Hey guys.

Since being back in school I've been trying to improve my guitar skills, focusing lately on fingerpicking. I was just curious as to if there's a "proper technique". I mean, I've always heard of people playing with their fingernails. However, I find myself always using the pads of my fingers instead.

Care to weigh in?
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I play electric, but I fingerpick with the pads of my index, middle and ring fingers.
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Not everybody can keep their nails in shape for finger picking without a lot of work.

James Taylor gives a course on putting on doing fake nails on YouTube. It's actually the first thing that comes up in the suggested search topics under his name: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BqISqpMRo8

It mostly involves crazy glue and very thin fiberglass cloth.

You can use crazy glue by itself also.

Steel strings just chop up my nails, I don't finger pick a whole lot, so I use the pads of my fingers.
I keep my nails short, so pads it is.
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I use nails, and I keep them the same way classical players do, so that just enough nail contacts the string to produce a clear tone. They are not even close to being "long", usually about 1/16".

However... For a professional player doing long sets nightly on a steel-string guitar.. In most cases this isn't going to cut it.

If you're in this category, then you can either learn to play with fingerpicks, use one of several techniques to strengthen the actual nails (Taylor's method, or "guitarist's nails", or glued-on pieces of ping-pong ball material... ) or play with the "flesh".
Using the flesh generally does not produce what most find to be a good tone, but more than a few do it....Feel free to experiment.
i've always played with nails. fingernails sound better to me and cleaner, and they also make it easier to be more precise with how you strike the strings. but when i started doing intense rehearsing many hours per day, i wore my nails off rather quickly and had to make an emergency run to a nail place to get acrylics, which lasted through almost 4 weeks of 12 - 14 hour a day rehearsals plus 3 live shows.

i've never found finger picks that stay on well, although i did find one kind that stayed on longer than the rest (had to tap 'em back on after every song) and weren't uncomfortable. a lot of people have good luck with fred kelly freedom picks, so if you decide to try finger picks, you might want to give 'em a shot. as far as the kind of fake nails you put on with tabs, they only stay on if i play gently - and where's the fun in that? ;-)
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i play both ways, my nails keep breaking.( 2 broken fingers at the moment so no playing for abit) i lke the sound of nails over the duller sound of pads.
Mine are rather fragile as well, which is why I flatpick as well. Break a nail... More flatpicking practice....