Guitarists are obsessed with their fingernails - and for good reason.
Why is nail care important? Why is it important for you?
My thoughts are that the right hand is mostly responsible for projecting our musical voice. With it we control among other things our tone, dynamics, rhythm and color. Of course, the left hand also plays its part in all this too.
Like me, you've probably had an experience or two of a "bad nail day". This can feel horrible, because all the hard work you've done just goes out the window. No matter what you do, nothing can really fix bad nails while you're performing.
On the flip side, great nails can do some magic. They can make your sound rich and beautiful. Your dynamics and intentions just speak and the music flows like water so naturally.
Our little series on harmony in Rung's Choral is now complete! Starting today, I'll be doing a new series on the right hand and focusing on some very basic things including tone, dynamics, rhythm, color, and touch.
By just practicing on one open string, I hope to show you how you can work on many basic musical and technical elements in depth.
For today, I have made a video that shows you my approach to filing nails.
I would love to know your thoughts and hear from you about any troubles or battles you've had with fingernails in the past - I've definitely had my share of nail troubles!
~ One time when I was touring in China with my wife, I was zipping up my suitcase the night after our first concert and boom! My index fingernail got ripped off. I had about 2mm of nail left on one side of it and had to use that for the remaining concerts! ~
~ Another traumatic nail incident occurred the night before my master's degree recital. I was practicing some of Alberto Ginastera's 'Sonata', which has a lot of strumming in the last movement. My nails were gradually wearing thin up until that point, but that night my index fingernail just had it and it flew off onto the floor! The following morning I had to go over to my then teacher's home to get some help - together we managed to attach a false nail.
Towards the end of my recital, I was playing the very movement in the Ginastera Sonata with a lot of strumming in it and my false nail flew off into the audience! ~
Fingernails are a very important part of a guitarist's technique. If we don't have a system figured out for shaping and buffering them, it can be difficult to consistently maintain a beautiful tone. Nails can also cause trouble musically, as they can momentarily get caught on the strings if they're not the appropriate length. Same goes if they're too rough.
Here are my suggestions in a nutshell for nail filing:
1. Buffer your nails before each practice session.
- Playing for even 30 minutes can rough up your nails, so make sure they're always smooth!
2. Use a crystal nail file.
- Emory boards usually produce a rough and harsh finish on your nails, Plus they don't last very long.
3. Hold the nail file at an angle and file in one direction towards the middle of the nail.
- Watch the video to see what I mean.
4. File and buffer the tops of your nails.
5. Check the smoothness of your nails by rubbing them on the top E string.
I've created a nail kit that contains the exact equipment I use all packaged into a convenient travel pouch. It's so important that wherever you play - lessons, rehearsals, gatherings, performances, etc. - your nail quality will have one of the biggest impacts on your tone.
You also get:
- A short guide to help remind you of the key points for nail filing.
- A video where I demonstrate the nail filing and buffing process
- A free copy of my dissertation on fingernails
Dr. Daniel Nistico is a passionate performer, author and educator who specializes in the performance practice of 18th and 19th century guitar music. Daniel's teaching and research aims to revitalize the concept of being a well-rounded musician, with emphasis on topics like harmony that can lead to deeper musical understanding and provide tools for composing and improvising.