Whether I’m practicing for myself of for a performance, I always start my practice session with a warming-up. I have different routines and I always start with one of them. I think it’s very important to have a routine to start your practice, something you don’t need to think about, but also something you do regularly and gets you into the concentration needed for your practice. Like a sporter, you need to warm up your muscles and breathing with easy exercises. My students know how much I love long tones and playing long tones with them. Long tones offer a wide range of variations such as dynamics, attacks and sound colours ; you can focus as well on your muscles tensions, body posture and breathing ; you can listen to the silence between the tones and the relationship between tones and silence ; you can also play them to meditate. Like any meditation, it can be short or long. I sometimes spend an hour playing long tones!
When I’m preparing for a performance, I’m more inclined to focus on technical skills that when I’m practicing for myself or for a meditation concert. Here is my routine.
Breathing awareness (3′)
Even when you are a trained performer, starting the session in silence with abdominal breathing is the gate to inner peace and silence, the peace and quietness you’ll later need on stage, to anchor yourself when you start to become nervous about your performance. Take a deep breath in through your mouth and exhale through your mouth. Concentrate on the feeling of your breathing. Let go of your thoughts and prepare yourself for your practice. I use to count ten deep breath in and out.
Favorite tone (3′)
I like to play as first note my “favorite tone”, meaning the one I’m more confident in. I repeat this tone a few times, and then start to spread out to the next tones, down, and then up, always coming back to this particular tone. For example, starting from “ri“: ri-chi-ri / ri-chi-re-chi-ri / ri-chi-re-tsu-re-chi-ri/ etc.
- expand your breathing (you play more and more notes in one breath),
- work on your tone quality (try to keep the same tone quality on each note),
- warm-up your fingers (you are actually playing a slow scale)
Then, I sometimes like to start from another tone, for example a high note in kan or dai-kan register, and do the same.
Long tones (3-4′)
Then I play each tone once, from ro otsu to i kan, and conclude with ro otsu. While playing I count in my head, most of the time: 2 inhale, 1 hold on your breath, 12 exhale, 1 hold on. I never repeat a note, nor stop, even if the sound is broken.
“Blowing the bell” long tones
Start your long tone with atari and a strong sound, like you would hit a bell, and let the sound dies into silence, imitating the resonance of the bell fading away.
Meri tones (3′)
Meri tones are sometimes tricky for intonation, and I use as a warming-up an exercise based on intervals. I start from a meri tone and get to the next one and back, and then the next one and back, and so on, on 2 octaves. I use then a scale fitting the meri tone.
For example: from tsu-no-meri:
The scale is tsu-no-meri, tsu re, u (chi meri), ri-no-meri, ri (hi), ro, tsu-no-meri (san no ha dai kan).
The exercise: tsu-no-meri (otsu)-tsu-tsu-no-meri /tsu-no-meri (otsu)-re-tsu-no-meri / tsu-no-meri (otsu)-u-tsu-no-meri, etc.
Beginners can do it from “u”, on a pentatonic scale: ro-tsu-re-u-ri-ro. Start from u, and go up: u-ri-u / u-ro-u / etc. to the octave u-u kan (open finger 1)-u. And then do the lower notes: u-re-u / u-tsu-u / u-ro-u.
- be fully in control of your head and finger movements
- train your ear for the control of the pitch
- goes from small to big intervals
- automatise certain intervals you’ll find later in the music (u-ri / tsu-no-meri-re / etc.)
Muraiki is a colour of sound and a particular way to blow, which I like to exercise already during my warming-up. Combine ro otsu muraiki with any note from all the three registers, also with meri and kari tones (ro-tsu-no-meri, ro-san-no-u, ro-san-no-ha,…).
Favorite piece (3-4′)
To conclude the warm-up, I usually play a short piece, that I choose among one of my favorite meditation preludes. Hijiri-no-shirabe is a perfect one because it has a large range of tones, tone colours and technics, a powerful start and a peaceful end.
The goal here is to play something you really like and that is not challenging, a piece you feel at ease and happy to play. Play it as a gift for yourself, entirely from beginning to end, without practicing it, even if you make mistakes (you can go back later to it if necessary, during your practice session). Doing this, you’ll practice your performance mode, when you have only one try, and get used to play pieces without stopping for every little mistake. Don’t choose a difficult piece but one you can play by heart and easily.
Then, you’re ready to start your practice!