Piano and Long Fingernails – Are They a Match? (Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW)

Can you play the piano with long fingernails? Of course you can.

But should you?

That question has an entirely different answer.

Long fingernails cause a multitude of problems for a pianist in the areas of:

  • Hand position
  • Control
  • Fluency and Speed
  • Tone and Expression
  • Risk of injury and pain

The fingertips are a crucial connection between you and the piano.

These points are relevant to hand position in general and important for all pianists, but long fingernails will immediately compromise good hand position.

Hand Position

From the very first lessons at the instrument, correct hand position is stressed and supported. This position is natural and requires no extra effort. If the nails are too long, the fingers are extended, the position is no longer natural and everything becomes more difficult. Having the fingers stretched out exerts unnecessary strain on the hands, as well as making movement much more awkward. 

One very important aspect of hand position is developing strong, supportive first knuckles (the ones nearest the nail). If the fingernails are too long, it is impossible to support this knuckle and typically the knuckle will collapse inwards. At this point the knuckle and finger ‘lock’ into place, severely impeding movement as the finger sinks into the key. If the knuckle doesn’t collapse, there is a tendency for the finger to slip on the keys, or a ‘wiping’ motion is introduced, because the knuckle isn’t supporting the finger.

Control

With the correct hand position you can feel the keyboard and have more control over how your hands and the keys connect. Piano keys don’t simply go up and down; there is so much nuance available. Where the finger is on the key, the depth of pressure, the speed of the attack and how the finger approaches the key are all elements of control that are lost if the fingers are flat.

Fluency and Speed

You can possibly get away with playing with flat fingers if you are playing some types of music such as chords and slow passages, but for anything requiring speed and precision, flat fingers are definitely out. The photo below shows how the hands would be positioned and you can see it would be impossible to move quickly around the keys (particularly around the black keys). The length of the nail means the pad of the finger would struggle to connect with the key and the nail itself cannot depress the key.

Long nails simply get in the way of fluent movement. Playing may end up sounding muddy or clumpy as the hands struggle to move smoothly to their next position.

Tone and Expression

All the other points lead to this. You play an instrument because you want to produce beautiful music. You want to play expressively. We don’t always keep the fingers curved, but you need to have the choice. Different articulations require different techniques and hand shapes. For example, finger staccato requires great control of the first knuckle to produce crispness, whereas flattening slightly and using more of the pad may produce a warmer, singing tone.

You feel the keys, know the weight of the keys and learn how you can produce different sounds with just a tiny change of your hands and fingers.

A good hand position that can control tone and expression

Long nails mean flat fingers that cannot grip the keys, which results in only one level of tone quality; everything sounds the same.

Additionally, long nails usually result in a constant “click click” sound as the nails hit the keys… most distracting for the listener!

Injury and Pain

Nails can get caught in between the keys, especially when you are navigating around the black keys, or when moving quickly through larger intervals. The result? Nails being torn off. Additionally, continual pressure on the end of the nail from contact with the keys can cause pain in the nail bed, particularly with false nails.

The incorrect hand position that results from long fingernails creates unnecessary tension that moves through the hand, wrist and forearm resulting in painful strain to connective tissues.

If students don’t like the sound they are producing, they won’t continue to play (and they certainly won’t want to practise). The most common means of sabotage are a poor instrument – either non-weighted keyboards, or out of tune pianos – and poor sound as a result of poor hand position. We want students to have control over what and how they are playing and to love the sounds they produce.

Happy students controlling their touch with short nails and good hand position 😊

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

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