View Full Version : Light Tension Strings for Elderly Student

10-08-2012, 06:02 AM
I just started giving private ukulele lessons to an 88 year old man. He has a brand new Cordoba Tenor uke, with Aquila strings on it. He is at the very, very beginning, with no music experience whatsoever. So, our first lesson was about the very basics. He is not used to playing stringed instruments, and is having trouble getting a clear tone from his fretting hand. I have to push down on his fingers, to get him to feel the amount of pressure he needs to apply. I am hoping he will be able to practice up his grip (and build strength), since he was a trophy winning tennis player at one time. I was wondering how much would lighter tension strings help in this area? What are the lightest gauge for a tenor uke? Any suggestions for easy playing string brands?


10-08-2012, 06:14 AM
I've got some lights from SouthCoast on a concert that sound pretty good, and have low tension.

10-08-2012, 06:18 AM
You might try tuning his instrument down a half step or even a whole step.

10-08-2012, 06:21 AM
Martin fluorocarbons are the lightest I've come across.

10-08-2012, 06:26 AM
You might try tuning his instrument down a half step or even a whole step.

what he said, you can make any strings lower tension by down tuning. you can tell when you go too far , they get floppy and muddy sounding. it's actually fun to experiment. some ukes actually benifit .

10-08-2012, 06:27 AM
Tuning down is a good idea.

The Southcoasts lights are a great string, but I think Worth's light tensions are even thinner if I remember correctly.

10-08-2012, 06:30 AM
I have an Ohana tenor with phd's. Phd's are a clear flourocarbon similar to Worth and Martins.
It is tuned down to DGBE (rentrant) it sounds good and is very easy on the fingers.
Tuning his uke down is a great way to reduce the tension, the advantage of going all the way to G is there are some published chord charts.
Good Luck !!

10-08-2012, 06:49 AM
Thanks for the suggestions! I will try him out on tuning down first, and see if it helps. In the long run, he wants to play with the uke workshop at the YMCA, with other players. It would be too confusing for him to have to play different patterns, or use a capo, so the long term solution might be strings. I need to keep it simple with him, since learning/ memory is an issue, and even simple things need to be repeated many (many, many) times. He seems to have a lot of enthusiasm though, and I hope that will help carry him through.


10-08-2012, 07:34 AM
Hi Lori

I'm sure you looked at his set-up, but make sure that the nut slots are properly cut and the action low. Holding a ukulele in a proper geometry helps, too - maybe a strap <wink!>

I also keep it in mind that sometimes (may not be his case) it is *easier* to play a higher tension string - you get a better tactile feedback and a string does not slip under your finger. This probably depends on players.

All kudos to your student - I hope I get to try something new at age 88. And kudos to you, too, to accept him as student and be accommodating!


10-08-2012, 08:13 AM
As someone with hand and finger issues, I would get rid of the Aquilas and put Southcoasts on it, they are the slinkiest string out there and have a better ring. Dirk likes higher tension on his strings, but I have a mahogany tenor wearing the mediums that sounds great a full step down and which is very easy to fret. I've found that adjusting the action is also really important for old hands.

I'd drop Dirk a line and ask about his lights. I have a six string set on my Maui Music six that sounds great as well, and I have the C tuning set on my Martin bari which really shows off the sound and even with the extra scale length helps me play it much easier than when it was strung with Aquilas. They do need a few days to really stretch but then look out!

I also second, can he wear a Uke Leash? They sure help me with a lot of my ukes. ;)

10-08-2012, 10:36 AM
+1 for Teek's comment.

10-08-2012, 11:34 AM
First get the action set very low , then get either worth bm's or freemont blacklines.
Had the same/similar problem. Our skin seems to get thinner as we age and the pads on our fingers are thiner. I can't even play aquilla's for a half hour even bar chords hurt. I run a worth bm low g with freemont c.e,a. on my concert and I can play for hours and my fingers never get sore. Played bass and guitar, they are all parked in the closet as the steel strings are no longer an option. I was looking for a small classical on utube when I discovered the uke, I just play for my pleasure but I can enjoy it again thanks to the uke.

mm stan
10-08-2012, 12:19 PM
Yes Drop tune and use GHS or Hilo......they might be kindy thinny sounding strings...but when you drop tune it sweetens the tone and improves the playability and comfort with the less tension
strings...look for a softer compound thinner low tension strings...Tell your new uker I said Aloha and happy strummings from me

10-08-2012, 03:39 PM
I found Matrin M600 strings are thinner results easier holding advanced chords than Aquila :rolleyes:

frets alot
10-08-2012, 04:03 PM
All I can say is HOORAY FOR HIM......learning your first instrument at 88 is AWESOME!!! Thanks to you for being a great and caring teacher. :cheers::shaka:

10-10-2012, 02:38 PM
I went ahead and ordered some Southcoast Light Ukulele strings, and we will see what happens. They probably won't get here before his lesson on Saturday, but in the meantime I will try tuning down the Aquilas he has a full step and see if that helps.

Thanks for the tips!


mm stan
10-10-2012, 04:17 PM
Aloha Lori,
Oh he has a tenor.....in drop tuning, I like to tune by ear.....for perfect pitch.. let me know

F# -40/-50, B-40, D#-40, G +30/+40

10-10-2012, 04:47 PM
Aloha Lori,
Oh he has a tenor.....in drop tuning, I like to tune by ear.....for perfect pitch.. let me know

F# -40/-50, B-40, D#-40, G +30/+40

I tried tuning one of my tenors down one whole step, and I think it might help. I just spoke with my student today, and he said it is hard for him to hold 3 fingers down at once. I have only been teaching him C and F, so I am not sure what he is practicing yet, unless he attempted the Gm I had on the Glow Worm song sheet. He said he hasn't practiced as much as he hoped (sounds like me), but hopefully he will find more time before Saturday. I considered some kind of Slack Key tuning, but I don't think barre chords are going to be any easier for him (probably harder). I might try some Rock Tips liquid callous on his fingertips.


10-11-2012, 03:17 AM
I had a Cordoba tenor that came with Aquilas and I quickly took them off too brash. This is a beautiful sounding uke, but not with those strings. The light strings I have on my Mele koa tenor are lovely and should work at least as well on that Cordoba.

Regardless of strings, the hand strength will begin to come back in several weeks. I also like a silicone rubber ball filled with silicone beads inside and kiwi fruit like spikes on the outside I bought at Walgreens. Gentle but amazingly effective at strenghthening hands and fingers. I have a little arthritis in my thumbs and it helps a lot with that too.

10-11-2012, 04:45 AM
I have a Kala tenor I've been meaning to get in for a nut/saddle adjustment because the action's a little too high. Using the suggestions here, I dropped the tuning down to DGBE and tried playing it like a baritone. The slackness in the strings added a nice jazzy feel. An interesting experiment, thanks! Dropping a step and using a capo on the first fret helped the action on the second as well.

10-11-2012, 07:15 AM
Drop tuneing is great and for playing alone willl serve him well but he wanted to get to play with a local group, I still think get the action lowered and softer strings so he doesnt have to re-learn it all to play with the group.

10-11-2012, 09:02 AM
In addition to the alternative strings, I wonder if a replacement set of high frets might assist him getting good contact with them. Not as cheap as strings, but might salvage the situation. But others will know if this helps or not. (If so, I might go for it to improve my barr chord accuracy!!!)

10-11-2012, 09:14 AM
Try Worth Brown's they feel really light to me.

10-11-2012, 03:00 PM
Avoid high frets at all costs I had a mainland classic tenor. For me the uke was nearly unplayable until I had the frets all lowered as I remember it was like .010 , the frets were considerably higher and wider than the ones on my Honu and even the Oscar Schmidts I had . Not A good or bad thing I guess but it was killin my fingers. there is a thread on here some where abt it Ill try and find the link and post it here.


some interresting comments from a luther and an old timer.

10-11-2012, 04:54 PM
Thanks to Dirk at South Coast Strings, I may get the new light strings before his lesson on Saturday. I want to try and get this problem under control before he gets discouraged and gives up. If I can keep him in C tuning, that would be best in the long run, because any complications in transposing is going to be too much for him. Since his son bought the uke at McCabes, he probably could get it set-up for low action, but I don't want it to start buzzing. Best to see how he does once he has developed his strumming style. Looks like he is most comfortable strumming with the thumb only. I will leave a tuner with him, since his new strings might stretch for a few days. Not sure if he can handle tuning his own uke yet.


10-12-2012, 01:51 AM
Lori one last thing that may help if his strumming fingers are a problem ,and I know this is sacriledge to most ukers, a dunlop white pick size .038 works quite well on a uke. Its very flexable dosen't wear strings or scratch ukes.

10-12-2012, 04:26 AM
interesting thread. do let us know how it turns out after a couple weeks, lori

10-12-2012, 04:37 AM
Lori one last thing that may help if his strumming fingers are a problem ,and I know this is sacriledge to most ukers, a dunlop white pick size .038 works quite well on a uke. Its very flexable dosen't wear strings or scratch ukes.

When I got a bad cut on my strumming finger, the only pick that sounded or felt close was a Wedgie pick. Various grades of durometer hardness to give the proper feel.


10-12-2012, 05:21 AM
Thanks for the pick recommendations. I will consider that too. I have a leather pick I could test out on him, and see how he likes it. Maybe I will swing by the music store later, and see if they have the Dunlop or the Wedgie.


10-14-2012, 06:45 AM
Well, I gave my lesson yesterday. Good thing I am used to being with strong willed elderly folks. I offered the idea of new strings, but he didn't go for it this week. We are still working mostly on right had strumming technique. He might change his mind when he starts using his left hand more. I offered the pick idea, and he definitely didn't want to go that way. I was pleased to see his determination, despite the slow progress. Music has never been natural for him, but he really wants to do this. It is hard because he has been a natural athlete his whole life, and that came easy to him. This is going to take a lot of effort. It makes me really appreciate my early exposure to musical instruments, and whatever natural ability I have. It is so much harder to learn when your elderly. It never occurred to me that strumming the strings cleanly could be so difficult. It requires a sense of touch and awareness of sound that some people haven't developed. It will be a real triumph if I can get him to learn to strum up and down and play C and F.