The vibrant sound of the ukulele is often associated with carefree island life and cheerful beach days. It’s often seen as a fun, easygoing instrument perfect for beginners, allowing everyone of all ages to join in on the musical fun. You’ve seen those gorgeous pictures of people playing the ukulele on the beach, with the sun setting in the background and their long, flowing nails tapping away at the strings. And you’ve probably thought to yourself: “How on earth do they do that?!”
Playing the ukulele with long nails is definitely possible – but it does take some getting used to. Since the ukulele only has four strings, and the fretboard is significantly shorter than other string instruments, you might be able to get away with having longer nails than you would on, say, a guitar. But even still, those long nails can get in the way when you’re trying to form chords or strum the right way.
How to Play Ukulele with Long Nails?
So, if you’re wondering how to play the ukulele with long nails, here are a few tips to help you out:
1. Use the Tips Instead of the Pads
You might not be using your nails to press onto the strings, but these nails will get in the way as you shift from one chord to another. A great tip is to use the tips of your fingers instead of the pads. This will help you make a cleaner sound and also help you avoid those pesky string buzzes that can come from having your nails get in the way.
This means that you’ll have to slightly change your fingering for some chords – but it’s definitely doable, and you’ll get used to it in no time.
2. Don’t Forget about the Strumming Hand
Your strumming hand is just as important as your fretting hand when you’re playing the ukulele – so don’t forget about those nails!
When strumming, you can use a pick instead of your fingers, which will help you avoid any nail-related issues.
3. Choose an Alternate Tuning
Rather than sticking with the standard A, E, C, G tuning, you might want to try an alternate tuning allowing you to barre a single finger across multiple strings. This can make playing chords much easier, and it will also help reduce the number of times you have to shift your hand position.
Some alternate tunings to try out include D-tuning (D, G, B, E), Low-G tuning (G, C, E, A), or Slack-Key tuning (G, C, E, G).
Can You Play Ukulele with Long Nails?
On a technical note, it’s possible. As mentioned earlier, this might take some getting used to, but there are certain techniques allowing you to play even with long nails. However, professional ukulele and guitar players, even instructors, would always recommend that you trim your nails.
Playing any string instruments with long nails hinders you from flawlessly moving your finger and limits your speed. Not to mention, it would be quite painful when you accidentally hit your nails while playing.
In terms of your strumming hand, you can keep your nails long. In fact, long nails on this hand can create a brighter sound. The sound also appears to be louder, which is a nice bonus. This is a great thing, especially if you’re fingerpicking or strumming solo.
But if you’re a beginner, we would still recommend that you trim your nails shorter – at least for your fretting hand. This will make it much easier to learn chords and progressions without struggling too much. Once you get better and more comfortable with the ukulele and you’ve decided to grow your nails out again, then you can try out the tips and tricks mentioned earlier.
Do I Need to Cut My Nails to Play Ukulele?
If you want to produce the best sound and be able to play properly, it’s strongly suggested that you do so. Here are some reasons why we suggest cutting your nails to play the ukulele:
1. Produces a Warmer Tone
Long nails can actually produce a metallic, harsh sound when they come into contact with the strings. This is because the nail acts as a barrier between your finger and the string, which dampens the vibrations and produces a duller sound.
If you want that classic ukulele sound – warm, mellow, and vibrant – then you’ll need to have your nails trimmed short.
2. Allows Your Fingers to Move More Freely
As we mentioned earlier, long nails can get in the way when you’re trying to form chords. Your finger’s range of motion is limited because the nail is in the way, making it a challenge for some to press on the strings. As you’re already aware, some chords require you to apply pressure on multiple strings at the same time.
This can be quite difficult (and painful) to do with long nails. Not only that, but it can also affect your speed and dexterity. Short nails will allow you to move your fingers more freely and make it much easier to switch between chords.
3. Allows You to Play Faster and More Accurately
If you want to play fast and fluid solos, then you’ll need to have your nails trimmed short. There are some pieces that require you to use quick and nimble finger movements. Top ukulele players can execute these fast runs and complicated patterns effortlessly.
Accuracy is another issue when playing with long nails. Instead of hitting the string dead-on, your nail might brush against it and cause the sound to be muted or dampened. This can completely throw off your timing and rhythm.
How Long Should Your Nails be for Ukulele?
When it comes to playing the ukulele, the length of your nails can be a bit of a sticking point—literally. Having too long or too short of nails can make it difficult to play certain chords on your playing hands.
Yes, length matters. By now, we all know that long nails can lead to missed notes and a general muddiness in your playing. Nails that are too short, on the other hand, can also pose some problems in terms of your strumming hand.
The good news is there’s a happy medium. Your nails don’t have to be super short, but they shouldn’t be too long, either. For the best sound and playability, we recommend keeping your nails at a length where they’re just slightly past your fingertip. This gives you enough nail to get a good grip on the string while still allowing your finger to press down on the fretboard.
Of course, the best length for your nails will also depend on your playing style. If you’re doing a lot of fingerpicking, for example, your strumming hand’s nails can be a bit longer. This will give you more surface area to hit the strings and produce a brighter sound.
The Shape of Your Nails is Important Too
In addition to length, the shape of your nails is also important. For ukulele players, oval or almond-shaped nails tend to work best. These shapes allow you to get a good grip on the string without catching on the other strings or getting in the way of your fingers.
As a general rule of thumb, your nails should be shaped so that they’re slightly rounded at the edges. This will help you avoid any unwanted clicks and pops while you’re playing.
Can You Strum a Ukulele with Long Nails?
While we strongly suggest that you keep your nails on your playing hand (left) trimmed for better sound and playability, having long nails in your strumming (right) hand produces a more vibrant sound. It adds a depth of volume and can unlock multiple tone ranges when playing the ukulele.
There are a few things to keep in mind, though, if you’re going to strum with long nails.
For one, your nails should be kept well-groomed and clean. This means that your nails should be free from dirt, grime, or hangnails! Not only will this help you avoid any accidents while playing, but it’ll also give you a much cleaner sound. Take note, however, that your nails should be properly shaped and filed before you start playing.
You may also want to decide between using a pick or your fingernails for strumming. Fingerpicking works best if you have longer nails, as it allows you to get a more even sound. If you’re using a pick, on the other hand, you’ll want to keep your nails shorter so that they don’t get in the way.
Strumming with slightly longer nails can help you achieve a more vibrant and brighter melody and tune – but this only works if they are well-groomed, filed, and clean. As for your playing hand, keeping it short, in general, is always the best solution as it gives you more control and accuracy when playing those quick runs and patterns.
No matter the length of your nails, always take extra care in maintaining good hand hygiene to avoid any accidents while playing.