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View Full Version : Playing Ukulele without straining your body



Ukejenny
06-30-2014, 11:55 AM
The carpal tunnel thread has me thinking - what stretches and warm-ups should we be doing to keep from straining our hands/fingers/wrists/everything?

Also, what should we be doing ergonomically to make sure we don't cause injury?

I have to admit - I play sometimes with pretty bad posture and I'm fairly sure my arms/hands/fingers are out of whack when I do that.

What are some good stretches?

Camsuke
06-30-2014, 12:16 PM
Carl's Hanon for Ukulele (it's free) is ideal to use for warming up those lazy fingers.
http://ukeofcarl.com/hanon-for-ukulele-free-ebook/

OldePhart
06-30-2014, 12:25 PM
Avoid hunching over the uke....learn not to look at the fretboard. Keep back straight. Use wrist, not elbow, for strumming. Learn to fret with as little pressure as possible. Pay close attention to anything that gives you sharp shooting pains or a burning sensation in your fretting wrist. Learn to position your instrument, arm, and hand so you can make chords without those sharp pains or burning.

I am so relaxed that I can (and have!) fallen asleep while playing in my office chair!

frisbee fred
06-30-2014, 12:28 PM
Avoid hunching over the uke....learn not to look at the fretboard. Keep back straight. Use wrist, not elbow, for strumming. Learn to fret with as little pressure as possible. Pay close attention to anything that gives you sharp shooting pains or a burning sensation in your fretting wrist. Learn to position your instrument, arm, and hand so you can make chords without those sharp pains or burning.

I am so relaxed that I can (and have!) fallen asleep while playing in my office chair!

Hmmm....normally it's other people who fall asleep when I play.....

Gary52
06-30-2014, 12:57 PM
My playing posture improved when I started using a strap. No more hunching over to hold the uke while sitting, no more death grip to keep the neck in position. A strap also allows me to play standing up, which is much better than sitting for an hour or two. I play concerts and tenors, BTW.

Down Up Dick
06-30-2014, 01:10 PM
I agree with Gary52. I'm much more comfortable with a strap; I may even put one on my 6 string.

bunnyf
06-30-2014, 01:10 PM
As I play longer and longer stretches, I have had to try to find the most comfortable way to play. No more slouching on the couch for me ( except for a quick strum). The past year, I have been bothered with tendonitis in my strumming arm. So now I am super conscious of my positioning and always experimenting with different ways to approach playing that will be easier on my body. Lately I have been trying playing with my strap very low (hip level) and am hoping this will take some of the strain off my right elbow...we shall see. Bad habits die hard.

LloydAZ
06-30-2014, 01:44 PM
My bad habit is slouching over the ukulele when I play it. Boy does my back regret it the longer I play.

As far as playing sitting down, is it better to sit in a chair with back support or use a stool?

Phluffy the Destroyer
07-03-2014, 09:40 PM
I know this isn't for everyone, but...

Move around a little so you aren't straining your body in one position. I play for hours at a time, and I move around a LOT. I walk around while I play. If I'm at home, I'll dance around the apartment with a sort of 2-step shuffle while I practice when my back starts to get sore from sitting. The absolute hardest thing for me to do is make videos, because it's just me and my Android, so I'm forced to sit still while I play. In several of my videos you'll catch me rocking back and forth or just looking around the room to relieve stress on my back and neck while I play.

A couple of people have mentioned this: Strap your ukulele. That makes a HUGE difference. When you play without a strap your arms and upper body are forced by necessity into staying pretty much in one position. If you add a strap, you can learn how to change the position of the ukulele while you play to avoid/relieve stressed shoulders and elbows.

This is the part that will make some folks here cringe. Don't spend all your time trying to learn complicated music. It's awesome to push yourself, but that can add a whole new level of stress. Yes, I know your life won't be complete until you master "Klingon Symphony in Q minor" and that tab is just dealing you fits. Try taking a break once in a while to play something fun, easy, and maybe just a little silly. That way you don't add the mental stress of continuing to struggle with a difficult piece of music to the physical stress.

CeeJay
07-04-2014, 12:27 AM
Avoid hunching over the uke....learn not to look at the fretboard. Keep back straight. Use wrist, not elbow, for strumming. Learn to fret with as little pressure as possible. Pay close attention to anything that gives you sharp shooting pains or a burning sensation in your fretting wrist. Learn to position your instrument, arm, and hand so you can make chords without those sharp pains or burning.

I am so relaxed that I can (and have!) fallen asleep while playing in my office chair!

Hmmm.....was it after lunch, and on a nice warm sunny day ? I can do that as well ....and even WITHOUT a uke :)

kypfer
07-04-2014, 06:03 AM
As far as playing sitting down, is it better to sit in a chair with back support or use a stool?
I'd suggest "What ever is most comfortable for you". I used to use a stool for hours on end at a workbench and am still very comfortable on one which is the correct height for whatever I'm doing. It's very important for the legs to be in the correct position so that there's no strain on the lower back whilst sitting upright. A chair with a support can compensate for a discrepancy in seat height by taking the strain off the lower back. Don't forget the correctly adjusted music stand. No point in sitting "correctly" if you're then peering over at an awkward angle to read your tunes!

Kayak Jim
07-04-2014, 11:27 AM
I try to warm up before every session that not just noodling around during commercials.

Wrist flexes forward and back, wrist circles. Each finger forward and back. Massage palm, each finger and forearm of left hand (since I'm prone to cramps). Then first playing is always crawling up the fretboard on each string to 10th, then back down.

I really need to try and remember to also do neck rolls and flexes also. I can be guilty of hunching over looking at the fretboard (contrary to John's advice) and not just playing easy stuff as Phluff suggests.

Nickie
07-04-2014, 11:36 AM
I get up and stretch every few minutes....it's not a concert....I do the same finger/hand excercises for piano...I switch chairs around too...and ukes....

Icelander53
07-04-2014, 11:38 AM
Avoid hunching over the uke....learn not to look at the fretboard. Keep back straight. Use wrist, not elbow, for strumming. Learn to fret with as little pressure as possible. Pay close attention to anything that gives you sharp shooting pains or a burning sensation in your fretting wrist. Learn to position your instrument, arm, and hand so you can make chords without those sharp pains or burning.

I am so relaxed that I can (and have!) fallen asleep while playing in my office chair!

LOL! That's likely got nothing to do with the uke and a lot to do with old age. :old:

Ukejenny
07-05-2014, 10:30 AM
Listening to my husband strum helps me lull into relaxation, and he has fallen asleep on the couch while I'm playing. But, he can pretty much fall asleep if he is still for two minutes together...so I don't know if my playing is really soothing or not.

I think I need to concentrate on the rolls, stretches, and bending before playing. I should probably be doing that, no matter the instrument. So far, I notice I get really uncomfortable playing the flute. Everything else is okay so far, but I don't want my wrists to hurt while strumming the ukulele.

Thanks, Y'all; you are always so good in giving great advice and ideas!!! :shaka: :shaka:

IamNoMan
10-03-2014, 12:17 PM
I'd suggest "What ever is most comfortable for you". I used to use a stool for hours on end at a workbench and am still very comfortable on one which is the correct height for whatever I'm doing. It's very important for the legs to be in the correct position so that there's no strain on the lower back whilst sitting upright. A chair with a support can compensate for a discrepancy in seat height by taking the strain off the lower back. Don't forget the correctly adjusted music stand. No point in sitting "correctly" if you're then peering over at an awkward angle to read your tunes!
I have used a stool for playing for about 25 years. It definitely helps with fatigue and posture issues but you have to have it at the right height. I trimmed the legs twice til I got the right height. 23 7/8" for me. Make sure both feet are firmly on the ground adjusting stool height.

All right all ready you'all have convinced me to use a strap. What are the best connection points? I don't want to mess up my new Martin IZ Tenor too much.

@ oldefart: You've probably run into this one before. My worst posture problem right now is my belly is so big the uke rotates forward moving the fretboard to a more horizontal position. Now I put more pressure on my mangled left hand with resultant barring, intonation and fingering limitations. I also know from the wrist discomfiture that this is no good for my wrist. A Strap might help here too but what do you suggest?

actadh
10-03-2014, 01:28 PM
I have used a strap on my soprano for the past few weeks, and it is a huge difference. Not only are the posture issues lessened, but the fact that I can move the ukulele laterally has also made a difference in not freezing up my muscles.

The concert has always seemed like it was the right length for me - I like where my fretting hand is positioned in relation to my body. My big issue on playing a soprano without a strap was that I was wanting the neck to be in the same position to the left of me as when I played my concert. Using a strap allows me to shift it more to my left as I play.

Also, if I start to get cramped I can move the neck up, down, tilted a bit etc. every once in a while, or just plain move the whole ukulele. It is kind of hard to explain, but the best analogy is the difference in driving a car on a long trip with a manual driver's seat and driving one with an electric seat with multiple positions. Even a little change every now and then uses different muscles and lessens the strain. A strap allows me to make those minute changes.
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ShibaUke
03-14-2015, 05:15 AM
just wanted to bump this thread up as its am impt issue - ukergonomics. i keep playing hunched over, even in a chair. or standing up. i guess its because i keep looking over at my fretboard when i practice. what other tips do you have to play without getting a back ache and sore neck? does a stool work best to sit on, or standing? but for me im still hunched over regardless. then there is the strap. i currently use a neck strap. i prefer the neck strap because it gives me mobility to move around.. i feel the other type straps that require you to install buttons on your uke or that wrap around your body are too restrictive and it might feel a bit too claustrophobic like you are putting on a straight jacket.. ok maybe not to that extreme but you get the picture. exercises? what work for you to resolve back / neck pains?

janeray1940
03-14-2015, 05:56 AM
just wanted to bump this thread up as its am impt issue - ukergonomics. i keep playing hunched over, even in a chair. or standing up. i guess its because i keep looking over at my fretboard when i practice. what other tips do you have to play without getting a back ache and sore neck? does a stool work best to sit on, or standing? but for me im still hunched over regardless. then there is the strap. i currently use a neck strap. i prefer the neck strap because it gives me mobility to move around.. i feel the other type straps that require you to install buttons on your uke or that wrap around your body are too restrictive and it might feel a bit too claustrophobic like you are putting on a straight jacket.. ok maybe not to that extreme but you get the picture. exercises? what work for you to resolve back / neck pains?

I have upper back/neck issues and those neck straps absolutely KILL my neck. I have strap buttons on all of my ukes - I resisted this a long time because I can't stand "stuff" on me (i.e. a necklace feels like a torture device) and I thought a strap would feel confining - but was surprised to learn for me it doesn't feel that way at all. If anything, it gives me *more* freedom. Weirdly enough, at first I thought the smallest, thinnest strap would be best but over the years I've learned a wider strap is more stable and doesn't feel too big or bulky - currently I use 2" guitar straps. I also stand up to play whenever my back starts acting up - changing it up seems to keep any pain from developing into a muscle spasm.

(Oh and - you can try "wearing" my uke at WUE next time to see what it feels like.)

Mik
03-14-2015, 12:51 PM
It is kind of hard to explain, but the best analogy is the difference in driving a car on a long trip with a manual driver's seat and driving one with an electric seat with multiple positions. Even a little change every now and then uses different muscles and lessens the strain. A strap allows me to make those minute changes.
.

This absolutely makes sense to me!

pritch
03-14-2015, 01:27 PM
My playing posture improved when I started using a strap.

Several times in recent weeks I have seen this advice offered: in podcasts, on the 'Net and by the leader of the group I play with. So I had to go with the flow.

ShibaUke
03-14-2015, 08:08 PM
I have upper back/neck issues and those neck straps absolutely KILL my neck. I have strap buttons on all of my ukes - I resisted this a long time because I can't stand "stuff" on me (i.e. a necklace feels like a torture device) and I thought a strap would feel confining - but was surprised to learn for me it doesn't feel that way at all. If anything, it gives me *more* freedom. Weirdly enough, at first I thought the smallest, thinnest strap would be best but over the years I've learned a wider strap is more stable and doesn't feel too big or bulky - currently I use 2" guitar straps. I also stand up to play whenever my back starts acting up - changing it up seems to keep any pain from developing into a muscle spasm.

(Oh and - you can try "wearing" my uke at WUE next time to see what it feels like.)

oh yes, if i can test yours out maybe it will help. see you tuesday!

mama207
03-15-2015, 02:04 AM
I echo this. I am new to uke, but have a background in health and fitness including physical therapy. Warm up fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders neck (really if you have time, a short whole body warm up) - just simple rolls, open and shutting fists, nods, circles, etc. Then easy stretches. Can only take 5-10 minutes. Another great thing is to use a tennis ball on your palms and feet. If you want to spend the money, the MELT method (google) is great and has balls, and a routine for hands/feet/forearms and also DVDs, book etc. But you can start with a tennis ball on your palms - the fascia is connected all the way up from your palms through your shoulders and neck, etc. On your feet you can also try a golf ball depending on your condition - seated is fine. Self massage of hands, forearms, upper shoulders, neck, is helpful too. As you all probably know, musicians are very prone to repetitive stress injuries, so all this is pretty important. :) If you are playing a while, repeating a few stretches is good every half hour or so, or when you are done.

mama207
03-15-2015, 02:07 AM
I would think proper posture in whatever you are sitting on. Feet on floor, beneath knees, pelvis in neutral position. Posture with shoulders down, open collar bone, erect/elongated. Depends on the chair/stool and your body which is best.

peanuts56
03-15-2015, 07:18 AM
I once spoke at length with singer/guitarist Michael Johnson, he had a few hits in the late 70's early 80's. Bluer Than Blue was his biggest hit. Michael is a very accomplished guitarist, his background is mostly classical. This man really can play!
He talked about finding your optimal posture and simply trying to relax. I try to remember to relax as much as possible. I try to do some simple finger and hand stretches every day. It's important as you get older to stretch a little. At 59 I need to stretch out more often. I also try to practice in shorter sessions, my goal is 20-30 minute sessions. I do this as many times during the day as I can. I was a trumpet major in college and for brass players this is a common way to practice. Your muscles stay fresh and you are not tearing down muscle tissue.

Rllink
03-15-2015, 10:06 AM
I get up periodically to mix a drink. The two seem to relax me. Seriously, my ukulele playing is pretty casual. I get up and move around a lot. I think that helps.

Mik
03-16-2015, 02:53 PM
I get up periodically to mix a drink. The two seem to relax me.

This gives me a little chuckle. THAT (aforementioned) plus "Tiny Bubbles" song might be a great warm-up and in-between breaks combo for me to relax. :)

Seriously though, I'm definite in my case I will add strap to augment the strain of playing.