The other night I was noticing some discomfort as I played the piano. My piece this semester requires a lot of huge chords, and so I need to be especially careful of how I attack the piano– my fingers are curved, with the fingertips touching each key. Yet as my fingertips met each key, I realized as I pressed down with my fingertips, my fingernails started bending slightly out and I felt pain from skin and fingernail separating. I checked my nails: yes, they were too long.
If you have taken a string instrument or piano for a while and with several teachers, you have probably experienced at least one telling you to cut your nails short or one actually handing you a pair of
garden shears nail clippers and ordering you to cut them then and there (I was subject to the latter).
But why keep your nails short?
(1) Click-clackety noise: Probably the most obvious. I remember talking to other young piano students when I was young and asked them why their nails were so long, and they replied they actually like the click-clackety noise. I was sort of flabbergasted, because even then, I thought there was nothing more annoying than a steady march of falling clacks while the passage is supposed to be smooth and legato. This is a bit like humming while playing the piano; it is distracting and not called for in the piece itself.
(2) Constrains technique / muscle strain: It is much easier to use the fingertips to play the piano rather than the playing using flat fingers with the pads of your fingertips, so you can avoid touching the keyboard with your fingernails. Try it yourself on your computer keyboard; is it easier to type while your fingertips are curved or while your fingers are flat? Also, with a flat hand, your wrists will most likely rest below the piano’s keyboard, which can result in wrist injury like carpal tunnel syndrome.
(3) Pain while playing: This is probably most evident if you are playing loud passages that require a lot of force applied to the keys like I described in the first paragraph. Your fingernails are longer than the tips of your fingers, so your fingernail keeps pushing down on the keys and eventually bend out because your fingertips which you are using to play the piano are shorter.
(4) Fingernails caught between the keys: heard on the pianist grapevine, apparently someone once caught their nail between the keys and broke their finger. Ouch. I would say this is a very small chance, though.
For those serious about learning piano and those who are playing seriously hard pieces, keeping fingernails trimmed is necessary. My nails are actually quite long even when they are cut to the fingertips, so if I put on nail polish, it does not look like I have stubby fingers. Yet, I have refrained from using nail polish because it usually chips early at the tips (I guess I am too passionate), and I am sort of apprehensive of my piano instructor’s reaction when she sees my black pearly nails (emo Michelle alert! emo Michelle alert!). However, rest assured, nail polish is fine as long as you keep your nails cut to a suitable length.