I learned to drive in my dad’s 1968 Volkswagen Beatle. I thought I might be a mechanic one day so I worked on it myself as much as I could. I used books I ordered from car magazines. I remember one book described how long to let the engine warm up. He said turn on the car and let it idle just long enough to get a cigarette drawing real good. That way the oil gets to all the areas it needs to before you put in gear and stress the engine. It’s not the healthiest analogy, I know, but the idea is you need to get the blood where it needs to go and get our joints prepped and ready for some work. Here are some ways to ease into it:
One Handed Improvisation: Years ago, bass player and teacher Roger Spencer mentioned to me to improvise with just one hand. This was huge for me. I just do what I can with one hand. I start by constraining myself to just single note ideas. Then I may start playing some double stops and chords later. There are endless possibilities and you’ll probably not want to stop.
Outlining Diminished Chords: Lori Mechem showed me the outlining of diminished seventh chords idea. She just starts on C and outlines the chord up and down with both hands. C, Eb, Gb, A, and then C again at the top. One finger per note and then back down. Then she moves up to D and does it again. She stays on the white notes as the root. The idea here is to stretch your fingers apart a little. You’ll have to reach for these notes. Just try and stay loose and if anything hurts, stop. Some stretching is fine but you do not want an injury.
3 Note Voicings With a Drop Two Approach: The idea here is to just play a simple triad but move the middle note down and octave. There are a lot of books about this and I think Matt Rollings has some examples on his website too. Once you understand drop-two voicings, this can be a pleasant way to just noodle around with chords and get moving. You can play 4 note voicings for even more of a challenge. Just drop the 2nd note from the top down an octave.
Slow Blues With Walking Bass Line: Play something medium slow and in a key you are comfortable with.
Geoffrey Keezer has a nice warm up on his video series too. He starts with one note in his right hand and one note in his left hand about a 10th apart. The right hand moves up in half steps and the left hand note goes around the cycle of 5ths. Then he tries to fill in a chord that might make sense.
Matt Rollings has a cool one that is similar where he plays one note as a melody and never changes it. Then his left hand goes down in half steps and he fills in the chords. The idea is to make up your own ways of challenging yourself. These are just a couple ideas.
I take a few deep breaths while warming up and check my posture. Then once my imaginary cigarette is drawing good, I put it in gear.
Obviously, we don't know everything. But we do tend to think differently. Here are some of my thoughts on piano and maybe some on life. I play piano for Tracy Lawrence, produce new artists, write and practice piano.