3 Legendary Warm Up Exercises

Last month, the ‘ukulele and slack key worlds lost a legend. But his music, his playing, and even his WARM UPS live on.

The year was 1977. Hal Kinneman, a talented guitarist from California, hopped on a plane to Hawai‘i with one goal in mind: to learn the art of Slack Key from Hawai‘i's best. Learning from the best was not foreign to Kinnaman. He had studied classical guitar with Frederick Noad, learned Flamenco from the outstanding luthier and player Antonio Durán, and dissected modern jazz with composer Howard Heitmeyer. But at 35 years of age, Kinnaman was ready for his next challenge. With his guitar, surf board, and a plane ticket, Hal was ready for adventure.

Over the next 50 years, Hal would pour his life into Slack Key guitar and ‘ukulele. He studied with masters like the legendary Raymond Kāne, learned from and performed with ‘ukulele virtuosos including Kenny Rapozo, and taught and guided the next generation of Slack Key artists like Paul Togioka.

Here are 3 of Hal's favorite ‘ukulele warm ups to supercharge your playing:

Warm Up #1

As a guitar and ukulele teacher, Hal was all about fundamentals. Start with a solid foundation at step 1 so you can progress to step 2 with confidence. This first warm up follows a simple pattern, right in order: 1, 2, 3, 4.

1. Assign each of the fingers on your fretting hand to a fret:
- Pointer finger to Fret 1
- Middle finger to Fret 2
- Ring finger to Fret 3
- Pinky Finger to Fret 4
2. To a steady beat, sequentially play the notes on frets 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the G string.
3. Do the same on the C, E, and A strings.
4. Play the notes in reverse (4, 3, 2, 1) on the A, E, C, and G strings.

Kick it up a level!

Now that you can do Warm Up #1 at 90 beats per minute (bpm) using quarter notes (1 note per beat), try using eighth notes (2 notes per beat), and sixteenth notes (4 notes per beat). Be sure you can play each note cleanly at a single pace before going faster.

Warm Up #2

Hal understood the importance of being an individual and a free thinker. At the same time, he recognized the magic of learning, performing, and teaching with others. We all need to be independent AND know how to work together. The same goes for your fingers when playing ‘ukulele.

1. Maintain the same fretting finger and fret number designations (Pointer to Fret 1, Middle to Fret 2, Ring to Fret 3, and Pinky to Fret 4)
2. To a steady beat, sequentially play the notes on frets 1 and 2 on the G, then C, E, and A strings. Do the same in reverse.
3. Next repeat the exercise using frets 2 and 3 on each of the strings. Repeat in reverse.
4. Again repeat the exercise using frets 3 and 4 on each of the strings. Repeat in reverse.

Kick it up a level!

Be aware of how far your fretting fingers move away from the fretboard during the exercise. Ideally you don't want them to be further than an inch away from your strings at any given time. Try repeating the exercise, keeping your fingers (especially that pinky finger!) as close to the fretboard as possible.

Warm Up #3 - The Spider

If you have ever attended any of Aldrine's workshops in person, you'll recognize "The Spider" warm up. This is an exercise Aldrine learned directly from Hal when he helped us to design various ‘ukulele exercises in the early days of Ukulele Underground. Share this one with your friends and help to perpetuate the spirit of Hal's teaching!

For this exercise, you don't need to pick the strings using your strumming hand. It's strictly a fretting hand finger exercise.

(Spider Exercise 1)
1. Place your fretting fingers again on frets 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the G string.
2. Think of your fingers in groups. Group A: Pointer and Middle. Group B: Ring and Pinky.
3. Get the hang of lifting your Group A fingers off of the fretboard at the same time, then put them back down. Now lift Group B fingers, then put them back down.
4. Move Group A from their positions on the G string to their positions on the C String. Now do the same for Group B.
5. Continue moving down a string, Group A then Group B, until you reach the A string. Move back up the strings in reverse.

(Spider Exercise 2) Repeat the exercise with new groups. Group A: Middle and Ring. Group B: Pointer and Pinky.
(Spider Exercise 3) Repeat the exercise with new groups. Group A: Pointer and Ring. Group B: Middle and Pinky.

Kick it up a level!

This one should be a challenge all on it's own, but to make it even more challenging, move your groups to a steady beat using a metronome. Try to get the groups to lift off on one beat then land on the next string right on the next beat. Again, be aware of how far your fingers are from the fretboard and don't let them stray too far.

After over 50 years of music, studying and teaching the art of Slack Key for guitar and ‘ukulele, Hal has left us with an incredible musical legacy. His style and teaching methods live on in the players and listeners whose lives he touched with his music. Hal's fundamentals-based approach to music, along with his rugged individuality and ability to coordinate and cooperate with others, will continue inspiring us for years to come. Aloha, Mr. Kinnaman. Mahalo for all the music.

-UU Staff


    1. Thanks for checking out Hal’s warm ups – great question! Aldrine typically picks using the thumb of his strumming hand, while his other fingers curl around the edge of the upper bout of the ukulele for stability and support. However, feel free to use whatever finger feels natural to you. There are advantages and disadvantages to using any finger of your strumming hand to pick individual strings. But in general, we recommend picking using your thumb and strumming using your pointer (index) finger.

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