Overcoming Sore Fingers From Playing the Ukulele

Learning to play the ukulele is a challenge in itself. When you start, you might find the challenge even more difficult when your body starts to work against you. Ukulele soreness is a real thing, and almost everybody suffers from it at some point.

Having pains from playing the ukulele is normal, especially if you are just starting. Your hands and fingers are adjusting. Blisters, callouses, aches, cramps, and stiffness are all things you can expect to experience.

While all the above is something you will likely go through, I must stress this is NOT permanent and you WILL overcome it. Let’s look at how you can minimize your pain.

The 2 Common Areas Of Pain

Most of the pain related to your ukulele will be in your hands, while bad posture while practicing could lead to aches in your back and neck. This article focuses mainly on how to avoid the pain that’s directly from the uke. The following is a list of common issues for ukulele beginners.

Strumming Hand Fretting Hand

Burning sensation in forearm

Blistering fingertips

Bleeding near the fingernail

Aching finger joints

Sore Wrist

Wrist strain

So what are some things to consider, and what can you do to ensure these don’t impact your ukulele progression?

Strumming Hand

Dont Strum With Your Arm

This is an all-too-common trait among beginners. They use their entire arm to strum. The style reminds me somewhat of Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys. He has a really aggressive strumming style where he almost looks like he’s playing Whac-A-Mole with his instrument. While that looks great for rock stars who have had years of practice, you need to calm that down if you are just starting.
You need to use your wrist to control the strumming. In truth, your arm should move very minimally. Cynthia’s video on how to strum efficiently explains this very well.

Technique Vs Volume

Playing loudly puts more strain on your hands as you are hitting the strings harder. This is not only going to cause blisters on your fingers as they touch the strings, but it’s also going to add more tension to your wrist while strumming.

I would advise that you focus more on your technique. Slow things down and concentrate on what you are actually playing. You don’t need to play quietly, just softer. An added benefit of this is that you can play with more dynamics in your volume. If you get to a particularly intense part of a song, playing it at an increased volume might make it sound more interesting.

Have A Break

Playing the ukulele is physical exercise, and we need to treat it that way. Our hands are forced to do things they are not used to. It’s very important to give them the rest they need. Your progress won’t be hindered if you take a full day off after five days in a row. In fact, you will come back refreshed and better equipped to play.

To Pick Or Not To Pick?

While the debate on whether to use a plectrum or not is a hot topic in the ukulele community, if using one is going to help you progress, go for it, I say. If it’s just the side of your fingers that are hurting and everything else is fine, a ukulele plectrum is a great way of replacing that strumming finger. Your practice routine won’t be interrupted, and it gives your fingers a chance to rest.

ukulele plectrum

Stretching

This is something you should start and continue to do for the rest of your life while you are playing the uke. As previously mentioned, playing an instrument is physical exercise, and we need to warm up before engaging in it.

Below are a couple of stretches that will strengthen the muscles in your wrists. Do them daily or before each practice session for optimum effect.

ukulele stretches

Fretting Hand

Pressing Too Hard

As beginners in anything, we always try as hard as we can. Sometimes we can go a little bit too hard though. People new to the ukulele are prone to this. Pressing down the strings is hard the first time you do it, and often it’s painful.

While you need to apply a certain amount of pressure, there’s no need to press the strings so hard. Next time you are playing, relax your fingers. Keep the pressure but just loosen up a bit and strum a chord. Try to find a balance so all the notes are clear and you’re not clinging to your fretboard for dear life.

Is Your Action Correct?

high vs low action ukulele
 

The reason you are pressing so hard could be that your ukulele isn’t set up correctly. If the gap between your strings and fretboard is big, it means you need to press even harder to make the strings hit the frets and create a sound. Obviously, that’s going to hurt your fingertips.

The good news is that we can often change that. That space we talked about is called the action, and it’s a simple enough task that we can do it ourselves. This guide from Ukulele Go will tell you everything you need to know.

Calluses

The ultimate aim for our fretting fingers is to build up callouses. This is when the skin dries up and goes hard on the fingertips. In time, this will come; it’s just going to take lots of practice. This isn’t something you can rush; you just need to go with the motions and accept that it might take a while. Sooner or later, your hands will look like this.

sore fingers ukulele callus

Warming Up

Getting the blood to your fingers before you start playing is a sure-fire way to ease the stress on them. Going through a couple of scales and utilizing all your fretting fingers for 5 minutes is all it takes.

Dont Play While Wet

Try to avoid playing your ukulele while your hands are wet. This could be after a shower or straight after cleaning the kitchen dishes. It’s going to be much harder for your skin to dry up and form callouses. The fingertips are also likely to be more sensitive, making it harder to press the strings.

Using Creams Or Oils

I have seen many people on internet forums advising the use of substances that make your skin go harder. While this may be a temporary fix or could have worked for them, I wouldn’t advise going down that route. You can never be too sure what kind of effect they are having on your skin. They might cause more damage than actually help you. It’s not worth the risk. Building calluses the albeit long, but natural way is your best bet

Summary

All the aches and pains you are feeling can be overcome with some small tweaks to your playing. It breaks my heart when I hear of people quitting the ukulele because they couldn’t overcome the initial pain. It’s a small hurdle, and once we overcome it, we become much better players.

Do you want to play faster and start flying up and down the fretboard? I spent 20+ hours working on this technique that is guaranteed to increase your speed on the ukulele

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