Long or Short Nails Playing the Classical Guitar? Which is Right for You?

The debate over long or short nails has raged since the dawn of the classical guitar and the right answer to this question is “It doesn’t matter”. But there are differences between the two styles and some things you should know before you decide which is right for you.

Some classical guitarists prefer to pluck the strings with the nails of their right hand while other guitarists prefer to keep their nails trimmed and to pluck the strings with the tips of their fingers. If you are a beginner classical guitarist you might be wondering which way you should play. Here are some insights about each way so you can make a decision as to which style is right for you.

First off I want to say that I have been playing classical guitar for over twenty years and I have played with both long and short nails. For the past five years I have been playing with long nails but, when I break or split a nail, I trim all the nails of my right hand and play without nails until they slowly grow back. For me, the most important thing about playing classical guitar is the playing! It is true that my oscillating back and forth between long and short nails has an effect on my virtuosity but this switching also brings a benefit. The two different styles of playing produce two very different tones and this awareness of tone improves my ear and my ability to express myself with the guitar. It helps me to better tap into the incredible range of tone the guitar is capable of.

The Long and the Short of it

Long Nails – Long nails give you a more vibrant tone, better volume and faster speed. But long nails can be a real maintenance headache. You have to keep them very carefully trimmed and watch out for their welfare in your normal life. If you have a job that is very manual in nature you may have trouble maintaining your nails.
Short Nails – Short Nails do not produce as loud a volume, do not lend themselves to the fastest playing but do give you more control and more sensitivity in your playing. There is more of an emotional connection with the music because you literally touch the strings. Short nails are also easier to maintain and easier to integrate into the rest of your life.

So which should you use?

My recommendation for you is that if your intent is to be a professional classical guitarist you should cultivate your playing with long nails and if you are an amateur you should experiment with both styles and see which you like. If your normal life is very hard on your hands like if you have a job that you use your hands a lot you may want to simply opt for the short nails. It can be a bit of a worry to have long, perfectly trimmed and manicured nails for playing yet always worry about breaking them on the job. And breaking one nail seriously hampers, if not totally stops your ability to play. You will be running down to the local drug store to find a nail repair kit.

Either way you go with your nails my biggest recommendation is that you not worry about it. The classical guitar is a beautiful instrument and it is going to sound fantastic.

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