How to play guitar with long nails? If you have long nails, you can play the guitar by using the fingers of your strumming hand as your picks. For your fretting hand, the best option is to use open tuning. This allows you to play with barre chords which is easier to play with long nails.
How long should your nails be to play guitar?
To avoid interfering with the fretting of notes on the fingerboard, do not let your fingernails grow longer than your fingertips.
To test whether or not your nails are too long for guitar playing, press your fingertip on a flat surface. If the nail extends farther than the finger at first touch, you will need to shorten it. Otherwise, guitar playing might be too difficult for you.
But what if you simply can’t trim down your fingernails? In the following sections, we will break down exactly how you can still keep playing the guitar while keeping your long nails.
Playing the guitar with long nails
If you have long nails, you may find it more challenging to play the guitar. Luckily, there are styles available that still make it possible for you to play with long fingernails.
You can play a wide range of guitar styles with your fingers instead of a pick, including pop, country, bluegrass, classical and Spanish. These guitar styles are designed for fingerstyle playing.
The fingerstyle technique requires longer nails on the picking hand to pluck in the strings. Longer nails allow the right hand to trigger the attack of each note.
Advantages of playing guitar with long nails
Although guitarists have different fingernail lengths, fingernails are grown for one purpose: to produce a louder, more vibrant, and distinct tone.
Striking the string without the fingernails produces a limited dynamic range and weak sound. This is why many professional musicians want to use their fingernails to produce the most vibrant and distinct tone possible.
If you’ve ever seen a guitarist with long fingernails, you may have noticed that they only have long fingernails on one hand–usually the picking hand.
This is more common in nylon-string or acoustic guitar players who also utilize fingerstyle. Playing with long nails is common in genres such as classical, jazz, flamenco, and other music that use note-per-string plucking techniques.
Classical guitarists with long fingernails
In the 19th century, some guitarists used their nails to play. Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849), a prominent guitarist of the late Classical and early Romantic periods, used his fingernails to create different tones.
Another famous guitarist who used fingernails in guitar playing is Andres Segovia (1893-1987). Segovia believed that playing without nails reduces the guitar’s volume, timbre, and richness of sound.
How to strum with long nails
Strum with the back of fingernails
If you have long nails, strum downward with the back of your fingernails, then upward with the back of the thumbnail. That way, your nails won’t catch on individual strings.
Using fingernails to strum the guitar gives off a brighter, sharper sound compared with strumming with flesh that produces a warm and mellow sound.
Fingerpicking with long nails
Fingerpicking on a guitar with long nails is easier than you’d think, especially if you use the right kind of strings. Fingerpicking is a technique used by most guitarists with long nails since fingers are used instead of picks or plectrums.
To fingerpick with long nails, tune your guitar correctly first so that the strings are neither too loose nor too tight. It will be difficult to press them down firmly enough to produce a sound if they are too loose. If they are too tight, your fingertips might cramp up when you play.
Remember to take care of your fingernails
When you do grow out your nails, make sure to maintain them properly. Many classical guitarists grow their nails out and spend time filing and buffing them.
Be careful not to hit your nails too hard so they won’t break. You will have to push hard with longer nails to get a sound out of the strings, leading to sore fingertips.
Keep your nails clean and well-trimmed to avoid broken nails while playing guitar. If you are very concerned about breaking a nail, use a gel nail protector on your fingertips.
How to fret with long nails
Use open tuning
You can play more notes by using alternate tuning. Open-tuning is the most popular option for long-nailed musicians, especially in the blues, country, and folk scenes. It allows you to play barre chords, making it easier for you to play with long nails.
If you’d like to keep all of your nails long, consider tuning your guitar to an open tune. Dolly Parton always plays in open tuning and just barres every chord.
Angle your fretting fingers
Angling your fingers might not be intuitive at first, and it may take some time to get used to. The idea is that you’re angling your fingers so that they allow more space between your nail and the string.
Tilt the neck of your guitar at an angle and rest your thumb at the edge of the neck closest to you. Your fingers should be placed on the strings in such a way that when you press down on them, the tip of your nail goes below the string.
You can only achieve this with practice, as it will take some time for you to figure out how to fashion your hand in such a way that you get to hear the sound of all six strings without breaking any of them.
Use a guitar with big frets
If you have long fingernails, you might find it easier to play with electric guitars that have big frets. Using big or jumbo frets will increase the distance between the fretted string and the wood of the fretboard.
Jumbo fret wire is thicker, making the frets easier to press and producing better sustain, tone, and bending. With big frets, you might not even have to touch the fingerboard. This makes it easier to fret the strings with long fingernails since you won’t need to apply a lot of pressure.
All in all, you can still play guitar even with long fingernails. Long fingernails are a matter of personal choice and preference, so some guitarists keep their nails short for playing but still have long ones for decoration.
Practice is the best way to overcome challenges when playing guitar with long nails, and you can always get better.
Michaela Jyra Melo is a freelance writer, music obsessive, and professional content creator with a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge with the world. Michaela is a music lover first and foremost. She's passionate about new music and artists, but she also loves to dig into musical instruments and equipment. Michael studies communication at the University of the Philippines. When she's not writing or listening to new music, she can be found reading on her Kindle or traveling somewhere new with friends.