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View Full Version : Playing without fingernails?



roypoy
08-21-2008, 06:10 PM
First off I'm a total noob, have been playing a few weeks and I do pretty much nothing but play basic chords whenever I have time to pick up my uke. I grew out my fingernails at first on my right hand (advice from some beginner book by Randy Sproat I picked up). It worked well at first, but I can't stand having long fingernails and cut them recently, I'm wondering is it possible to play well with short nails if you build up finger strength? Right now my playing sounds like death (faint) using a combo of short nail/fingertip and have been reverting back to using thumb/pointer fingertips which sounds louder but inconsistent.

russ_buss
08-21-2008, 06:34 PM
i keep my nails very short all the time. however, not sure what you mean by finger strength for picking. you'd probably need more finger strength for the hand that frets the chords.

Dane
08-21-2008, 07:00 PM
I personally feel like I advance quicker with my nails cropped down as far as they get.

UkuLeLesReggAe
08-21-2008, 11:46 PM
i personal cant play without them, probably a mental thing for me... but i play like i jusat started.

i like picking though, cant pick without fingernails!

grappler
08-22-2008, 12:05 AM
i used to have a long thumb nail, but i cut mine off already. it took time to get used to but i like the feel of it better than having nails

HI@heart
08-22-2008, 07:34 AM
First off I'm a total noob, have been playing a few weeks and I do pretty much nothing but play basic chords whenever I have time to pick up my uke. I grew out my fingernails at first on my right hand (advice from some beginner book by Randy Sproat I picked up). It worked well at first, but I can't stand having long fingernails and cut them recently, I'm wondering is it possible to play well with short nails if you build up finger strength? Right now my playing sounds like death (faint) using a combo of short nail/fingertip and have been reverting back to using thumb/pointer fingertips which sounds louder but inconsistent.

I can't stand having long nails either so I keep 'em short. I don't pick (yet) but I say play how you're most comfortable for now. Otherwise you won't play as much :D Master the basics and follow your own path. Have fun!

Dane
08-22-2008, 02:12 PM
I pick with my fingers and no fingernails just fine. I like the sound of flesh on the strings better than a nail, it sounds prettier to me.

tad
08-22-2008, 08:21 PM
I can't really pick well to save my life, but when my fingernails get to long, I end up cutting 'em, 'cause I cant stand the sound of the fingernail against the string-- I prefer the sound of skin on the string. I mean, obviously, Aldrine's got nails longer than my grandma, and his playing sounds great. But when I do it, it sounds-- ugly.

Dane
08-22-2008, 09:15 PM
I can't really pick well to save my life, but when my fingernails get to long, I end up cutting 'em, 'cause I cant stand the sound of the fingernail against the string-- I prefer the sound of skin on the string. I mean, obviously, Aldrine's got nails longer than my grandma, and his playing sounds great. But when I do it, it sounds-- ugly.

Same goes for me, maybe we just need manicures tad ;)

I will probably end up experimenting again sometime, but for now, for learning, cropped and short as they can get.

Lanark
08-23-2008, 02:58 AM
You really don't need super long nails to fingerpick though. You can get by with a nail that extends to just about to the top of the pads on your fingers are. Just long enough to catch a bit of the string when you pluck and enough to give a good down strum with.
I suppose that it would take a bit of getting used to if you've always kept your nails trimmed to the quick, but I personally think it's worthwhile.

I really like the clarity and ring of fingerpicking with some nail behind it. Without just sounds kind of muffled and dead to me. Not to mention the extra volume you get. Plus you can utilize a nail like a regular pick to play solos and quickly double pick strings.

My biggest problem with nails is just keeping them filed to a good height for playing but where I'm also not going to keep breaking them at work.

ichadwick
08-23-2008, 03:02 AM
I've always played with my fingertips, never my nails. My nails are cut so short they're well below the tip of the fingers. I use the edge of my thumb, too. I find long nails are hard to maintain, keep clean and get in the way of typing.

Ian Boys
08-23-2008, 04:13 AM
...and I'm weird and actually have no thumbnails..... so I'm essentially forced to play without (as I keep the other nails short to match the tone of the nail-less thumbs).

HI@heart
08-23-2008, 05:44 AM
This shows there are alternatives to having natural nails.

Check it out:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trNzWAuhnRQ

Do what works for YOU :D

YuKoLayLay
08-23-2008, 07:35 AM
Funny, when i first saw this thread i was like ... who doesnt have fingernails? Well anyways, The way i do it is, i use my nails to play chords and strum, but for finger picking i find it easeir to use the fleshy parts of your fingers.

Dane
08-23-2008, 07:50 AM
My nails are also very curving, so I'd kind of have to make them pointy in order to pick with them.

Lanark
08-23-2008, 11:22 AM
...The way i do it is, i use my nails to play chords and strum, but for finger picking i find it easeir to use the fleshy parts of your fingers.

Just a sec there. Use your own dang fingers!

I've got stuff to do with those and I'd much prefer it if you weren't messing with the fleshy parts. Stick with your own nails, thank you very much.

ainokea
08-25-2008, 02:22 AM
couldn't help it >>> you can pick your friends....you can pick your nose... and you know the rest. my apologies. =P

uber_goober
08-25-2008, 03:08 AM
I fall into the "no fingernails" camp also. I always keep my nails trimmed short.

I just like the tone better. That and my fingernails are quite thin so long doesn't work anyway. :)

-John

Kanaka916
08-25-2008, 04:54 AM
Chris Kamaka, of Kamaka Hawai'i, shows there are alternatives to having natural nails.
That was Bryan on uke, Del Beazley on guitar and Chris playing bass.

HI@heart
08-25-2008, 07:16 AM
That was Bryan on uke, Del Beazley on guitar and Chris playing bass.

Oops. :o:o:o
Somehow I thought I was going to get that one wrong. Should've made sure.
Mahalo for the correction Kanaka.

haole
08-25-2008, 09:12 AM
I can't stand having long nails on either hand. XD Short nails are fine for fingerpicking; you just need to work on the angle of attack so your fingertips don't get hung up on the strings.

SuperSecretBETA
08-25-2008, 09:52 AM
I grow them out; they get ridiculously long.
After that, I cut them, and the process begins all over again.

lovemissheather
08-25-2008, 12:18 PM
i have been a nail biter for as long as i can remember. i play with the tips of my fingers as well - and i actually prefer it that way. maybe it's because I'm used to it.

i remember once, i got those girly girl fake nails and basically got pissed and tore them off with my teeth when i realized how much harder it was to play my guitar and my bass.

sure, it's not the girly thing to do.
but its my habit and you know? i don't mind it.
:)

i think you guys who have no nails, or less nails are better of in a social standard.. if that makes sense. you're not expected to have long nails. a lot of cultures (especially the American culture - hell, the California culture) expects women to have longer fingernails, etc. because we're all supposed to be more feminine.

instead i have calluses on my strumming fingers and my fretting fingers.
which aren't real noticeable.

i don't know.
I've never had a problem.
having fingernails would drive me CRAZY.

SuperSecretBETA
08-25-2008, 12:40 PM
I get self-conscious when I grow them out, but it makes the uke sound so good! LOL

tad
08-25-2008, 01:32 PM
You really don't need super long nails to fingerpick though. You can get by with a nail that extends to just about to the top of the pads on your fingers are. Just long enough to catch a bit of the string when you pluck and enough to give a good down strum with.
I suppose that it would take a bit of getting used to if you've always kept your nails trimmed to the quick, but I personally think it's worthwhile.

I really like the clarity and ring of fingerpicking with some nail behind it. Without just sounds kind of muffled and dead to me. Not to mention the extra volume you get. Plus you can utilize a nail like a regular pick to play solos and quickly double pick strings.

My biggest problem with nails is just keeping them filed to a good height for playing but where I'm also not going to keep breaking them at work.


There's other ways to get volume. Banjoleles, for example. :D

SeanKy671
08-25-2008, 04:24 PM
I hav a habit of biting my nails lol :D but i still play fine with my fingers
i can pick.. i can strum.. this has never been a problem for me :/

lovemissheather
08-25-2008, 04:34 PM
There's other ways to get volume. Banjoleles, for example. :D

i'm a bass player, so finger picking to me is just done with the finger tip anyway.

yes, even when playing uke :)

UkeCanDoIt!
08-25-2008, 06:08 PM
I like the muted tone with just using the finger tips. It doesn't project the tone as clearly as strumming with fingernails, but then I'm probably never going to be in a situation where I need to. :)

cashew
08-26-2008, 03:04 AM
I'm picky about my hands/nails (at least until my wedding in October) And my manicurist thinks I'm strange-- I have long 'dragon lady' nails on my right hand, but considerably shorter (top of fingertip) on my left. In order to keep them from breaking (my nails are naturally very soft/brittle) I have them coated in a clear UV acrylic.

In the end, it makes my fingerpicked songs ring out loud and clear, my strummed songs sound kinda 'pickish' (hard plastic coating on the nails will do that).

Now, my mom plays guitar with no long fingernails at all, and she excels in fingerpicking. Loudly. I figure its because she has callused fingertips, which, for her work extremely well :)

To each their own, everyone finds their own best way.

Dane
08-26-2008, 07:22 AM
I'm self-concious. I wouldn't like someone to see me with long nails on one hand haha.

SeanKy671
08-26-2008, 10:07 AM
yeah that's pretty weird
i would laugh at you lol

dnewton2
08-26-2008, 10:14 AM
I'm self-concious. I wouldn't like someone to see me with long nails on one hand haha.

I grow out my nails on one hand to play the uke. I can't pick as well with my fingertips I always hit wrong strings. As for what other people think of me I don't care, if I did I would play guitar. (not knocking the uke or guitar I just think some people play it cause they think it will make them cool or look cool.)

SeanKy671
08-26-2008, 11:02 AM
I grow out my nails on one hand to play the uke. I can't pick as well with my fingertips I always hit wrong strings. As for what other people think of me I don't care, if I did I would play guitar. (not knocking the uke or guitar I just think some people play it cause they think it will make them cool or look cool.)

well said
totally respect that bro :D

roypoy
08-26-2008, 11:34 AM
Looks like a lot less people play with their fingernails then I initially thought, was under the impression that nearly everyone did. I was just having trouble the first few days without fingernails, I'm starting to get used to it though.

cMejilla
08-26-2008, 11:50 AM
i've gotten used to picking with my fingernails. i haven't kept them ridiculously long for a while since i've found a good balance where it just sticks out over my fingers and catches the strings.

although when i first started, i used the fleshy parts just to make sure i was anchored down onto the right string and slowly progressed the picking to the nails after i found the right length.

SuperSecretBETA
08-26-2008, 12:14 PM
In order to keep them from breaking (my nails are naturally very soft/brittle) I have them coated in a clear UV acrylic.

Is that even safe on your skin?

Dane
08-26-2008, 12:44 PM
As I said, I might frow them out a bit as I progress. But for now I feel that I will have a better basis if I use my fingertips. I like it because I really feel the uke with both hands.

cMejilla
08-26-2008, 06:45 PM
Is that even safe on your skin?

I remember a while back when someone (could have been nikolo in a previous thread but I'm not quite certain) posted about using a fingernail strengthener that helped rebuild the integrity of brittle nails. It was something you could apply yourself every once in a while and purchase at a local drug store. I wouldn't assume that it'd be remarkably unhealthy for you. :confused:

NotoriousMOK
09-11-2008, 03:14 PM
I remember a while back when someone (could have been nikolo in a previous thread but I'm not quite certain) posted about using a fingernail strengthener that helped rebuild the integrity of brittle nails. It was something you could apply yourself every once in a while and purchase at a local drug store. I wouldn't assume that it'd be remarkably unhealthy for you. :confused:

Some years back, I worked for an MLM company and one the products I sold was called the Lume' nail care system. It was a type of gelcoat that was cured/bonded to the nail. The big selling point here was that it allowed the natural nail to breath and strengthen itself. I honestly thought it worked really well and sold hundreds of them. I was initially surprised how many men (usually mechanics, woodworkers etc) bought them who had a tendency to destroy their nails (splitting/breaking/painful stuff) in the course of their work.

Anyways, the UV light and/or the gelcoat had a bad reaction with something that an Arizona lady had on her hands or nails and her hands got hot and started smoking. She sued and the company blew up, but it looks like they're back in biz, but with disclaimers and warnings about mixing the contents of the kit with other products.


As for playing with/without nails, I do both depending on what I'm playing and/or my mood. I file my nails JUST long enough to use for picking but short enough that I can use the flesh instead if desired. I also cut the nails at an angle which looks a little wierd, but I found helps avoid my clumsy hands breaking them off or bending them when working in the shop or yard. An unexpected benefit of this cut was a smoother roll/strum that I had not discovered before.

At the end of the day, you've just got to experiment and discover what works best for you -- have fun.

thesoobz
09-11-2008, 03:35 PM
its all preference! haha

but finger nails do help when picking and when you play it sounds clearer well from what i notice. my thumb nail is long for picking. i keep my right hand nails long expect for my pinky.