You may have wondered how people with long nails are able to play piano, if it is even possible. The physical act of playing the piano involves the repeated up-and-down movements of the fingertips onto the piano keys, so naturally, it would seem impractical to have long nails as a pianist. In this article, we will go over how people with long nails can manage at the piano, what the best length is, and what your options are to maintain your nails as a pianist.
In short, what you are able to do at the piano if you have long nails depends on just how long your nails are and what kind of music you are trying to play. It is not black-and-white that you absolutely need short nails or you will not be able to play the piano. However, it will affect the quality of your playing to varying degrees.
If you have very long acrylic nails that are 20-30+ millimeters long, it will definitely be difficult for you to play anything. However, if they extend just a few millimeters over your fingertips, you will definitely be able to play various pieces of lower complexity, but how well you will be able to play them will be limited.
Obviously, it is better to have shorter than longer nails for ease of playing the piano. Long nails can click obnoxiously on the keys and restrict the movement of your fingers across the keyboard. But ultimately, it shouldn’t discourage you from learning to play, as long as you understand the limitations of having a certain nail length.
How Do People With Long Nails Play Piano?
The hand movements involved in playing piano are multi-directional, but primarily the fingertips are perpendicular to the piano keys.
One of the first things children are taught when learning to play is how to ‘hold a bubble their hand,’ rounding their fingers with the wrist flat above the keyboard and fingertips resting gently on the keys. In this position, the clear problem with long nails is that the four fingers will need to tilt back more to allow the fleshy part of the finger to make contact with the keys.
As long as your fingertips are able to make consistent contact with the keys, you will be able to play the piano. But your fingers will need to be flatter, similar to how you may need to flatten your fingers to type at a computer. It may also be difficult to play quickly with the nails in the way. You may not be able to play as expressively as you would be able to otherwise, but you will be able to press the keys down and play a song.
Do You Need To Cut Your Nails To Play Piano?
If having longer nails is very important to you, it is possible to play without cutting them. But if you want to learn to play very fast or technically demanding pieces, cutting your nails short will be necessary to ensure that your fingers can move freely across the keys. Otherwise, you may experience things like getting caught on the black keys when moving up and down the keyboard, discomfort from the nails making repeated contact with a hard surface, and prohibitively distracting tapping sounds from your nails hitting the keys. Repeated abrasion from nails could also increase wear and tear to piano keys over time.
Compensating for the flatter finger shape forced by long nails will result in poor form, and in a worst-case scenario, you could experience injuries if you try to play this way for extended periods of time. Therefore, if your goal is to maintain good technique through challenging pieces it is important to give yourself the best chance of success and cut your nails short.
How Short Should My Nails Be For Piano?
To play well, your nails should be short enough so that they don’t extend past your fingertips, and when you put the tips of your fingers straight down on the piano, your nails don’t touch the keys or make minimal contact with the keys.
Ideally, your fingers are also able to roll forward slightly without being inhibited by the nails. This will allow you to do quick runs, cross over easily, and keep a nimble, rounded shape in your hand without flattening your fingers. But how short your nails can be cut may depend on your nail shape and the length of your nail bed. As long as they are a comfortable length and are out of the way when playing, you should be fine.
Can I Have Pretty Nails If I Play Piano?
For pianists who desire to have pretty nails, it may seem like a difficult dilemma to have to decide between having good technique and maintaining aesthetic nails. While long, sophisticated acrylics may be out of the question, there are certainly ways to enhance your nails that don’t involved extending the length. These methods may include:
- Painting nails with lighter colors, since darker colors may emphasize shortness
- Leaving a thin space on either side of the polish when painting to give the illusion of thinner, slender nails
- Trim cuticles down if it is comfortable
- Go for a more almond shape instead of a wider, round shape
- Try using fun stickers or sophisticated stick on designs with clear polish so the color isn’t affected if you cut the nail
- Use a nail oil like jojoba oil to keeps nails healthy and shiny
Of course, one of the best ways to maintain nice-looking nails when short is to keep them trimmed and shaped while practicing generally good nail hygiene. Refraining from biting or ripping bare nails will keep them clean and neat in the absence of length. And if having longer nails is something you really don’t want to give up, you can keep them slightly past your fingertips, just keep in mind that you will have to play with a straighter finger shape.
When I was young, I remember sometimes walking into a piano lesson and my teacher would look at my nails and tell me they were too long. She would give me a pair of nail clippers and tell me to cut them before even sitting down to play. For beginners, it is very important that they learn to play with proper technique and minimize bad habits. So keeping your nails short is definitely best if you are just starting to learn how to play.
If you already know how to play and don’t want to give up having long, pretty nails, it is fine to play piano as long as you don’t strain your hands and understand the artistic limitations of doing so.
If you are a serious musician or plan to engage in intense practice sessions, it will be important to keep your nails short enough to maintain good technique at all times and avoid injury.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal priorities and preferences. If it is more important to you that you have long pretty nails than it is to play piano very well, you can keep your nails and settle for playing at a mediocre level. But if it is important to you to eventually learn that complex Chopin etude or lengthy Beethoven sonata you’ve always wanted, welcome to the stub club, any long nails will have to go.