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Lets Play – Warmup at the Barre

In this new series, I will run through all the common exercises that a pianist might encounter in a typical ballet class, and give some thoughts on finding suitable music for it.

Warmup at the barre is usually the first exercise of class, unless the teacher feels they want to press on straight away with plies.  Whatever the level you are playing for, you want to be very secure in your choice of music for warmup.  If you are playing for a new teacher or class, it’s the first thing they will hear you play, and will have a big impact on their perception of your talents and experience.  Warming up at the barre describes a loose collection of movements designed to stretch and ease the dancer into the rigours of class, and so with that in mind, I usually opt for an easy going jazz standard in 4/4.

The smooth harmonies and strong melodic content of jazz standards should prove calm and relaxing, while the easy syncopated rhythms and elasticity of tempo lends itself perfectly to deep stretches and long port de bras.  Warmups can sometimes go on for a bit, so either have something with plenty of material in, or prepare two or more tunes that can be seamlessly merged together.  The long medly of popular songs as a means of accompanying an extended warmup is an invaluable part of the ballet accompanist’s repertoire!

To give you a practical example, the main material of “Someone to Watch Over Me” (starting at 1:41) will get you started, and if you need more after 64 counts you could switch to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”  – in a related key of course! Sudden unrelated key changes will jar listeners and disrupt the flow of your music.

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