of my favourite go-to exercises.
So let’s dive in!
What’s in this blog
- Maximise your practice with flute warm ups
- Why add warm ups to your practice?
- Warm up resources
- Where to start?
- Some warm up ideas
- Integrating flute warm ups into your practice routine
Why add flute warm ups to your 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.
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.
Warm up resources
There are so many good resources out there with good warm up ideas.
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.
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 weakness 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 more technique warm ups that will help loosen and warm up the fingers.
Some warm up exercises
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tone warm ups
These exercises aim to wake up your embouchure muscles and help you find the core of your sound.
Noodling around and transposing a short melody For my very first sounds, I love just noddling around a bit to find what seems to be working and what needs some attention, and then I’ll often find a short melody to help focus the sound and transpose it, though Stephen Clark’s Warming Up exercise from The Flute Gym is perfect for this.
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—kind of like yoga for your flute-playing muscles. Imagine each note as an opportunity to explore every nuance of its tonal spectrum—actively listen to each note and always try to find even more resonance. The goal here isn’t just endurance (although that will come), but rather warm up the embouchure and better understanding how different factors like air speed can change your tone colour.
De La Sonorite Marcel Moyse’s classic is full of sonority exercises, including the quintessential long tone exercise. But I find his Suppleness in the Low Register and Fullness of Tone exercises super helpful to open up my sound early in my practice sessions.
Philippe Bernold’s vocalises 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, and are easy to to extend to include the full range).
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. Here are some of the warm ups I like to include in my practice.
Reichert’s or Maquarre’s Daily Exercises I personally enjoy these melodic nature of these scale patterns. They are great ways to wake up the fingers before heading more intensely into something like Taffanel & Gaubert or Moyse’s 480 Exercises.
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, gently move a trill finger, slowly at first focusing on relaxed, free movement. Then gradually speed up, holding on to that sense of freedom. Stop before your finger becomes tense.
You might notice I don’t list ‘scales’ or ‘scale patterns’ more generally. That’s because I don’t consider them as warm ups, but more intense technical practice. The goal of these exercises is to just get the fingers ready for this more focused technique work.
Articulation warm ups
It can be easy to forget to warm up your tonguing as well, as articulation usually happens in addition to other exercises (as we often articulate many of the above exercises in various ways). But it’s worth spending some time on one or two articulation exercises.
Gradual speeding up I often will 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’.
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 flute warm ups into your practice 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, warm ups should be the first thing you start with—again the idea to get everything warmed up and ready for the practice session—but just as athletes are encouraged to stretch after their work out, 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.