Playing any musical instrument seriously requires a bit of adjustment – it becomes part of your life, and sometimes other things can get in the way of your passion for playing.
If you’ve got long nails, you’re probably quite proud of them – but it’s also very likely that you’ve noticed they can get in the way of your playing.
Don’t worry though – you’re not the first to have this problem. While it’s undeniable that long nails will make it harder to play guitar, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible
Here’s a quick guide to some of the challenges of playing with long nails, and things you could try to make playing guitar a little easier!
There’s no avoiding the fact that playing guitar is slightly harder with long nails. They have an annoying tendency to get in the way! Worse still is the fear of damaging them, or snagging them on a string – ouch!
And the clickety-clack of them on the fretboard, and sometimes even the body of your guitar – these are all difficulties that have to be managed with long nails.
First of all, good news – long nails aren’t always a bad thing when it comes to guitar. They’re actually really good for fingerpicking! In classical guitar styles, a pick/plectrum isn’t used at all – the thumb and fingers themselves are used to pluck the strings.
While a lot of guitarists will do this using the tips and pads of their fingers, most serious classical guitarists will grow the nails on their picking hand out specifically to pick with them!
The reason for this is simply due to the sound that the nails make when used to pluck the string – it’s much less soft than when using the fingers themselves, with a more definite attack – much like using a plectrum, except that you’ve got one on the end of each finger!
It might be worth giving your nails a coat of clear nail varnish to give them a bit of protection if using them to fingerpick. Some guitarists who don’t like to grow their nails will actually buy special slip-on acrylic “nail”-style plectrums for this – although they are much more cumbersome and difficult to get used to than real nails.
However, there’s one caveat – if your nails are too long, using them to pick could well be more difficult than otherwise. In this case, you can consider using strumming techniques with them instead. They can also make it more difficult to hold a pick, sadly.
A normal plectrum might well be too small to comfortably manipulate with long nails, so perhaps trying a larger pick is a good idea! Or, of course, skipping the pick entirely – after all, maybe you don’t actually need it with those nails of yours!
Unfortunately, here’s where there are undeniable downsides to having longer nails. When fretting notes, you’ll often be using the tips of your fingers to press the string down. This becomes extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, when you have long nails.
You just can’t get your fingertip to meet the string sometimes – and your nails keep hitting the fretboard! Long nails can make fretting notes and playing chords extremely difficult, and sometimes even painful – nobody wants this!
And there is just no way you’re going to actually fret a string with your nails – it’s just not going to happen, and could even maybe damage your nails!
There are a few things that you can try, though! Firstly – you can use easier chord shapes! Barre chords, where you press your whole finger down on every string across the width of the fretboard, are a much easier option than having to fret each note. This is where a little bit of theory knowledge comes in – picking the right barre chord to substitute!
Dolly Parton has had a decades-long career, and has played guitar onstage the whole time – and she has long nails! So, how does she do it? It’s actually a very simple, and clever idea – she uses open tunings! This is where you tune the strings of the guitar to a chord, instead of the EADGBE standard tuning.
For example – an open G tuning, where the strings are tuned (from lowest to highest note) DGDGBD. When the strings are strummed with no notes fretted, this plays a G major chord. That’s not all though – every major chord is really easy to play now, because they only need you to barre strings on one fret with just one finger to play!
Just skip the thickest string, and you’ll have the root note of the chord on the lowest remaining string. For example, in open G tuning, fretting all of the strings except on the lowest string on the 2nd fret will give you an A major chord!
With an open tuning, it’s really, really easy to play some chords, compared to standard tuning. You’re not restricted to only these barre chords either, but they’ll certainly help you to keep playing with long nails! There are plenty of open tunings too, so have a look around online and try a few out.
OK, you don’t want to hear this, but it genuinely is one final option to consider if none of the above helps you – give them a trim! Having shorter nails will definitely make playing guitar easier for you.
You don’t have to cut them all the way – but maybe cutting them short enough that it’s a little easier to play is a good idea, if you’re getting frustrated at the difficulties of having long nails.
It’s completely up to you – but it’s something to consider! Maybe experiment a little with the length of your nails, until you find something that’s just right for you.
You’re a little more free to keep them long on your picking hand too, as they don’t get in the way as much and can even help you out!
Playing with long nails is certainly harder, but hopefully this article has shown you a few options to make playing a little more comfortable for you!