One of the great pleasures of teaching ukulele the last decade has been seeing students successfully learn to play ukulele in their 70s, 80s, or even 90s.
Because ukulele is an instrument for everyone, many of these students see success, but I’ve learned there are unique challenges at this age.
Namely, stiff or uncooperative fingers.
If you find yourself with stiff fingers, then one of the best things you can do is take a brief five minutes as you pick up your ukulele to warm up the fretting hand, strumming hand, and the mind.
By doing so, most importantly, you get yourself into a relaxed state. Sometimes we unintentionally bring the stress of the day into our practice. By warming up, we take an intentional moment to focus on the feeling of playing relaxed. And when you’re relaxed, you make the most out of your practice and set yourself up for the best likelihood of success.
In this video lesson, I teach you five simple exercises you can use before you play ukulele to get the hands, fingers, and mind ready to play.
Feel free to use the ideas presented in this video to modify the warmup based on your current skill level.
Warm-Up Exercise #1: Chromatic Scale Exercise
The goal of this exercise is to begin waking up each finger in the fretting hand.
Assign the index finger to notes on the 1st fret, middle finger to notes on the 2nd fret, ring finger to notes on the 3rd fret, and the little finger to notes on the 4th fret.
First, practice the exercise in an ascending manner.
Then, practice the exercise descending.
Pick a slow, comfortable tempo that allows you to transition between notes and strings without hesitating or pausing.
Warm-Up Exercise #2: C Major Scale Exercise
Let’s continue to wake up the fretting hand fingers, but let’s begin to wake up our mind to see the relationships between our fingers and notes on the fretboard.
To do so, play a C major scale in ascending order and verbalize the notes out loud.
Then, practice descending.
If you want to dive deeper into the C major scale, then check out this lesson.
Warm-Up Exercise #3: Down-Up Free Tempo Strumming Exercise
It’s time to wake up the strumming hand, wrist, and fingers!
This exercise is deceptively simple and is best understood in the video.
To perform the exercise, simply start strumming a down-up strumming pattern at a slow, easy-going tempo that allows you to be completely relaxed, and then, gradually speed up.
It sounds easy but what this exercise does is get you used to the feeling of strumming in a relaxed manner at different tempos without being stressed or worried about staying on the beat.
Warm-Up Exercise #4: Down-Up Soft to Loud Strumming Exercise
Like the previous exercise, we’re keeping it nice and easy.
For this exercise, start off strumming a down-up strumming pattern as softly as you can manage (while staying relaxed) and gradually get louder.
Be aware of any added tension that creeps in. Sometimes the tendency is to try really hard to get louder, which we don’t want to happen. The goal is to have fun being soft or loud and doing so with the feeling of being relaxed without the pressure of having to perform a specific song.
If you struggle with strumming soft or loud, be sure to watch the video for some tips and tricks on the strumming motion.
Warm-Up Exercise #5: Chord Progression Exercise
At this point, you should be feeling more warmed up in your fretting hand and strumming hand than when you first started.
For this final exercise, let’s continue to warm up the mind by coordinating the fretting hand and strumming hand with a familiar chord progression.
In reality, you can pick any chord progression for this, so as long as it’s one that is easy for you.
Warming up, which is often overlooked, is an important part of practicing because it helps bring your mind and body into a relaxed but engaged state of mind.
In total, these warm-up exercises shouldn’t take more than five minutes at the beginning of your practice session.
If you’re someone who struggles with stiff or arthritic fingers, remember to listen to your body and not overdo practice. Remember that a short practice session of fifteen minutes each day is better than one big marathon practice session of four hours once per week.
And don’t forget, there’s always tomorrow. Don’t beat yourself up if your fingers aren’t cooperating. Sometimes it’s best to take a break and come back the next day.
How do you like to warm up?
Post a comment below letting me and your fellow ukulele players know.
Thanks, Brett. Very nice warm-up. Any chance you could add it to the Ukulele Tricks home page? Would be a good reminder for us to warm up before playing.
Thanks for your comment, Darlene!
Really practical lesson, Brett! Know it will be helpful to a lot of people.I also do some stretching exercises gently bending my hand backwards by pushing on the palm side of my fingers.Then I push down on the top of my hand and hold as the tips of my fingers face the floor. Also do some stretches for my thumbs for a bit of arthritis I have in them. Thanks again for the great lesson!! 🙂
Great comment, Cindy! Nothing like some hand and finger stretches to help. Thanks for watching!
Oh, my goodness, Brett, this is a wonderful warm-up lesson! I am an older person and it was my husband who played the ukulele. He loved going to his ukulele jam nights every week and I often helped him to find songs for special theme nights. But I didn’t play the uke. We had a lot of fun and so much enjoyment! Sadly, Chris passed away over two years ago, very suddenly, and I have been in shock and much grief over these past months. But, Chris gave me your beginner lesson package which is still sitting on our computer – “Sue Uke Lessons”. This was quite a while before he died but i seemes busy with other things. You can well imagine how sorry I am that I didn’t start the lessons when he was still here, and now we’re in lockdown because of the pandemic. I have not started yet and I feel so badly. I can see why Chris chose your beginner package because you are a very fine teacher and I’m sure Chris knew that I would like you as a teacher. We were both teachers and I was fortunate in teaching adults, who always require a special touch. And senior adults require even a more special touch! I am hoping that in the next few months I will get started again. Having watched this video I know that my heart wants to begin to play. (My nickname is Sue, which I am usually called.) Thank you!
I’m so sorry for your loss, Sue, but thank you for writing me in the comments here. That’s quite understandable; I’m always here if you ever want to begin the lessons! I’m happy you have such fond memories of Chris and the ukulele, and I wish you the best as you find a path forward.
Thanks Brett nice to get these short lessons I sometimes warm up before picking up the uke but this stresses the importance of warming up -will be more conscientious in the future Bonna
Happy to help! Thanks for your comment, Bonna!
Thank you Brett, you are a very good teacher
Thanks for watching, Paula!
I have been participating in your courses for the past three years or so, since first beginning to play the Uke. Great stuff, and while I still try and keep it simple, I am not afraid to try “new” things. As a “seventies” person my fingers are not as flexible as they used to be. My warm-up routine usually involves playing the 12 Bar Blues chord progression – varying the key, and also the strumming pattern. I think as part of the warm-up, confidence is another thing we can feel, not just the physical benefits.
Keep up the great work Brett.
That’s a great point about confidence, Jeff! Experiencing success with a couple warmup exercises can get us in a confident frame of mind to not be afraid to stretch our abilities in practice. It’s a pleasure to have you as a long-time student! Thank you for your comment.
Thanks Brett These are fun things to warm up with. I have been doing scales and picking songs and boogie woogie to warm up. but I will not give these a try and pass this infor on to my friends
Thanks for your comment and for sharing, Margo!
Thank you so much a very helpful and sensitive lesson, I will start to learn the scales which I have not thought of so much being a beginner but getting there. I will certainly pass on this video to my ukulele group where we play in the UK.
Thank you for your comment, Margaret, and thanks for sharing! Glad it can spark some new ideas.
Hullo there Brett, I have been using the 12 bar blues to practice and noted from this video that I have been using the up down motion for my strumming and find it quite pleasant. I started off doing a C G7 F G7 C progression which I found easy enough ….. but then when I changed to a CCCC FF CC G7 F CC as in the 12 bar blues I had a bit of a problem getting the middle finger to go to the Top string as an anchor . I can see it is a good move and will have to keep practicing to get it smooth. But it is all good fun at my age
Thanks for your comment, Thomas! The 12-bar blues is a great chord progression to strum to get warmed up. Good on you for identifying the trouble with the middle finger. Figuring out problematic chord changes requires awareness and problem solving. Keep up the good practice!
Excellent and very helpful lesson Brett. I’m still in the early stages of learning and don’t quite have the confidence to play a song yet. It gives me something to work on when I have a few spare minutes to pick up my uke.
Thanks for your comment, Sally! Just a little bit of practice each day goes a long way so keep working on finding a routine and rhythm that is sustainable for you.
1. Warm up my always cold hands first by running them under hot water.
2. Stretch my wrists into flexion and extension (helps with tendonitis which often flares)
3. Stretch my fingers apart with different fingers together.
4. Then flexing fingers to touch distal pads and stretching out.
5. Squeezing a foam ball to strengthen my hand.
6. Variations of the exercise you showed. Practice chord changes and strum patterns of the song(s) I want to learn.
Excellent comment, Anne! Thank you so much for breaking down what you do to warm up. I know it will be helpful to other readers.
Thanks for these great warm up exercises. I like to do a bit of breathing exercises as well. The scales are great. I’ll give them a try.
You definitely can’t go wrong with some breathing exercises. Thanks for your comment, Ronda!
Thanks for the warm ups Brett. I’m starting again on ukulele, and an exercise I used to do involved ‘crabbing’. L H fingers on 1st 4 frets of A string, then lift 1st & 3rd together & over to E string same frets, followed by 2nd & 4th fingers together. Continue crabbing across to C then G string. This also seems good for coordination, and I do backwards crabbing (to C string, E & A). Hope this makes sense, I’m sure you could explain it better!
That makes sense to me, Trish! That’s a really good exercise to help improve dexterity in your fretting hand. Thanks for sharing this here in the comments!
Hey Brett – Great to have you back, I’ve missed your uke tid bits. My husband bought me my 1st uke 5 1/2 years ago to help fight off arthritis I have. It really saved my hands. I’ve also been your student for 5 years (just got an 8 string last month,wow). I was called out of state on an emergency and just read your post – really good. When I’m out and don’t have a ukulele on me, I’ll do piano like stretches where I place the fingers of each hand together and push or bend them or do a simple fist and then stretch them out. Just as a side bar – the ukulele has pulled me out of lengthy, huge (?seasonal) depression. I don’t know where I’d be now without it. I think everyone should know how to play at least a little ukulele.
Hey, Kristi! Thank you for your comment and sharing your experience! I know it will help others here and be of an encouragement.
Oh this is excellent. I was in too much of a rush to get started on the course and somehow overlooked this, but have written it in a little notebook and now start every session with a warm-up. Not only does it work, but it actually builds my confidence before I tackle the lesson-of-the-moment. I shall certainly ensure I do it every time.