October 10

Do I Have to CUT MY NAILS to Play Guitar?

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For years I've been telling my students that they have to cut their nails if they want to play guitar. But lately I've been thinking about this and wondering just how important it is. Sure I get a little uncomfortable if my nails get a little long and hit the fretboard. But does that mean you can't play guitar?

I decided to put this to the test to find out how important short fingernails are to guitarists!

Why Most Guitarists Don't Have Long Fingernails

First of all, we're talking only about your fretting hand. Fingerstyle players often grow out the finger nails on their picking hand to act as individual finger picks. If you've ever seen a Flamenco guitarist you'll see their picking hand has longer fingernails that are very well maintained and shaped. But let's talk about the fretting hand, which guitarists typically keep short.

Why?

The primary reason, really the only reason, is that long fingernails prevent you from properly fretting a note. Since you want to fret your strings with your fingertips (for the most part), long fingernails tend to get in the way. In these cases you end up fretting with the pad of your finger which causes some problems. 

But I've seen plenty of good guitar players with longer fingernails, so maybe there's something I don't know?

To find out first hand, I decided to take a trip to the local $.99 store to grab a set of fake nails. 

Yes, really!

OK, here's what I found....

Full length fake fingernails were way too long. In fact, I found them way too long to do much of anything. So I decided to trim them to what I would call medium length fingernails.

And while it was better, it wasn't much better. I was able to play a G chord and an A chord as a demo. But it was hard and it took a while. 

I suppose if you have longer fingernails regularly you're used to them and can work around some of the obstacles. But for me it was too much!

Here's my overall though on short or long fingernails for guitar players: Learning guitar is hard no matter how long your fingernails are. It takes patience and practice and is an adjustment to be sure. I will say that it's worth trying to shorten them, at least for a little while to see what works for you. 

But you let me know. Do you keep your fingernails short or longer? If you keep them longer, do you have any issues with fretting notes? Let me know in the comments!

Tomas Michaud
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