[piano] why keep your nails short?

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.

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6 thoughts on “[piano] why keep your nails short?

  1. Love your “piano key” nails. What a sharp way to look trendy and still keep your claws clipped. Every point you make is a good one. I tell my youngest students that they don’t want to “hurt the piano keys by scratching them” …. but the older ones get the truth.

    I have one damaged finger …. the smallest one on my right hand. The bone is close to the tip and I dreaded competition, because I often left a blood stained keyboard and had to surreptitiously wipe the keys before leaving the stage. Only on that finger, did I grow the nail. It hurt like crazy, but it gave me the extra nano-inch I needed and controlled the bleeding a bit. Wish we’d had that nifty polish forty years ago .. I’d have had a keyboard on that longer nail.

    • gosh, that is awful! Does it have any chance of healing completely?

      I always wondered as a kid why I had to cut my nails, no one really explained to me, until I was around 16 and finally started understanding why and finally started to conscientiously cut them.. I agree that as one gets older and plays more, it becomes more and more obvious that long nails are a hindrance when playing.

      Thanks for stopping by! Your blog looks very interesting as well :)
      Michelle

  2. lol is that photo of your nails? very skilled nail art o.O
    ahahaha, ive kept my nails short for sooo long i dont even feel comfortable having them half a cm from my finger tips xD
    id had always thought the main reason for short nails was so that you can use the nubs/tips(?) of your fingers for stable playing. and random about the wrist was that i always thought it was so that youd be more flexible so that you can play really fast notes.
    yeah no. 4 is a little unlikely unless its getting caught between one of the black/white keys (i mean for most pieces you wouldnt really be turning your hands entirely sideways to get stuck b/w two white keys)

    • lol gosh no those are not my nails. I should have indicated that. my roommate is a nail fanatic though, I could probably enlist her to do it for me. She also plays the piano! (Better than me, cough)

      yep that too, stability and to feel the keys better with your fingertips, so you have more of a ‘sensitive’ touch. ugh I’ve gotten to the point that having long fingernails looks ugly to me. Unless they’ve all been french manicured, I think anyone keeping long nails look tacky =.=

      hahaha stranger things have happened. I get nervous on stage, so I wouldn’t put it past me to break a finger while doing crazy fingerings. I also got told I’m one of the crazier pianists because I improvise body movement while playing.. most people move in the same fashion time after time..

      Michelle

      • *nods so much about the body movement* Then you go back and look at any recordings, and if you’re watching with “normal” people, then you feel embarrassed bwhahaha.
        actually, i think french manicured nails look kinda creepy too… the flimsy piece of calcium/protein/thingy (thats ur nails right?) looks like its just… dangling off your finger in midair… creepily… (to me)

        • =.= oh god, I am terrified of my videotaped self during performance. it doesn’t look like what people would expect!! I look really serious and straight in person and then I go crazy with body movement!! T___T

          XD really?? I think I got sidetracked by the glossiness *___* for a long time when I was in elementary school, I would paint my nails clear because they were oh-so-shiny..
          Michelle

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