Increasing Left Hand Reach on the Ukulele
Increasing our ability to stretch further with our left hand creates the ability to play new chords and perform more demanding pieces.
Here is the chord depicted in the above picture:
This chord is an A minor with a flat 6 (F note). Not a lovely sounding chord on its own, but it can be used in passing to create quite an interesting sound as heard in John William's theme to Harry Potter. So, now you are probably wondering: "How can I comfortably play chords like the one shown above?" That's what we will be answering in this article! This article will be aimed at giving you exercises and a practice routine to gradually develop your left hand reach.
It's important to note before we begin that reach takes time to develop. Never push yourself beyond what is comfortable for you at this moment. If at anytime you experience pain or discomfort, stop. Injuries can occur if you push yourself too hard. Imagine going to a gym for the first time, are you going to bench 200 pounds, or start with just the bar and no weights added. Hopefully, you said just the bar!
A realistic expectation for developing a noticeable increase in reach can be seen after 3 months of practice.
Listen to exercise #1:
This exercise requires us to anchor our index finger on the 3rd fret of string 1. From there, we are alternating between playing that note and a note that increases and decreases chromatically (moving by a series of half-steps) with our pinky finger. In other words, your index finger plays string 1, fret 3 and stays there. Your pinky finger plays every other note depicted above. Keep in mind that your thumb must stay on the back of the neck (in the middle) at all times.
Begin this exercise by going as far as you can up and then back down, while repeating 3-5 times. Aim for doing 3 sets of this exercise per day. If you can only reach the 8th fret comfortably at this time, that's fine! Loop that and over time, gradually work your way up to the 9th fret.
Listen to exercise #2:
This exercise uses a whole tone scale to move between 3 parallel strings. A whole tone scale contains 6 notes, each note is separated from its neighbor by the interval of a whole step. Each string contains 3 notes that are played. Use your index finger for the first note, middle finger for the second note, and pinky finger for the third note. Repeat this exercise 3-5 times and aim for 3 sets of this exercise per day.
To spice up this exercise, try playing the pattern up a half-step after every repeat. Thus, we would be moving the exercise up the neck, and we could work our way back down. This creates a nice dexterity challenge in addition to increasing our reach.
Listen to exercise #3:
This exercise uses chords to help develop reach. Proper left hand form is vital for performing this exercise. Your pinky finger will be doing the bulk of the work here. In measure 1, we will be extending to C5 (1) with our pinky finger. In meausre 2, the same chord shapes as measure 1 are moved down the neck, but the reach is more challenging. This is because as we move closer to the beginning of the neck (near the headstock), the frets are wider. Measure 3 has us playing variations on an A min chord. A minor (1) and A minor (2) are the most challenging reach using the index and pinky fingers.
Follow the fingerings exactly as notated in the chord graphs. Practice slowly, as you begin to become comfortable with the stretches, increase the tempo. Repeat this exercise 3-5 times and aim for 3 sets of this exercise per day.
Article by: Andrew Hardel