Adult WON’T trim her fingernails

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    So – I have a new(ish) adult students who has ignored my repeated attempts to get her to trim her fingernails. She’s maybe had 5 or 6 lessons with me and just doesn’t take heed to any way I try to put it. She gets her nails done and they are long as and a result she can’t really articulate anything properly. I’m kind of at the point where to give up the fight but also can’t stand not being able to teach someone proper technique. She’s a pretty quick learner musically and otherwise she is a great student and I don’t want to lose her…but not really sure how to take this one anywhere.
    Has anyone ever had this problem? Advice?
    Thanks so much!!



    I had a student JUST like that a few years ago. When I first told her that the nails had to go, the look I got was if I had asked her to cut off a leg. She otherwise was a VERY nice person who said she really wanted to learn how to play. Long story short – she came for about 3 or 4 lessons (WITH nails) and one day I got a phone call from her saying that she had taken on more than her schedule could handle and she was going to have to stop lessons. I wasn’t overly surprised really. Those few times I had her, I could tell that somehow she thought this was going to be a piece of cake and as you know, it isn’t.

    As I remember, she wasn’t too happy when I asked her to remove her many bracelets, earings and necklace.

    Yep, I used to have L O N G nails too. People used to ask me if they were fake and now I can’t stand if I even start to see a little white.

    Good luck with your student!


    Donna O

    Elisa, I remember my very first lesson as an older adult student, one of the first things my teacher told me was my nails had to be very short and I was to wear no bling. It was an expectation and not open for debate. He even checked on my nails at my second lesson. Now like Kay, I can’t stand when my nails start to get long.
    I guess I might have a discussion with her about how badly she really wants to play the harp.


    Is she playing her own harp in lessons? I am much more relaxed about nails whenthe instrument is owned by the same person as the nails!

    If you adopt a very fingers down, thumb up hand position it is possible to play the harp with quite long nails and good technique. There is the risk to the sounboard of gouges if the nails hit it by accident and along the edges when pulling the harp back to playing position.

    Are you happy to work with her playing with nails? Wire and Paraguayan harp players do, and while much rarer some players play gut or nylon folk harp this way.

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Tacye,

    Thanks for your post… I don’t play pedal harp and I was unaware that it could even be played with nails. In the wire harp community, there’s a lot of emotion about this too but it runs the opposite way: “real” wire harpists play with nails!! I must admit I’m one of them, although I’ve experimented with brushing the strings with pads to see what kind of sound effects I can get this way. (I did write one tutorial blog on my site about playing with nails and nail care.)

    But back to Elisa’s original post. What’s your student’s preferred repertoire? Primarily classical material or some folk? If the latter, as Tacye points out, Paraguayan and/or wire harp could be a musical path for her to take, if she really wants to stick with harp but hasn’t settled on a direction yet. I can understand you don’t want to lose a student but then you’d want to guide her towards something that in the long run would make the both of you happy and not stressed, if that helps.


    Sherri – I don’t know anyone who plays pedal harp with nails except for special effects, though there could of course be people who do. I think Karen Marshalsay is the player I am thinking of who uses nails on gut or nylon lever harps.

    Sherri Matthew

    Hi Tacye,

    Don’t want to hijack the thread but… would there be any playing problems on those instruments due to spacing issues? On the wire harps the strings are set a little closer together to accommodate nail playing. So I can see why Elisa would have mentioned proper articulation. I would think if the strings were further apart there might indeed be a problem with nails.

    btw, I’m not familiar with Karen Marshalsay but I will go check her out!


    Hi Elisa,

    Since I noticed Tacye was wondering about nail players…the pedal harp player who plays with nails: that’s me 🙂 I guess Sherri and I are the only nail players on the forum, but then Sherri plays wire strung harp and I’m the celtic/pedal harp player… but I don’t play classical stuff though. The style I play is inspired by Andreas Vollenweider, which requires nails on the right hand but not on the left. It features staccato chord patterns and melody lines with the right hand and bass lines (like a bass guitar) with the left hand.

    So I can understand your student somehow Elisa, but the reason she’s reluctant to cut her nails is a different one than mine I guess, since I have them on purpose because of the style I play….for the stuff she’s playing, I guess nails are not really ‘fashionable’ 🙂
    Anyway, I hope you can work it out with her, because I understand she’s a good student musically…it would be a pity if the nails continue to be an issue here.

    Gretchen Cover

    Maybe before the student’s next lesson, you can get your nails done. Then perhaps she will see for herself that you can have nice nails, but short. Otherwise, you need to tell her to cut her nails if she is going to progress playing harp. Such drama….Then you can further burst her bubble by telling her she needs to play the pedals with closed-toe shoes:)


    Teach her as much as you can — she may soften her stance in the future. I had nails when I studied piano as a teenager, which sounds ridiculous and was. However, at 48, I’ve got those buggers trimmed as far as I can get them and play/compose a great deal as an amateur. One of the strange things about teaching is that you’re almost planting a tree without any distinct knowledge of how long it will take before you’ll be able to enjoy the shade. I can see how it would be frustrating, and as tempting as it would be to say, “Trim those claws or get out,” you may have to sit tight and let her arrive at that realization herself.

    She may not, upon which point she’ll probably end up like Kay’s student and just end things herself. Even then, she may let the idea marinate for a bit, and if she really does want to learn, she may declaw herself and come back to it in a little bit.


    I am an adult student who started playing 3 years ago all manicured. The more I have worked at it, and the more challenging and beautiful the pieces, the shorter my nails have gotten. I want to develop good sound and good technique and can hear the difference. Maybe it will solve itself.


    very useful reading, so it’s okay to offer a new beginner the nail clippers and send them outside to do the deed…. I had this predicament recently only the lady has MS and I didn’t think it fair to force her to get up again and hobble outside, her nails were so long there was no way she could pluck properly and follow thro, but she acknowledged the need and offered to get rid of them. Yesterday I started another young girl who’s already learning guitar, but thankfully she keeps relatively short nails, I think she’s plucking guitar with finger tips, we’ll see.
    Back to the original problem – I can’t see how you can make any progress with a pupil who likes long polished nails – the length and polish surface obstructs the placing of a finger too and she’ll never develop an accurate technique.


    I once taught a banjo player who used longer nails on the right hand for that instrument, so she had a strong case not to cut the nails. I can see that some teachers could tell a student that they can’t work with that issue, but I’ve always done my best to accommodate a student’s goals.

    It helps for her to use a bit more finger pads to avoid the click-tone of the nails. I will caution a student that the nails will definitely limit what they can do on the harp, so if they insist on nails, then their goal needs to match the limitation they have set. I will work with someone who is a hobbyist harpist with nails, but I explain that they will not be able to play more advanced repertoire and that the tone will be compromised. If they accept those limitations and desire to learn for personal reasons, I tend to tell them I’ll do my best to accommodate by altering technique slightly to use more finger pads and in some cases slightly alter hand position.

    If their two most important goals are long nails and playing the harp to a high level without limitations, then they need to learn a traditional wire harp which requires nails and has more narrowly spaced strings. I don’t teach that technique, but I would recommend that course for a plan.


    Alison, you mention nail clippers. I have never used clippers or scissors on fingernails or toenails. My late mother, a fine concert pianist on the east coast, used only “emery boards”. I use the black kind of salon emery boards, with a rough and a fine side, made by Revlon. Safe, and very effective. Give those a try, perhaps.


    Janis — I think you have a great point. As irritating as it can be when students don’t seem to listen, I bet it will work itself out one way or the other.

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