Ukulele Beginners tips - Fingernails for ukulele

13 Nov 2010

Ukulele Beginners tips - Fingernails for ukulele

Another common issue for those starting out with ukulele is how to treat their fingernails.

As I have said, i dont really go in for playing the ukulele with a pick and prefer to strum with the fingertips - to get a sharper and louder sound, it really is essential that you have longer fingernails. If you want to get into finger picking, even longer still. So how do you go about it?

Well, firstly, we are only talking about growing nails on the strumming hand. For accurate fretting, you want to keep the fingernails on that hand trimmed short.

For the strumming hand, well, the first step is easy - dont cut or bite them!

For many though, that wont be enough as the nails need to be strong too.  First time nail growers may find their nails soft, or that they will easily break when strumming.

The following tips may help you in that regard though.  Male readers may wince at some of the tips as they make me sound like a beautician - the thing is though, if you want to play fingerstyle with nails, you need to grow them AND look after them

  • Once grown, keeping them in good shape is essential - keep them sanded to the length you like - do this religiously and carefully
  • Using nail conditioning creams and increasing your intake of Omega 3 (fatty fish oils) will improve the strength of your nails - plus its good for you in many other ways!
  • Dont grow them too long - this will depend on the shape of your fingers, but you only want them so long as to just protrude beyond the flesh of your fingertip - so it is the nail that hits the string first, not skin.  Keeping them the right length will reduce your chances of breaking them in other day to day things.
  • Buff the flat face of the nail regularly with a buffing pad, and keep the cuticle pushed back.

If you try the above (and persevere) but are still having breakages or soft nails, you may need to consider an artificial solution

  • Coat the nails with a clear nail varnish before playing.  Some brands offer a super strength formula that is super tough
  • Consider having a false nail tip or two added to the fingers you want to use - sorry guys - trip to the Nail bar!
  • The ugly, but very workable solution employed by many guitarists is this - cut some single ply pieces of tissue paper to the sort of shape you want.  Cover the nail in a coat of clear varnish, and lay the tissue on to it and leave to dry.  Build up layers of these sheets, letting each one dry hard each time.  This will build up an ugly but strong artificial nail.  All you need to do then is trim the tip to a nail shape.
Hopefully those tips will help you.  To start off it takes patience and work, but its worth it for that wonderful sound.

Good luck


  1. THANK YOU VERY MUCH , VERY GOOD ADVICE , . Now i must learn to keep my strumming fingernails longer ,

  2. I'm a pianist so can't have long nails. :( I've been toying with the idea of learning the ukulele for a while, and I'd like to play classical pieces on it. Should I give up the idea because of the nail thing?

    1. Not at all! You just get a slightly different sound. Some of the greatest professional players I know have short nails too - people like Phil Doleman. If you find you want the attack sound nails give you can try finger picks


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