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New female student with LONG fingernails on all 10 fingers

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Aug 22, 2019 - 1:46:22 PM
4 posts since 1/11/2018

I'm trying to teach a friend to play bluegrass from scratch. She has no other instrument background. Its hard for her to plant any right hand fingers as a foundation because nails are sliding all over the head. She won't be very successful fretting with her left hand either with nails getting in the way. The obvious solution is to get her to cut her nails short, but she likes the look of long nails. Is this a simple choice of learning banjo vs. being fashionable, or is there some middle ground method I can give her?

Aug 22, 2019 - 2:01:37 PM
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524 posts since 4/12/2004

Unless she's Dolly Parton, I'd tell she can learn to play the banjo or she can have long, fashionable finger nails; choose one or the other.

Aug 22, 2019 - 2:01:46 PM

1946 posts since 1/21/2003

I can't see any middle ground for the banjo. Dobro might work for the left hand but not sure about the right.indecision

Aug 22, 2019 - 2:21:55 PM
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24 posts since 9/9/2017

If she's content with never really getting any good, then sure. People always mention Dolly parton, but she tunes to open tunings and then just plays open strings and barres the whole fret when she moves to another chord. Beyond that for the fretting hand, she does some very simple alternating/moving bass stuff. Her technique also looks quite dangerous when it comes to injuries, since she uses the pads of her fingers instead of her fingertips. What makes it work in her case is her right hand, which is fine, coupled with the fact that the guitar is only there to back up her singing.

Aug 22, 2019 - 2:25:29 PM



1053 posts since 12/4/2012

You can tell her to check out Taylor Swift's fashionable fingernails (if she's of that age). It really is a choice. If you want to play a stringed instrument, you need short fingernails. But it's a choice. She doesn't have to play.

Aug 22, 2019 - 2:31:18 PM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)


23184 posts since 8/3/2003

From a woman's point of view..... cut those fingernails IF you want to play the banjo. You can always put on acrylic nails if you want to go out and look fashionable.

I have a lady friend, excellent banjo picker who had been away from it for a while. She went to a festival and wanted to join in so bad that she cut those acrylic nails short so she could play banjo. She made her choice: banjo, banjo, banjo!! She's still picking and has short nails but.... glues on those acrylic ones when she steps out and wants to look good.

Aug 22, 2019 - 2:43:15 PM
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14251 posts since 12/2/2005

There's no middle ground. She either learns to play the banjo or she keeps her nails. It's an either/or decision.

PS: if God had meant for us to have long fingernails, He never would have given us teeth.

Aug 22, 2019 - 2:46:28 PM

256 posts since 5/29/2015

First, I find long nails unattractive and impractical on men or women. I would have thought that cell phones would have reduced the number of people with long nails as the nails interfere with being able to hit the keyboard. I do get a chuckle out of watching long-nailed women trying to use their phone.

Aug 22, 2019 - 3:20:33 PM
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86 posts since 7/28/2019

Skip said it - nails or banjo.

Aug 22, 2019 - 3:22:16 PM

497 posts since 9/22/2012

Life is about choices.....maybe she should just listen to bluegrass for a while???

Aug 22, 2019 - 3:22:26 PM

1883 posts since 5/2/2012

Here is what I'm thinking. We know from threads about planting fingers on the picking hand that some don't plant either a pinky or ring finger. Classical guitar players grow their nails out, put then I believe they are using nylon strings. So for a "hybrid" BG picker, don't plant a finger on the head and maybe switch strings. For the fretting hand, use barre chords (as mentioned above) or use the 2 finger partial chords (strings 1 and 2) up the neck (like in Davis' Up the Neck book or Hohwald's up the neck improvisation DVD/book ). Going to change her sound if she needs to go to non-steel strings, and using only barre and 2 finger chords will limit her options, but at least she could make some music. Maybe that will be enough to get her started, and who knows, she may decide that she wants to expand her playing and cut those nails.  That said, I'm in the "cut your nails" camp.

Edited by - thisoldman on 08/22/2019 15:24:02

Aug 22, 2019 - 3:34:54 PM
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5428 posts since 3/6/2006

Perhaps instead of actually playing the banjo, she could get someone else to do that for her.

This is going to be my approach to exercise.

Edited by - Laurence Diehl on 08/22/2019 15:35:54

Aug 22, 2019 - 4:03:33 PM
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7083 posts since 8/20/2016

She may keep both thumbnails, and additionally she can choose to keep either the ring or the pinky finger of the picking hand. But the rest have to go. So it is written, so shall it be done!

Aug 22, 2019 - 4:04:48 PM
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6743 posts since 6/30/2015
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Originally posted by Laurence Diehl

Perhaps instead of actually playing the banjo, she could get someone else to do that for her.

This is going to be my approach to exercise.

Kind of like having a DVR to watch TV for you. 

Aug 22, 2019 - 4:29:26 PM
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2589 posts since 10/13/2011

+1 from another gal on what Sherry (Texasbanjo) said.

Aug 22, 2019 - 5:47:06 PM

Banjo Lefty


1627 posts since 6/19/2014

What about clawhammer?

Aug 22, 2019 - 6:44:17 PM
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2210 posts since 3/30/2008

The classical guitar world has very good advice about taking care of the nails, including size & shape. This is also good advice for all banjoists. However, if one wants to do otherwise & keep long nails it might be a good idea to look into fingerpicks to get the job done.

Aug 22, 2019 - 7:14:57 PM
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5190 posts since 10/13/2007

Of course you might see how Dolly did it?


Aug 22, 2019 - 7:49:57 PM
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612 posts since 3/2/2010

It's interesting to me how "fashionable" is so much in the eye of the beholder.

I went to the salon about a week ago, had all of my nails cut as short as possible, except, of course, my clawhammer nail, and chose a nice purple nail polish.

The technician told me more than once that only light polish should be used on short nails and I really think it pained her to humor me with my choice. I suspect she saw me as a plump, aging woman who just didn't understand and wanted to save me from the garish nail color.

I saw myself as a musician who was delighted with how great those nails were going to look fretting the banjo and noting the fiddle! I feel like my short nails say something important about who I am.

I guess what I'm saying is over time, if banjo becomes important to your student, maybe she'll find herself feeling good about having shorter nails.

Aug 23, 2019 - 2:46:46 AM
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276 posts since 3/12/2014

Nothing like getting those nails broke off by a string or having the string get under the nail.

Either way will solve it.


Aug 23, 2019 - 6:53:57 AM

4 posts since 1/11/2018

Thanks folks for all the replies. I appreciate it that you gave real thought to my teaching problem. I'll break the news to my student next lesson, i.e.; nails or bluegrass banjo, pick only one from column A.

Aug 23, 2019 - 6:58:22 AM

4 posts since 1/11/2018

Thx folks for all the rapid replies. I appreciate it that you gave real thought to my teaching problem. I'll break the news to my student at the next lesson: long "fashionable" nails or play Scruggs-style banjo, pick only one!

Aug 23, 2019 - 5:24:34 PM

9 posts since 4/28/2013


Aug 23, 2019 - 9:44:12 PM



12606 posts since 9/27/2007

A gal asked me to teach her some guitar chords. I handed it to her & she held it properly & we looked at her fingernails. She said " They gotta go right?" I nodded & she grabbed some trimmers & cut them off!

She ended up fronting her family band! In these parts I jokingly say when I see ladies with crazy long nails "She looks like she could be flipping salmon out of the Fraser River with those!"

Aug 24, 2019 - 6:01:54 PM
Players Union Member



420 posts since 4/17/2019

Boopm, boopm : what’s that sound?
That’s you in reverse

Aug 26, 2019 - 5:46:12 AM
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Players Union Member



174 posts since 10/22/2017

I think Sherry is right. Cut them off and use fake glue ons for dress up occasions. Between horses and music I could never keep long nails !

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