As the ukulele has tiptoed from the tulips into the hands of multitudes of musicians, players have learned that the instrument isn’t the only thing that requires fine-tuning.
Strumming can make fingers stiffen and backs hunch, which is why Strathmore’s Ukefest (Saturday through Aug. 14, $320, strathmore.org) — a summit featuring improvisation, songwriting and lessons with uke masters — is inviting participants to try “Yogalele.”
Yoga teacher and Canisius College music professor Stuart Fuchs will guide players through techniques he’s developed and taught in various iterations at yoga retreats around the world.
Through stretches, breathing exercises and meditations, Fuchs helps ukulele players connect with their bodies, the present moment and their own creative impulses.
“This way we can maintain the physical demands of playing an instrument for longer with less wrist, shoulder and hip pain,” he says.
Though he tailored the following exercises for ukulele players, Fuchs says any musician can benefit from them.
Sitting in a chair, chin slightly tucked, inhale and raise your shoulders up as far as comfortable, and on the exhalation, let them fall. Repeat for two minutes with a rapid breath. Then, shrug your shoulders up, hold and release with a long sigh.
What it does: This shakes loose the tension in musicians’ shoulders while oxygenating muscles, Fuchs says. “There will be a tremendous rush of energy and a tingly sensation,” he says.
While sitting, interlace your fingers and turn your palms away from you. Straighten your arms, take five deep breaths, and then raise your arms overhead with your fingers still interlaced. Take five breaths and then return your hands to your front. Repeat.
What it does: By moving and breathing slowly and mindfully, ukulele players can form stronger connections between their mind and body, Fuchs says. Plus, playing fast passages takes limber and relaxed hands.
Pluck a note on your ukulele, and listen with your full attention as it decays. Then find another note — it doesn’t matter which one — and repeat. “The sound of the ukulele itself, the sound of sound, the vibration of the instrument, can be your mantra,” Fuchs says.
What it does: This meditation sharpens listening skills, so it’s easier to learn riffs. It also teaches players to trust their intuition when improvising.