Ukulele Finger Picking vs. Manufactured Picks: What’s Best as You Learn How to Play Ukulele?
Manufactured picks, or finger picking? If you just learned how to play the ukulele, remember this, you can use both your fingers and a plectrum simultaneously. Although for myself I prefer finger-picking styles, you shouldn't get caught up thinking of yourself as dedicated to one technique or another.
Let's take these two options one by one and look at the pros and cons.
Option 1: Use Guitar/Ukulele Plectrum
Plectrum is just the formal name for a guitar/ukulele pick. In either case, the word refers to any device used to provide the percussive force that causes a stringed instrument to resonate. Plectrums have a unique sound that actually varies depending upon which type you use.
And you'll be surprised, but they also have certain limitations versus finger-picking styles.
What's important to remember is that plectrums come in different thicknesses - sometimes this is expressed in millimeters and sometimes more subjectively as hard, medium or soft.
- The soft plectrum is very flexible and bends a bit when pressed on the string, imparting a gentle, "plucky" sound.
- The hard plectrum is very rigid and hardly bends at all when you bring it in contact with the string. As you can imagine, a hard plectrum transfers more energy from the stroke to the string and, thus, produces a heavier, more articulated sound.
These differences in sound are easily added to or mitigated by the skillful use of your right hand, so you can simply choose a thickness based on your comfort.
The advantages of using a pick:
- it allows for excellent articulation of a note more easily than is possible with the fingers.
- it allows you to attain a loud volume without battering your hands on the strings.
Among plectrum's drawbacks you'll notice their limitation to sounding one voice at a time. Unless you use other fingers as well, a pick is only able of plucking a single string at once or voicing a chord from top to bottom or vice versa.
Picks are very inexpensive and I encourage you to experiment with different types to see which ones you like.
Option 2: Ukulele Finger Picking: Use Your Nails as Picks!!
If you are like most performers, you probably prefer to use your naked hand. No wonder, since there are distinct advantages to using your hand.
Although it requires a great deal of practice, you can achieve the same articulation and precision that can be achieved with a plectrum. Those softer parts of your hand, the outside of your pinky and the pads of your fingers and thumb, can produce gentler, more muffled tones.
Of course, your entire hand can be used for the loudest passages, providing more volume than a pick plucking out of the instrument.
As a ukulele or any plucked, stringed instrument player, your nails are one of the most important parts of the hand. Obviously, if you use a finger-picking style you can grow out the nails on your right hand to your preferred length.
When I say... "preferred length", no matter what you may read elsewhere about what's too long or too short where nail length is concerned, this is entirely up to you! 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.
And there's one more thing you must understand. Your nails will increase in strength as you use them. They may split and break at first, but keep them filed and trimmed and they'll rapidly get stronger.
Also, remember to keep your entire nail smooth. If you have ridges and depressions on the back of your nails fill them down to make the smoothest possible surface. Trim and fill your nails to eliminate any bends and hooks.
How do you avoid splitting and breaking?
A couple of tricks you can use... apply vitamin E oil daily directly to the nail - that's ideal for good nail growth as well as strengthening them. In fact, any vitamin-rich lotion is good for your nails helping keeping your nails strong and looking healthy.
Have problems with nail growth and keeping them strong?
Consider using acrylic nails and Lee Press On Nails - yes, they are still available if you don’t have any leftover from the 80s! Both will serve as artificial finger picks, giving you the length and strength you need to play ukulele effectively!
Before you go, check out my favorite online music store, Musician's Friend . . .
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