In my previous post, I discussed the importance of a good warm up. In a nutshell, warming up primes your mind for performance and reacquaints your body with the movements of drumming. Although you can get by without warming up before a gig, you’ll have a harder time finding your groove early in your performance and you will be more likely to injure yourself. Unfortunately, warming up isn’t always the easiest thing to do before a set, especially if you’re not used to doing it. We drummers already go through a lot of work before each set as it is: we disassemble our drum sets, we pack our gear into the car, we drive it to the venue, then we unpack everything and have to set it all up on stage before we can finally play anything. To most people, this would already qualify as a warm up in and of itself. Nonetheless, we should still take the time to warm up properly before we play.
The first step in a good warm up is finding space for it. The best place to warm up is anywhere that allows you to focus, while also providing room to move around. This can be sitting on a chair at a table, sitting on your drum throne in a back room or hallway (my preferred location), sitting in your car in the parking lot, or even sitting on the toilet (just don’t drop your sticks). It doesn’t matter where you warm up, as long as you have enough room to sit as you would on stage.
The next step is to determine what to warm up with. This can be a difficult decision, because you want to warm up quickly without wearing yourself out altogether. For this reason, I recommend warming up with something simple that is adapted to your performance. For example, if you’re warming up for a rock gig, you can start by playing 16th note single strokes on your practice pad at a slow tempo (60-80 bpm). I find it helpful to start slow for two reasons: first, playing slowly allows me to focus on my technique; and second, I can use exaggerated, large strokes that involve large muscle groups, instead of my hands and forearms only (or lower legs, ankles, and feet). This helps me really condition my mind and it warms more of my muscles up faster than using smaller strokes.
From here, the rest depends on the music you will be playing during your set. In my previous post, I alluded to a concept called a specific warm up. Basically, this is a warm up in which you rehearse the same movements you will use during your performance. Proponents of this kind of warm up believe that it better prepares you to perform than does warming up using unrelated movements. So, if you will be playing slow to moderate tempo music, you don’t necessarily need to speed up the tempo during your warm up; but, if you are going to play fast music, it helps to adapt your warm up to reflect this. For example, when I warm up for a speedy heavy metal gig, I usually begin playing single stroke 16th notes between 60-80 bpm with my hands as I would for any other performance. From there, however, I increase the tempo every 3-5 minutes by 5-10 bpm. By the end of my warm up, I am playing single stroke 16th notes between 120-130 bpm, which is the speed I need to play them during a gig. If I didn’t warm up like this, then my speed and endurance would be greatly reduced until the first few songs of my set had warmed me up. You can apply this principle to other styles of music and to specific components of your set, as well. For example, if you play jazz or blues, in which the music’s “feel” is often triplet based, then you could warm up with triplet-based single strokes, double strokes, triple strokes, or any other pattern you prefer. If there is specific fill or movement in your performance that you have trouble playing, then you can also incorporate that same movement into your warm up as a repetitive pattern.
Next, don’t forget about your feet! It isn’t always as vital to warm up your feet as it is to warm up your upper body, but if you plan to use them for anything complicated during your set, then it’s still important. You can follow the exact same principles that I discuss above. If you don’t have a practice pad for your bass drum pedals, then the easiest way to warm up your lower half is to sit with your feet flat on the floor and tap out patterns using your toes. I like to begin tapping with my heels firmly on the floor and then I slowly begin lifting my heels off the ground as I incorporate more exaggerated strokes and accents. You can also use your hi-hat pedal, if you prefer. If you don’t have any particular patterns that are related to your performance, then I recommend just picking one that you like. For example, you can play a series of single strokes, double strokes, triple strokes or paradiddles. Even if you won’t use them in your performance, you’ll still warm up your feet and improve your technique over time. Just remember that the more your warm up reflects your performance, the better you will perform.
There are several tricks you can use to help you enhance your warm up experience. First, it is helpful to invest in a good practice pad. I personally like the Moongel Workout Pad. It removes rebound completely, forcing you to work for each hit. In addition, it barely makes any noise, so I can play as hard as I want and I don’t have to worry about annoying anyone. There are also several good bass drum practice pads available on the market. I like DW’s Smart Practice line. They easily hook onto single or double bass drum pedals, and they too are relatively quiet. Not only are they great for warming up before a gig, but they are also great options for drummers who live in apartments who can’t play their acoustic drums.
Second, it can be extremely helpful to invest in cold weather compression gear (i.e., UnderArmour or other tight long underwear). The reason for this – without getting too technical – is that compression gear has been shown to help improve circulation, improve endurance, and reduce soreness. It also helps retain body heat, which will ultimately help you warm up quicker and stay warm longer. This comes in handy if you are playing somewhere chilly, if your warm up can’t take place immediately before your performance, or if you simply like to get sweaty. If you want to try compression gear out for yourself, but don’t want to look like a high school wrestler in front of an audience, then you can always wear your gear underneath your regular clothes.
In summary, the purpose of a warm up is to prepare your mind and body to perform the specific actions that you need during your performance. It’s best to warm up using movements and patterns that you will use later in your set and it helps to start slow and not warm up to the point of fatigue. Your warm up should help you feel warm, limber, and energized when you hit the stage. Like anything, the more you incorporate warming up into your pre-set routine, the easier it will be to customize it to your performances.