If you have just started with your ukulele, you may well be in pain! As I mentioned in my post on sore fingers, this is a natural reaction for a new player and something that you will have to go through. I thought though I would write a longer post with some tips on how to speed the process along.
When you start to play uke, your body, and in particular, the fingers of your fretting hand, will not be used to creating the chord shapes you are trying to get them in to. In fact, some chord shapes you may find downright impossible because your fingers just wont seem to bend or reach the required frets. Worry not, it DOES get easier with practice practice practice.
What you need to achieve is a muscle memory in your fingers so that the shapes you are trying to perform come naturally and easily. Much the same as a pro tennis player practices their serves over and over until their arm gets into a "groove" they can repeat easily, you need to train your fingers, muscles and tendons to start forming common shapes and reaching in ways your hand has never needed to before. So, some tips to help you along, and relieve the cramps and pains!
Firstly, lets look at some exercises you can do without even having your ukulele to hand. During your day, concentrate on doing repetitions of spreading your fingers wide as far as they will go, then crunched into a fist - repeat this over and over and over.
Try holding your hand with the palm facing you and bend your forefinger down trying to reach as far down your palm as you can. Repeat with the other fingers and, again, repeat this over and over.
Some people also report success by using a stress ball, (or a tennis ball) and squeezing and massaging it during the day.
The best exercises though are those that you practice on the ukulele. Try these AS WELL AS practicing your chord shapes and before long you will build up strength and the ability to stretch those fingers.
BASIC EXERCISEHolding your uke practice doing some note runs on the strings. Start on the G string, and fret at the first with your forefinger, then the second with your middle finger, the third with your ring finger and the fourth with your pinky. Then move on to the C string, and then the same on the E and A strings. When you get to the fourth fret of the A string, do the same thing in reverse. This is basic fretting practice putting the most obvious fingers on the most obvious frets. Plucking each note will also give you some note recognition practice. Ensure your fretting on each note is clean, using your fingertip perpendicular to the fingerboard and squarely between the frets.
When you are starting out I would suggest running this practice about 10 times up and down the notes at the start of every practice session.
If you find the above nice and easy, you can step it up a notch
a) - using just your first and middle finger, start on the G string fretting at the first with the forefinger then the third with your middle finger (hopping over and missing the second fret), then move on to the C, E an A strings, then run it back in reverse.
b) using just your first and ring finger do the same exercise but this time stretching your ring finger directly to the fourth fret on each string, working up through the strings, then coming back again in reverse.
c) using just your first and pinky, repeat as above, but this time using your pinky to stretch to the 5th string.
For all of the above - again practice each 10 or 20 times before you start your ukulele session
MORE ADVANCED EXERCISES
There is really no limit to where you can go with advanced exercises - you want to try to create something repetitive that REALLY stretches those fingers!
I use the following pattern that really does work those finger muscles.
Holding your uke, put your fore finger on the E string at the first fret, and your middle finger on the A string first fret. Strum twice, then move your middle finger up one fret to the second (leaving the forefinger on the E string at the first) and strum twice again. Then move that middle finger up another one and repeat. Keep going, keeping the forefinger anchored at the 1st fret on the E string, moving the middle finger up the A string a fret at a time. Then do it back down in reverse and repeat over and over. I can personally get my middle finger to the 5th fret when my forefinger is anchored at the first on the E string.
Then move on to your ring finger. Do exactly the same thing, keeping that forefinger anchored at the first on the E string, but move the ring finger up the frets of the A string one at a time strumming as you go. I can get my ring finger to the 6th doing it this way.
Finally, do the same for the pinky which should be able to go a little bit further (I can JUST about get my pinky to the 7th!)
The above is a great advanced stretch technique that should help you pick out those more difficult notes with ease
I hope these help you - there is no easy quick fix for hand cramps - practice practice practice!