We can teach you how to play guitar with long nails

If someone started learning how to play guitar with long nails at a young age, they were likely told in no uncertain terms to cut their nails short. It wasn’t up for discussion.

But if an adult decided that playing guitar would be a great hobby and party entertainment (live music at every party? Yes!), that’s a different story. They may want to keep their long nails. Can they have a cake and eat it too? They can.

The rule of short nails applies to all string instruments. But the guitar is special. Adult folks don’t normally decide to take up the violin or the cello. That’s pretty extraordinary.

Playing guitar, on the other hand… We know people over 20, 30, and 40 (and an adorable granny at 73) who challenged themselves and learned to play guitar rather well.

For such independent grown-up people, leaving their favorite acrylic nails behind could be hard and even traumatic. So, is there a chance for them? Can they learn how to play guitar and keep long nails, or is it absolutely unacceptable?

They can keep their long nails. If you are among such people, rest assured your nails are safe. But fair warning: learning how to play guitar with long nails will be harder because your nails will become an additional obstacle among other challenges, common for any educational process. But where there is a will, there is a way.

Guitar playing techniques and nails. Hit or miss?

As with any ‘controversy’, there will be a difference in approaches. Some hard-core traditionalists will insist that the only option you have is short nails. Take it or leave it. You should be ready to make sacrifices.

And there will be an opposite position: short nails or long nails — it’s only for you to decide. Acrylic nails like stilettos or arrowheads? No problem.

You can learn how to play guitar with long nails too.

We’re not going to join that discussion, we’ll just tell you that you have options, and if you want to wear long fingernails, you can.

Conventional approach how to play guitar with long nails

Keeping short nails makes your hand more flexible. A long nail can get in the way when you try to go from one chord to the next, and the sound might not be clean. If your nails substantially exceed the finger pads in length, the speed can be affected too.

Basically, if you are striving to achieve an advanced level of playing guitar, learn virtuoso techniques, or rise to the professional level, long nails can present a challenge.

Long nails have the right to exist

Despite all the above, long nails are not an insurmountable hurdle for guitar playing. You can enjoy both. Here’s our road map.

Long nails and strumming. Road map

Generally, having longer nails on the strumming hand is easier. You have several solutions on how to play guitar with long nails.

A pick and its substitute

You can use a guitar pick with long nails, but not every pick will do. Go for a bigger-sized pick in a triangular shape. It will work best with long nails and your nail bed won’t be too affected.

But pay close attention to the nails on the other fingers. When playing guitar with long nails, you can unintentionally touch the strings and make an accidental sound.

You can use your long nail instead of the pick. An acrylic nail will suit you better, and the strain on your own nails will be less. A nail with a pointed end looks quite similar to the pick. If such a shape is not normally your choice, make your long nails rounded. Amazingly, that will result in a more rounded sound.

Perfecting finger-picking technique

If you are committed to your long nails, why not learn a new guitar-playing technique? It’s called finger-picking and involves plucking the strings one at a time.

The sound is very specific, and you can recognize it while listening to country music. Guitar players of this American style prefer this technique.

It’s not easy, like any learning, but absolutely doable.

Long nails and fretting. A good alliance?

Keeping the strings down is hard, and doing it with long nails is even harder. Not only do you risk breaking the nail, but also damage your fretting hand.

Guitar slide

A guitar slide on the fretting hand is a sensible option in any case, but especially if you have long nails.

A guitar slide is a fascinating item used widely by the musicians playing blues. It can be made of metal, ceramic, or glass.

You put the slide on a finger and then use a special technique, sliding up and down the strings.

The fascinating thing is that depending on the material of the slide, the sound will vary, from a warm and solid sound with the glass slide to a rougher tune with a metal one.

Long nails will not be an obstacle if you decide to play with a guitar slide.

Just the right angle

If you have long nails, playing a chord with a traditional hand position is not possible because your nails are in the way. You have to press the strings not with the finger pads, but with a lower, flat part of the fingers.

To do that, you need to change the angle with the fretboard, to make it less acute. Your fingers should basically lie flatly on the surface of the fretboard. And try to keep the nails away from the string.

As you can see, that sounds rather complex. You’ll have to take care of several things at the same time. But perseverance will get you there.

Or you’ll just cut your nails

Use this technique to prevent some strings from making a sound. For example, flatten the pinky against the lower strings when striking power chords, and you’ll get the desired tone. Or if you are playing riffs, one string after the other, do the same and get a clear sound.

The downside of changing the angle is that this position will not give you the wide variety of opportunities that you’d have had in a traditional position when a finger pad holds the string. Besides, a rather awkward position won’t help if you need to change chords fast.

But you can still play with long nails. Maybe not the most advanced pieces, but with lots of practice, you can even play the classical guitar. Although, we wouldn’t recommend extremely long nails. You may suffer from joint paints as a result.

Open tuning — Dolly Parton’s solution

We all know the country music icon and enjoy her unique style and charisma. And she has huge acrylic nails. If Dolly Parton can do it, why can’t we?

Well, first, she is Dolly Parton. The one and only singer and songwriter with an amazing voice and grand talent. But we can still learn something from her.

She uses open tuning.

What does it mean? You simply tune string A to B, string G to G#, and string D to E.

Such alterations provide you with partial relief for the fretting hand from the pressure you need to apply to the fretboard. It’s a good way to play guitar with long nails.

Drop D tuning

There’s one more alternate tuning called Drop D, which can help with the long nails issue.

You need to go one tone down with string 6 to DADGBE. By doing that, you won’t have to fret with the index finger two frets above the others on string 6, just use the index finger to barre chords on strings 4, 5, and 6.

Drop D tuning is not ideal, and in some situations, it will be difficult to play guitar with long nails, even with one of the alternatives that we described. But not impossible.

You’ll have limits, but you won’t be forced to cut the nails. If playing guitar was your dream, it’s significant that you live it without sacrificing something dear to you.

To recap

As we’ve already mentioned, taking up a dream hobby is important. And it’s absolutely wonderful if your dream is music.

Playing the guitar will change your life for the better, bringing beautiful music into your life. The pleasure you get will be immense, whether you are going to play for yourself or will become the center of attention at every party.

If long fingernails are an integral part of your identity, and you don’t want to part with them, we wrote this article specifically to help you with that because we strongly believe that following your dream is the most crucial thing.

Whether you want your nails short or long, or maybe you prefer fake nails, it won’t be a problem.

Play the guitar and enjoy long fingernails. Also Read About How Long To Practice Guitar

Frequently asked questions

Can I play guitar with fake nails?

You can play guitar with fake nails, although to certain limits. Some advanced chords can be impossible to strike. Here are some tips:

For the fretting hand: use a guitar slide; adjust the angle when holding chords in such a way that a string is held not with a finger pad, but with a flat part of the finger; use open tuning or Drop D tuning to make it easier to play guitar with long nails.
For the strumming hand: use a special pick; use your long nail instead of the pick; practice the finger-picking technique (it’s much easier to perform if you have very long nails compared to the conventional techniques).

How does Dolly Parton play guitar with those long fingernails?

Dolly Parton plays guitar with long nails. It’s true. You can watch one of her concerts and check it out. In her interviews, however, she admits that when she is writing music, she doesn’t wear her nails long. On the contrary, she wears her natural nails cut short.

And to make it easier for her to play at concerts, she uses open tuning.

How do you hold guitar strings with long nails?

With your nails long, holding chords becomes problematic, but not impossible. You can change the angle of the wrist position, thus changing the finger application point.

Traditionally, you hold chords with finger pads whereas, with fingernails longer, the holding point will be a lower, flatter part of the fingers and the angle — more acute.
In such a position, long nails won’t be an obstacle. But you have to make sure that the nails of the fingers, not involved in the chord, don’t hinder.

Do I have to cut my nails to play guitar?

If you would like to learn to play the guitar, you will probably be advised to have shorter nails — a couple of millimeters above the pad. But as we’ve described in the article above, you can learn how to play guitar with long nails and do it quite successfully. Even the classical guitar.

There will be challenges on the way, but if you are committed to your long nails, it won’t be a dealbreaker. Whatever the nail shape and length you wear, you should be able to play the guitar.

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