Warming Up: Priming Yourself to Perform

Gatts Drums Warming Up

If you have ever performed in front of an audience, you know that there isn’t always time to properly warm up before playing.  This can be especially true when you are performing in a loud, crowded bar as part of a multi-band set.  Often, you’re asked to load your drums into a cramped space at the back of the bar and get out of the way until it’s time to play your set.  Depending on the complexity and speed of your music, this common scenario can promote anxiety, tense playing, and injury – not to mention a poor performance.  Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure that your performance doesn’t suffer because of your situation.  As long as you can get your mind and body in the game, you will always have a chance of playing your best.

The focus of your pre-set routine should be warming up.  This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised by the number of people who undervalue this vital step.  A proper warm up aids performance in several ways:

  • It mentally primes your mind for what you are going to perform.  During a warm up, you can work through difficult parts in your mind so that you’re ready to play them on stage.  Moreover, by visualizing yourself successfully playing these parts, you will build the confidence you need to actually do so.
  • It reacquaints your body with the movements of drumming.  This is especially important if it has been some time since you last played your instrument.  If you have ever spent time away from the drum set, only to return feeling sluggish and frustrated, then you know how it feels when your body has lost its familiarity with the instrument.  What you may not know, is that even when you have been practicing routinely it can still take time for your body and mind to regain its focus.  Warming up can renew this focus and ultimately help you perform better.  As a matter of fact, drummers aren’t the only people who need to reacquaint themselves with their craft before performing.  It is considered common practice for successful test takers to “warm up” with a few questions before they sit down to take a test.  By forcing themselves to think through questions beforehand, they can prepare to solve the problems that they’ll face during the test.  What’s more, by choosing to warm up with easy questions – or questions that they are already familiar with – test takers feel more confident when they sit down to take the real exam.  You may not be getting on stage to take the SAT in front of the audience, but this does point out the difficulty of jumping into a performance “cold.”  Drumming is just as much a mental exercise as it is physical.
  • Warming up makes you more efficient.  Let’s peek into the science behind warming up to see why.  (Be sure to remember this the next time you want to impress your musician friends.)

– Warmed-up muscle can endure greater force and more stretching before tearing.  This means that you are less likely to injure yourself after warming up.  However, it is important to note that contrary to popular belief, stretching alone has not been shown to reduce susceptibility to injury. In fact, if you attempt to stretch cold muscles too wildly, you could actually injure yourself.

– Warmed-up muscles contract (and relax) faster than those that have not warmed up.  This is a product of three separate mechanisms: first, increased muscle temperature helps accelerate nerve transmission; second, warming up increases bloodflow, which increases oxygen delivery to your muscles and also improves oxygen uptake by your muscles; and third, elevating the temperature of your muscles helps promote joint lubrication. In a nut shell, warming up helps your muscles contract quicker and with less effort than they would cold.  And, for all you overachievers, if you use a “specific” warm up  – this is exercise science lingo for a warm up in which you rehearse the exact same movements that you will use in your performance – you can also prime your brain to more easily recall information.  This is particularly useful for any songs you have trouble remembering.

All of these factors become more evident at higher speeds and complexity levels.  For example, if you need to play single stroke 16th notes at 120 bpm for any extended amount of time, it is much easier when you have warmed up beforehand.  Without doing so, you’ll be more likely to fatigue quickly and cramp up.

So sure, warming up can help your playing, but who has the time for it before a gig?  Check back soon for tips that will help you seamlessly add a warm up to your pre-set routine and reduce the overall time it takes for you to get warm.


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