When I was a teenager, like many girls I started growing my fingernails. To me they were beautiful! The only problem was that I was a piano player. By that time I had played piano for 8 or 9 years and I never knew that long nails didn’t belong on piano hands because I never had any long nails. It just so happened that by this time I had had several different teachers and I had only been with the current teacher a short while. Needless to say, when she told me in no uncertain terms that I had to cut my nails I thought she was being mean and I ignored her.
She told me all the reasons (blah blah blah) why long nails were trouble for piano players:
1. They interfere with proper technique. Long nails prevent the fingertips from coming in contact with the piano keys, thus preventing the player from playing with the appropriate touch.
2. Long nails create a clicking sound that interferes with the music.
3. Long nails can get caught between the piano keys. When this happens, the nail can break and that hurts! Also, the musical flow is often interrupted because the player must stop playing to retrieve her finger from in between the keys.
4. Long nails make it nearly impossible to play fast.
5. It’s just not practical to play with long nails.
Besides the fact that I was operating with a teenage mind and didn’t want to cut my nails, this teacher and I had not yet built a solid relationship. (Actually that would take another 15 years or so to happen!) The bottom line is that I had no intentions of letting her tell me what to do with MY nails and I DID NOT CUT THEM… until a long time later when I got tired of trying to navigate long nails on the piano.
Fast forward to the present – Now I am the piano teacher and I have pre-teens showing up to lessons with nails that are not only long, but to further complicate things – they are purchased! This always happens every year with at least one student. The most recent incident happened just this week. Looking out the window in my teaching studio I could see my student and her mom headed for the door. Instead of the usual smiley face and bouncy walk, the girl was in tears and the mom was clearly angry. So I braced myself with my special invisible piano teacher fire extinguisher and opened the door.
The mom immediately showed me her daughter’s hands and explained that she was unaware that her daughter had put on these long nails just prior to the time for the lesson. She also told me to be sure to let her know if those nails interfered with her playing. And with that Mom was out the door! And there I was with an angry, kind of embarrassed pre-teen who didn’t understand what was so bad about having such pretty purple nails! Actually she was really upset about the fact that her mom had caught her before she could put the last nail on her thumb.
So… I patiently listened (Yay me!) As I listened I saw myself in her position and so I was able to validate her feelings. I intentionally left out the sermon about why piano hands should not have long nails because in that moment it didn’t matter. Instead, I shared my story with her about my teacher wanting me to cut my nails and I was honest with her about how I felt about it at the time. Then I showed her my nails. They are manicured and polished, but they are piano playing length short and they are beautiful. I let her know that it is appropriate – expected even – that she should want her nails to look good. It’s especially important for us piano players because people are looking at our hands and fingers all the time. I mean, when is the last time you took a video of your student or child playing the piano without showing her hands? I didn’t even tell her that she had to cut her nails. She will realize this in time. The last thing I did was ask her if I could take a picture of her nails so I could put it on this blog. She was happy to model her nails for me even though she knew that the picture was going to be used in a post about why piano players don’t have long nails.
After our talk we went on to have a wonderful lesson and when her mom returned she found her daughter smiling and bouncing like normal.
So what to do about girls and long nails?
Well if your daughter asks for long nails, don’t buy them or give her money to get them. Instead take her to the spa/salon and let her get a manicure (short nails). You could even suggest adding a pretty design as well.
A trip to the spa/salon could even be a reward for piano practice!