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Long nails on piano students

Posted By: Piano&Flute

Long nails on piano students - 12/15/06 05:06 PM

Hi Everyone, I have a few pre-teen girls this year who have been coming in for about the past month with longer nails. Not really long, but long enough to click on the keys and cause them to change their hand position. I am at a loss as to the best way to deal with this as just telling them to cut them isn't working. neither are explanations as to why it's important.

1. Do you think it is too harsh to keep a supply of cheap nail clippers on hand and make them cut their nails right then and there in the lesson (using new clippers of course)? My piano teacher used to do that growing up.

2. I was also debating a demerit system where for each week they came in with longer nails I would add extra theory onto their work load, adding one page per week until they cut their nails.

What do other teachers do in this situation?

Thanks in advance
Posted By: John Citron

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/15/06 05:26 PM


I would be blunt and tell them to cut their nails! The clicking sound they make on the keys is not only annoying, it's gross!

But since this is approach isn't working, I would use the approach that they could injure their fingers if the long nail gets caught in between the keys, and by twisting their hands to avoid the nail tips can cause technique problems later.

Personally I keep a pair of clippers with me and trim my nails very often. The moment I click, the edge comes off!

Posted By: frida1

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/15/06 05:37 PM

I don't know if you can get away with forcing them to clip their nails before the lesson in today's world. My teacher did it when I took lessons as a girl.
Posted By: dumdumdiddle

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/15/06 05:47 PM

I would and HAVE talked to the mothers about the long nails. It completely ruins hand position and technique. I've marked students down in adjucated events for having long nails.

My own teacher was a stickler about keeping nails short and I had to make a choice: continue piano and keep my nails short or keep them long and my teacher would then drop me. I chose to stay with piano, with the exception of senior prom, when she allowed me to grow them out for a month.
Posted By: Euphonatrix

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/15/06 06:13 PM

Hi Stephanie,
I think using theory as a punishment is more likely to make them hate theory than make them cut their nails. This approach might suggest theory is something bad which is not what teachers usually intend ...
Posted By: Damz

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/15/06 09:20 PM

It happened a few times that my sister had to cut her nails at the beginning of her lesson. I don't see anything wrong with that. Now she makes sure to cut her nails before the lesson as to not waste some time during the lesson.

I don't know why you would want to use a new clipper everytime though :|
Maybe have them wash their hands after...
Posted By: pianobuff

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/16/06 02:23 AM

I'm with dumdiddle.
Tell your students that in order to play the piano your fingernails need to be short. Simple as that. If they come to their lesson with fingernails long, give them a warning, have them clip their nails at your studio and tell them not to bother coming next time with long fingernails.
That should help in solving the problem.
Of course, you can say this in a gentle and even sympathetic tone, but be firm with your requirement; show them your fingernails and say, "See, I too don't get to have long fingernails!" Just part of taking lessons and playing the piano.
Posted By: Candywoman

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/16/06 02:34 AM

Another thing to do in your particular case is call them the night before their lesson to "confirm" the lesson and ask them to clip their nails in anticipation.
Posted By: sarabande

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/16/06 03:34 AM

Maybe send a short notice home to parents the students need to keep their fingernails short for lessons (and for practicing) and suggest parents keep a pair of fingernails in the car for "emergencies" if they find their on their way to lessons with untrimmed fingernails.

One idea is write in the notice that any student coming to lesson with long fingernails will sit at a table and do written theory work on their own for the lesson time rather than time at the piano. (Unless you had students that wanted to get out of having to play by using that as an excuse who hadn't practiced smile

I don't make as big an issue out of it with students. But I don't currently have students in competitions and other similar events so I would tell them they can't play the piano well enough to participate in such events unless they keep fingernails short for practice and lessons.

I've not had a student continually come every week with long fingernails but only occasionally so I don't say anything. But if it was continual, I would explain why it hindered learning and playing and let it be the students choice if they wanted to have the long fingernails and sacrafice being able to play as well.

When I was about 12 or 13, my teacher made an issue out of insisting I keep my nails cut and at that age I thought it was an unusual thing to insist someone else keep short fingernails. I kept them short because the way she put it by saying the noise drove her nuts and she couldn't stand the clicking sound. So I did so as not to annoy the teacher. When I started keeping them short, then I couldn't stand to play with them long.

I suppose it depends on how serious the student is as far as just playing for personal enjoyment or more serious performance and also on the teacher.
Posted By: Piano&Flute

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/16/06 04:30 AM

Thank you so much for the great advice everyone. I have to admit that I went through a 2 year phase where I fought my teacher over long nails (thank goodness she saw past this) and would only cut them reluctantly. So I do understand where they are coming from. With me, I started keeping them short only after I did get them stuck in-between the piano keys on one occasion. I actually tore the nail off very low down and it was very painful and slow healing. (obviously my piano teacher didn't feel sorry for me smile ) Most of the time this story works, but not in these three cases. I have also decided to add in the damage it could potentially do to my piano having long finger nails constantly hitting the keys.

Sarabande, I really like the idea of sending a short notice home. I also think I am going to add it into my ever-changing policy sheet for next year.

Thanks again,
Posted By: apple*

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/16/06 04:32 AM

i have a preteen and every week i tell her she'll have to start cutting her nails soon. not yet.

they're shorter every week.

i talk about her hand position and tell her it will be better when she starts cutting her nails.. and every week it seems better.

from my own personal experience, i do not like people telling me what to do.
Posted By: nuteachr

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/16/06 04:59 AM

I have cut their nails in the lesson. They usually learn their lesson after that...in my experience. I do tell them about the importance and such things, but getting them cut in the lesson is important to me, yes it takes 2 minutes or so out of the lesson, but it's better to have a shorter more efficient lesson, than to allow them to play the duration of the lesson with improper hand position and technique...to me, it's a waste of lesson time to let them play with long nails during the lesson.

As for assigning theory as a means of "discipline".......I highly disagree! Doing anything that associates a negative perspective of music can ultimately damage the student's love of music in general....not something I would want to see in any student.
Posted By: Codetta

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/16/06 06:27 AM

I have the same problem with a pre-teen student. I trusted her to have her nails cut - she didn't follow through on countless occasions. I talked with her mom and we agreed that I would have clippers available and if she came to her lesson with long nails those clippers would be used. I made it VERY clear that the time involved in clipping would be deducted from the lesson time. I compromised in allowing her to use nail polish but not to have polish on at a recital, etc. So far so good.

I've explained, ad nauseum, about technic, hand position, possible injury, and even empathizing with her desire to 'fit in' with the other girls. But in the end I told her, and countless others, that they should wear their short nails as a badge of honor. Pianists belong to a special club. And you know what? That finally did the trick. Go figure . . . hmmmmmmmmm.
Posted By: Catsgomoo

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/16/06 03:37 PM

Have you explained to the girl that the long nails change her technique? Try to explain to her that when you have long nails, you generally have a tendency to collapse your joints on those fingers while playing. This can be extremely dangerous, and greatly increases chances of Tendonitis.

I'd think that might help do the trick.
Posted By: w_scott_iv@yahoo

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/16/06 05:18 PM

I require my students to have nail clippers as part of their piano supplies - from their first lesson they have a blank notebook, blank manuscript, theory book, method book, individual pieces, and nail clippers. I wouldn't personally clip their nails though. That just seems as though it might be traumatic. I also make it a point of showing them videos of female concert artists with beautifully maintained nails. With the availability of removable 'costume' nails, well groomed fingers should become less of an issue especially if it's necessity is established from the beginning.
Posted By: AJB

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/17/06 11:07 PM

To me this is a rally weird thread.

Forcing pupils to cut their nails seems guaranteed to engender resentment and rebellion.

If you cannot persuade students that their nails are too long, then it is evident that they are not serious students. So you are wasting your time in any case!

To me, students must be motivated above all else. If you are fretting about nails, then somewhere along the line someone has lost the plot.

Funnily enough I have some sympathy with the students in this case and I think some pianists have a ridiculous hang up about nails.

I speent years playing and teaching guitar. This requires very short nails on the fretting hand and longer nails on the plucking hand.

I am also a pianist. The nail issue has never bothered me (the white part of my right hand nails is about 2mm long, less than 1mm on the left hand and I have never "clicked").

And the audience, sitting a few metres away from the player is completely unaware of any slight clicking.

Posted By: seebechstein

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/17/06 11:53 PM

I wouldn't cut a child's nails without discussing it with parents first. When you're taking new students you could tell the parents your policies which includes cutting any nails that are too long, and have them sign a sheet agreeing to your terms before taking them as a new student.

It's not just girls that have nails, boys need them short too. It would bother my teacher if I ever clicked.
Posted By: Piano&Flute

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/18/06 01:49 AM

Thanks for all the advice, everyone. I should clarify that I would never, ever personally cut a student's nails under any situation. That seems very harsh and not my style as a teacher. What I have considered is handing them clippers and asking them to cut their nails.

W_Scott: Thanks for the great idea of making nail clippers part of the supplies asked for when a student starts lessons. This should make it clear to the parents and student from the beginning what is expected.

AJB: In the three situations I am concerned about, the nail length is affecting their hand position to the point that they cannot play as well as they want to. The clicking is also unbearable to me and to them. One student was purposely playing is flat fingers to avoid the sound. :rolleyes:

Here is an update: After sending e-mails to the parents and doing a lot of talking about how they could play so much better in the Christmas recital if their nails were shorter they all cut their nails. Thank goodness all of them commented after the recital about the difference in their playing when they could use a proper hand position. yippie Hopefully this new "discovery" of theirs will stick.

Thanks again, everyone
Posted By: lalakeys

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/19/06 03:02 AM

Sorry I'm just now chiming in--but I haven't been online for a couple of days!

When my daughter was in 8th grade, she wanted to have her nails long for her graduation pictures. The problem was, she had a piano recital that week, and her M.O.M. (mean old mother, also piano teacher) insisted that she cut her nails--BUT I treated her to a professional manicure (including lacquered "jewels" on each nail). Yes, the nails were short, but they were gorgeous! And none of that annoying clicking on the keys, OR whining from my daughter!

Posted By: gabytu

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/19/06 03:48 AM

I love lalakeys solution. Don't know if it will work with your students, but perhaps if you pointed out that the long fingernails, in addition to causing bad hand position, were also in danger of ruining the keys of your piano, as well as scratching the fall board behind the keys. Just a thought. Gaby Tu
Posted By: lagin

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/20/06 12:46 AM

I'm an annoying student. I grow mine out, them chop them off, then grow them out, then chop them off, ect. My first teacher used to demonstrate with really long clicky nails, and it drove me nuts! Then I later used that as justification to grow mine out! I let it go with my students normally because one, as their pieces get more advanced they will discover the problem on their own. You simply cannot do fast runs as easily with nails as without them. And I don't have any serious students yet. They are playing for fun, and their practicing isn't as intense as if they were going for a career in music either. I might suggest how much easier it would be without long nails, but I leave it up to them. Maybe I should change my policy? For myself, however, I know when they are an issue and when they aren't. Right now, I'm still learning the notes and working on memorizing all my new repertoire, so they really wouldn't be in the way. When things start to get up to speed, however, then they usually get chopped off. Like, I said, I'm probably an annoying student, but neither of my piano teachers has ever commented on it thus far.
Posted By: sarabande

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/20/06 04:01 AM

Just pointing out the annoying clicking sound the nails make may do the trick in itself. Before my teacher mentioned it when I was young, I didn't even notice that my nails were making that sound. Once my teacher pointed it out then I started noticing the clicking sound at home when practicing or at lessons then I couldn't stand it either.
Posted By: Piano&Flute

Re: Long nails on piano students - 12/20/06 06:35 AM

It differs so much with each student.

Sarabande, you are so right. It is amazing how many students don't even notice the clicking until you point it out to them. Or who's fingers slowly flatten out as their nails get longer and when you put their hand back into a proper position are shocked at the sound.

The two pre-teens I have who finally cut their nails for the recital kind of had me speachless though. They hated the clicking sound, so started playing with flat fingers to avoid it. Then they couldn't pay properly or up to speed because of their had position. Thank goodness the fear of doing poorly in the recital got them to cut their nails down because prior to that they were willing to risk their playing. They both love playing piano as well.

I think some of it comes down to genetics and how your nails grow as well. I can have a little bit of growth on my nails (I don't to avoid setting a bad example) and still play with a good hand position and no clicking. These two students though start clicking as soon as their nails grow out at all. Some of it must depend on the shape of your nails and how they grow. I never let my nails get long enough to affect my playing and they seem the same length as these students when they are clicking away.
Posted By: kruspe

Re: Long nails on piano students - 01/05/07 04:09 AM

I think it depends on the student, how advanced they are, and what they hope to accomplish. I am currently teaching a lady old enough to be my mother who has long nails that not only click on the keys, but affect her hand position. She is still a beginner (Schaum Red Book), and I'm not going to tell her she has to cut her nails, but I have told her that as her playing advances, she may find that the nails get in the way. Along with that, I encourage proper hand position. I assume that if her playing becomes more important than her nails, she will cut them.

Obviously, an advanced child or teenager is a different story. I remember a masterclass about ten years ago, where the teacher doing the masterclass gave a girl a direct, but polite lecture on the pitfalls of long nails.

I think the "badge of honor" speech is a fantastic idea.
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