Most stringed instrument players prefer to use a plectrum, or pick, to provide the percussive force that causes the strings to resonate. A number of performers, however, prefer to use their naked hand. There are distinct advantages to using one’s hand. The same articulation and precision that can be achieved with a pick is possible, though it requires a great deal of practice. Those softer parts of the hand, the outside of the pinky and the pads of the fingers and thumb, can produce gentle, muffled tones. Of course, the entire hand can be used for the loudest passages, providing more volume than a pick can usually pluck out of the instrument.
For a ukulele or any plucked, stringed instrument player, the nails are one of the most important parts of the hand. In most cases, performers who use a finger-picking style will grow out the nails on their right hands to their preferred length. It’s important to note the term “preferred length”. There are any number of sources that will try to say what’s too long or too short where nail length is concerned. This is entirely up to the performer. Nail length affects how an instrument is played and its sound quality, so there is no choice to be made here that is not aesthetic and individual in nature.
One’s nails will increase in strength as they’re used. They may split and break at first, but keep them filed and trimmed and they’ll rapidly increase in the amount of work they can perform. Remember to keep the entire nail smooth. People tend to have ridges and depressions on the back of their nails. These can be filed down to make the smoothest possible surface. Nails should be trimmed and filed to eliminate bends and hooks.
To avoid splitting and breaking, it is ideal to use methods to help strengthen the nail itself. For instance, vitamin E oil can be applied to the nail. Daily vitamin use is also ideal for good nail growth as well as strengthening them. Vitamin rich lotion is also an ideal way to keep your nails strong and looking healthy.
If for whatever reason you have problems with nail growth and keeping them strong, you have other options to consider including acrylic nails and Lee Press On Nails (Yes, they are still available if you dont have any leftover from the 80s!). Both can be applied to the nails to provide you your ideal ukulele playing nail length as well as provide you with the strength you need to play effectively.