Warm Ups From A Small School Setting

As I’m sure it is with all young band directors, we go into teaching with a quiet confidence that we’ve got this.  But also admitting to ourselves that we have a lot to learn along the way.  We try to balance the unknown with the known and keep pushing forward hoping that no one will notice our inadequacies. 

I had several outstanding directors (Prof. Jerry Tolson, Dr. David Evans, Prof. Ron Lipka, Prof. Rolaine Hetherington) to name a few. They all had their special ways of getting the ensemble ready for rehearsal.  But as a student you really don’t pay attention to the why or how things might take place on a daily basis.  So, as an adult, what you do know, is that you don’t know.  And that’s when you ask for help.

Probably my second year with the Sigourney Jazz Band, (1993 – 98) I took the band over to Oskaloosa where Barnhouse Composer Andy Clark was part of a small team of clinicians who would listen to us and help me/us with developing authentic jazz articulations, rhythmic stylings and the usual jazz clinician stuff.  My band (for my young, inexperienced ears) was sounding pretty good and swinging hard.  I was going to knock this team of clinician’s socks off.  To my surprise, Andy talked about one thing.  (toss in Andy Clark’s Oklahoma accent here)  “You know what your band needs to do, is warm up to a series of long tones.”  I’m like, what??  But, but, but….    He didn’t mince words.  “Your band can play the chart but the tone quality needs some real work.”    

Thankfully, I was not afraid to seek help and take heed on other’s recommendations. This is how we grow.  Andy recommended his Five Minutes A Day Jazz Warm Up compilation which starts with, you guessed it, long tones.  Holy Cow!  Forget about the articulation section, the chorale section, the tuning section.  The long tones blown over a 12 bar Bb Blues progression made an immediate difference.  After witnessing the quick and impressive progress in tone production, I began to realize that there were a thousand ways to improve on this basic warm up of blowing long tones. 

Eventually, I taught the students their Bb Blues Scale so they began to be able to grasp what notes sounded most correct while this progression was being played by the rhythm section.  Below is a sequence that we generally start off each rehearsal with.  This is an easy and very doable warmup. Done right, it immediately gets the adrenaline going on those early morning rehearsals.  Below I have tried my best to describe what a typical morning warm up and North Mahaska most likely would look and sound like. If we don’t do this on a given morning, we are not the same.  And on those mornings when my bassist, drummer or keyboardist is running late, it’s fun to juice up the Rhythm Section (RS) with some adult style enthusiasm. 🙂  Above all play around with what you read below and experiment with your group to see what works.

  1. Rhythm section kicks off the Bb Blues Progression at a nice clip.  (Around 160 BPM). This is being played while students are arriving and getting settled in.  We continually repeat bars 1 – 12 until we’re ready to close out the warm up.
  2. As the RS plays, each individual is soloing over their Blues, Pentatonic, BeBop, and even Major Scale on their own.  And generally experimenting with a “licks sheet” or whatever comes to mind.
  3. Once the full band is settled into place, I begin blowing the long tones  on trumpet.  The band immediately picks up the long tones and follows along.  (These notes are laid out in Andy’s Five Min. A Day).
  4. Once through a complete 12 bar progression we reinforce the blues scale by jointly, in unison, performing it up and down across the chord changes, in a rhythmic pattern, adhering to the major third to flatted third over the appropriate chords.  At first the kids don’t even know why we do this, but later when they are ready to step up to the mic and perform during contests they soon find out how important it is to follow the changes.
  5. After the up and down rhythmic scale round, we go back to blowing the long tones once again.  (Once through)
  6. At this point the RS continues and we take turns soloing.  Sometimes call and response with me; sometimes trading 2’s and 4’s with each other; sometimes the entire section of trombones may trade 4’s with the entire trumpet section. 
  7. I point to a student, they stand up, and they solo at the level they are at.  We were all there, so there is nothing but encouragement from the others.  While a soloist is performing I may start some background hits that the band joins in on.  These change per soloists.  It’s an exercise in articulation, precision and awareness all at the same time.  We may land on the familiar riff of C Jam Blues as we back the novice soloist. 
  8. This rapping of these 12 bars allows the drummer to get loose, the bassist to build endurance, the keyboard and guitarist to learn to trade off, and frankly a ton of fundamental jazz stylings, all while we’re all having some fun and playing our horns! 

9.  Oh, and then I give a twirling motion with my finger in the air and that means to hit measure              13 and take it home.  Add a few fp opportunities in the ensemble at 13 to teach even more fundamentals.  Along with clean cut off etc.  So much in one little exercise! 

To sum up:  This routine is familiar, new students slide into it easily, it is meant to teach many essentials at one time without saying a word.  It instills confidence in their soloing, trading back and forth, using their ears, testing the waters. It improves the overall tone center, articulations, togetherness, and above all, it’s NOT boring!  Did I mention the entire band may trade 2’s with the drummer.  Oh yeah, there’s so much that can be done during these simple 12 bars to make your band confident and learn to swing hard.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we may just slip into a funk or latin groove at the nod of a head to give the kids another experience.  (Those sort of abrupt changes need to be taught to the RS players at another time for smoothness of transition)  All this because Andy Clark recommended his Five Minutes A Day Jazz Warmup to me, so many years ago. 

I hope this helps anyone who is needing some ideas for warm up. 

All The Best – Bruce

Bruce Peiffer. (29th year of teaching)

6-12 Bands

North Mahaska Schools


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