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Maintaining your Nails for Classical Guitar

classical guitar nails 1

Any classical guitarist can tell you from experience that busting up your fingernails is no fun. It’s usually not until the next day’s performance when the tenderness and soreness really takes effect. Not only is maintaining your nails good for your overall hygiene, it is essential for playing fingerstyle guitar.

Here’s a brief overview to help you keep your fingernails in great condition for playing classical guitar, as well as a few suggestions on how to protect them from harm.

Why Does Fingernail Maintenance Matter?

Classical guitar often relies on the fingernails for certain dynamics in the music style. The use of different parts of your finger — from the soft, fleshy fingertips all the way to the face of the fingernail — affects these dynamics and the tone of your playing.

Depending on the length and style of your fingernails, it may be easier or more difficult to play certain styles. Most of the time, you end up with busted nails when you cross over into the areas where the style of your nails do not match the style of playing, so it’s important to be conscious of your limitations.

classical guitar lesson on nails

Maintaining Your Fretting Hand

Fingernail maintenance is required on both the fretting hand as well as the picking hand. For fretting, you don’t want long nails as they will dig into the fretboard and prevent you from getting a nice clean note on the fret. This is a common issue for most beginners.

On the other hand, you don’t want to cut them super short or you will wind up exposing the nail bed, creating an uncomfortable sensation you will quickly regret. This can be a common issue for nail-biters. Overall, the fret hand is pretty straight forward. The other hand, however, can be quite complex.

Catering Your Picking Hand to Soft Dynamics

As mentioned above, your fingertip can connect to the string in several different ways depending on the style and dynamic you want to create. If you are picking lightly and have no interests in changing sound intensity, the soft, fleshy part of your finger works well. I

If you play this way and happen to have long nails on the picking hand, however, there is a good chance of snagging the nail and bending it backwards on a string. This can hurt a great deal, avoid at all costs!

If the nail is cut too short, as with the fretting hand, you will pushing the sensitive nail-bed into the nail creating a very unpleasant experience.

classical guitar fingernail maintenance

Preparing Your Picking Hand to Play Loudly

If the style you are playing demands louder dynamics, you will need to use a thumbpick and/or your nails. This allows you to build intensity and create dramatic changes to draw the listener’s ear to the phrase you are playing. This can also come at a cost: your fingernails.

While there is no perfect fingernail length for this, a keeping your nail somewhat short can make it stronger and less likely to break when pulling with your fingers. Some players like to taper the nail to a point that resembles a pick, and you can even purchase metal or plastic fingerpicks that wrap tightly around your fingers.

Whatever style you choose, make sure to give time to adapt to that style before becoming aggressive with your strikes, as this is a surefire way to damage your nails.

One last tip is to always carry fingernail clippers and a nail file. While this might seem like a lot of work, it can allow you to rescue a torn a broken nail on the spot and prevent further damage and pain for the rest of the performance or the next. Well worth it!

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