When students have long nails and refuse to cut them

Posted by: Nannerl Mozart

When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 04:17 AM

What do you do? I've already given the little pep talk ... I did it gently. This is a teenage student who is fourteen
Posted by: Minniemay

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 09:41 AM

Talk to the parent.
Posted by: lilylady

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 10:18 AM

Compromise

"I know it is the time in your life when peers and the TV/Movie/Mag presentations suggest that Long and Exotically Painted Finger Nails are all the rage. But those models are not pianists. You are. And it makes YOU special. And you need to keep them shorter if you want to continue lessons.

If there is a special event like graduation or a formal dance, when you really want to have them longer, how about if we work on something else other than your usual piano technique, like composing, or theory, or sight reading for a month?"

Then show her pictures or you tubes of famous YOUNG female pianists. Something that she can relate and which to aspire.
Posted by: Peter K. Mose

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 10:32 AM

For me it's too much of an intrusion into one's body and one's personal expression to get into such an issue, beyond mentioning once or twice that the student would play more comfortably with shorter nails.

Plenty of piano teachers would drop such a student, but I find that sad.
Posted by: ten left thumbs

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 10:51 AM

I haven't found the answer, but it does drive me up the wall. I'm trying to make a habit of saying to parents when I first take them on, that nails need to be short. For adults it's harder. What frustrates me, is that they don't understand and can't understand the issue until they cut them. They just have teacher's word on it, and that means diddly squat.
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 12:29 PM

I tell them the story that I heard (maybe from someone on this forum?) about the teacher who kept a big jar on the piano full of nail clippings. If a student had long nails they'd have to add their own contribution to the infamous jar!

We all have a good laugh and comment about how gross an image that would be, and usually it's not an issue by the following week. laugh
Posted by: DanS

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 01:15 PM

I just say every week something along the lines of "you'll have a much easier time if you cut your nails." The students that take playing seriously will usually cut them.
Posted by: Candywoman

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 08:00 PM

To the OP: keep asking the student to cut his/her nails. The gentle broken record. Nothing contentious, just, "Oh, by the way, you forgot to cut your nails. You must be very busy."

I always explain why nails need to be cut short. First of all, you will be able to maintain the curve in your finger and have a better tone. Secondly, you won't risk catching your nail on a piano key. And thirdly, you won't have the clicking sounds from your nails against the keys.

I tell them they can have their nails longer in the summer holidays but for now, please cut them. Then I write it in their notebook. I keep up with it until the problem is solved.
Posted by: Bluoh

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 08:06 PM

Originally Posted By: DanS
I just say every week something along the lines of "you'll have a much easier time if you cut your nails." The students that take playing seriously will usually cut them.


That's what I do. No point getting frustrated over nails if the student doesn't care.

Of course, I make sure they know what they're getting themselves into by not cutting their nails (i.e. longterm damage to the bone from incorrect placement!)
Posted by: DanS

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 08:41 PM

Originally Posted By: Bluoh
Originally Posted By: DanS
I just say every week something along the lines of "you'll have a much easier time if you cut your nails." The students that take playing seriously will usually cut them.


That's what I do. No point getting frustrated over nails if the student doesn't care.

Of course, I make sure they know what they're getting themselves into by not cutting their nails (i.e. longterm damage to the bone from incorrect placement!)


Yeah exactly. When I first started teaching I used to get very upset (internally) when my students didn't/wouldn't listen. That'll drive you nuts eventually!
Posted by: Barb860

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/18/12 09:41 PM

First I tell them about my violin teacher who used to cut her students' nails herself, if she thought they were too long. And " too long" meant, "any white showing". Yes, she cut mine....just once....never again...

Ask the long-nailed student if she can hear the nails clicking on the keys while she plays. Ask her to play for you and stop when you hear the clicking.

Do these tactics work? Sometimes, but really it comes down to whether or not the student actually cares about the situation. I have refused to teach students when their nails are too long, that seems to work for the next lesson or so.

You can also say something like, "pianists do not have long nails", and say it with an attitude.
Posted by: Nannerl Mozart

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/19/12 05:04 AM

Here is what I have already tried
- Showing the difference between what happens when you play with long and short nails - I played a small passage of something that I was working on, then played it with straighter fingers and asked her if she could hear the difference... she saw my point
- I reminded her that her nails were still long and it would help if they were short
- I gave her analogies that people of other professions (e.g. being in the food industry, or working in certain areas of health) need to keep their nails short, and being a pianist, it's sort of a requirement
- I told her I know it's hard, it's like hair, I know they take a lot of maintenance and it takes time for them to grow...

As the saying goes - you can lead a horse to water but you cant it drink...
Posted by: Minniemay

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/19/12 09:17 AM

But you haven't talked to the parent.
Posted by: Jeff Clef

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/19/12 12:08 PM

Let her cut them for practice and have fake nails for dating and preening in front of the other junior-high students. That is why God invented Lee Press-On Nails.

Maybe a few 'broken nail' mishaps at the piano will prove to be a convincer.
Posted by: NMKeys

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/19/12 04:57 PM

I just focus in on curved fingers, no clicking etc. Eventually, the nails will take an ugly curve upward or get stuck between the keys. They usually stay short after that.
Posted by: Beth_Frances

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/19/12 06:13 PM

I'm with Peter. I'll make sure they know that pianists should have short fingernails, but I don't want people quitting over it or feeling like I'm being too big for my boots. For some people it's half an hour out of their week and they really don't care!

As long as you've done your part and advised against long nails, if they choose to ignore it that's their business and they are choosing to put up with the consequences.
Posted by: Stanny

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/19/12 07:08 PM

I'm pretty easygoing about it too. My serious students will cut theirs, the others might not. I don't harp.
Posted by: Joyce_dup1

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 11/19/12 11:18 PM

I have just one student with long nails. Her mother is a beautician and this student always has beautifully done up nails. We have discussed it many times. This same student had bowed out of doing any kind of Festival and Competition, and initially didn't classical. I have resigned myself to allowing her to play flat fingered in some places. She plays very well and has recently started playing classical - we worked into it gradually and she is now comfortable with it. But along with the classical pcs comes more technical excercises. This past week as I was modeling the technique required it became obvious to both of us that she was going to have a difficult time due to the length of her nails. She (again) has promised to trim her nails. We'll see.
Posted by: apple*

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/05/12 07:20 AM

i'd just remind her that nails are dead skin tissue and collect bacteria and such.. are hard to keep clean are are compromised after having used the restroom. I seem to trim my nails daily.

I feel for you. I love the look of short nails personally.. you can do so much with them.

maybe a present of a little jar of cheaper polish.
Posted by: PianoPraise

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/05/12 08:49 AM

At one of my lessons my teacher cut her nails, I don't know if it was a hint that mine were too long (I keep them short but may have forgot to trim them) ever since that lesson I try to make sure my nails are cut before my weekly lesson.
Posted by: pianomouse

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/05/12 07:20 PM

Up to about the age of 12 - after pep talks haven't helped -, I take out my nail clipper, we go to the trash bin, and I cut the nails. I usually only need to do this once, because they don't like it.
With older students, I try reasoning. I try to prove them that with short nails, piano playing is so much easier. And with girls it sometimes works, if I tell them: 'you're so pretty anyway, you don't need long nails'. I also tell them that this is our 'trade' sign, that all pianists have short nails. And that for example guitarists have long nails on their right hand, also the men (which they think is really silly).
By the way, right now it's very fashionable to paint short nails in all colours around here, so - at least with my students - I have the impression that the nail problem isn't as big as it used to be.
Posted by: Stanny

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/05/12 08:09 PM

Maybe its a cultural thing, but I wouldn't cut a student's nails, and I would have had a fit if someone had cut my children's nails.
Posted by: pianomouse

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/06/12 05:10 AM

Sincerely, if parents agree to pay for piano lessons, they also agree to provide the 'surroundings'. So, instead of having a fit, they can just cut the nails of their children themselves and there's no problem at all. But some parents just don't care...
Posted by: Susanna Cassam

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/06/12 06:15 AM

It is a very frustrating issue, but I find that in the end most of my students get sick of hearing the click. But you can't win them all, just remember to point out the dangers!
Posted by: Ann in Kentucky

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/06/12 09:02 AM

Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
For me it's too much of an intrusion into one's body and one's personal expression to get into such an issue, beyond mentioning once or twice that the student would play more comfortably with shorter nails.



This post is giving me a different perspective. This gives me permission to let it go after mentioning it to parent and child a couple of times. I have felt guilty for giving up and not continuing to mention it. I need to lighten up instead of feeling so annoyed about it.

Just like lack of practice. I let parents know the child needs to practice to make meaningful progress. Sometimes nothing changes. And during lessons I silently pray "God help me!" and look forward to winter break.

I had one kid who doesn't practice come in last week and it was obvious that she HAD practiced. I asked her about it. She said "Dad made me practice. He said you were complaining." (I had sent an email explaining the need for practice.)
Posted by: Ann in Kentucky

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/06/12 11:05 AM

I'm thinking about how to stay lighthearted with parents and kids, yet address issues. I might say this: "Do you like riding along on a flat tire?"

Find out if they like the ride (noisy, bumpy and slow) or prefer to ride on 4 good tires. Then add in that they are choosing the flat tire by refusing to keep short nails and to practice daily.

Posted by: TimR

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/06/12 12:04 PM

Originally Posted By: Nannerl Mozart
Here is what I have already tried
- Showing the difference between what happens when you play with long and short nails - I played a small passage of something that I was working on, then played it with straighter fingers and asked her if she could hear the difference......


But you've never worked on the technique necessary to play have played that passage well with straighter fingers, nor experimented to see how well you can play with long nails. (potentially two completely separate issues)

There is another option (beyond requiring nails to be cut and ignoring nails to be cut).

Treat it like any other handicap a child comes in with, and teach them to play well anyway. Maybe even find those areas for which it is an advantage.
Posted by: ten left thumbs

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/06/12 05:04 PM

Originally Posted By: TimR



Treat it like any other handicap a child comes in with, and teach them to play well anyway. Maybe even find those areas for which it is an advantage.


I'm curious. Which areas?
Posted by: Feminicricket

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/06/12 10:45 PM

I have two 12 year olds who have been doing this to me for 2 years and it makes me so annoyed. They play piano and violin with flat fingers. I have told their parents and they say " Oh!We forgot!" Next week same nonsense. I tell them to keep their TOE nails long instead. Still does not work. I just painfully tolerate their lesson and question the meaning of life and my karma when they play. I used to have a 12 year old boy who used to tell me his mama forgot to cut his nails for him and he was taller than me! And his mom confirmed this by saying she forgot. Unbelievable! I once told a boy that I`m bringing my nail polish next week.....then he cut it! I have given up on this and realize that these kids don`t care and their parents are the same. They don`t realize the importance of curved fingers and habits that go with it.
Posted by: Feminicricket

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/06/12 10:58 PM

I will tell them that as their teacher, I will not be held responsible for their bad technique and finger/hand form because they have refused to keep their fingernails short.
Posted by: TimR

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/07/12 09:07 AM

Originally Posted By: Feminicricket
They don`t realize the importance of curved fingers and habits that go with it.


And why is that, do you suppose?

Wouldn't you think it would be obvious?

But apparently it is not. Hmmm. Doesn't that need some thought?

It would seem they can play everything at their level fine with long fingernails. They probably suspect deep down that a scholarship to a conservatory and a career as a concert pianist WOULD require cutting them. Then again, the chances of that happening to them are less than getting hit by a meteorite.

It might also be that not everybody agrees on how curved is curved enough, or if the anatomical advantages can be conveyed some other way.

I can't stand long fingernails myself, I keep mine very short. I'm sure I could play without problems if they were half an inch longer. Longer than that I'd probably have to practice.
Posted by: casinitaly

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/07/12 10:45 AM

As an adult student who had really long nails for well over 35 years, I can tell you from experience that a student won't cut their nails unless they are in love with playing the piano AND understand that long nails are an issue. Both points have to be realized.

I had long nails when I was 24 and bought my guitar......guess what? When I realized that even though Dolly Parton could do it, I couldn't, I basically played guitar when one of my nails broke and I cut the others so my hand would be "balanced"! I was not in love with the guitar.

When I started piano, even though my teacher convinced me it was important it still took me several months, yes months, of gradually trimming and getting used to short nails before I really started keeping them short. I hate short nails, I really do (on me, I mean, I don't think about other people's nails) -- but I love piano more.
Posted by: TimR

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/07/12 12:13 PM

Originally Posted By: casinitaly
I hate short nails, I really do (on me, I mean, I don't think about other people's nails) -- but I love piano more.


Exactly. You made the change after you'd become convinced it was the correct decision, or at least the lesser of two evils.

Students aren't convinced, I think partly because most of them aren't sufficiently serious about attaining a high level of performance, and partly because their teacher hasn't earned a high enough degree of credibility that their advice is accepted without question.

That means a student has room to debate it, and maybe the answers aren't convincing. Maybe because short nails and curved fingers are so much part of the teacher's worldview that he/she has never thought about why.

I think I could go on youtube and find many examples of high level pianists with short nails. And if we looked really closely, some of them would be fine with much longer nails than they have. I just used a ruler and measured the distance from my middle finger nail to the surface of my desk in playing position. I could add 1/4 inch to that finger, and obviously more to all the other fingers (because they curve less in normal playing).

Now if you explained to me the tendon attachment anatomy and the exact degree of curvature necessary for joint stability, I'd have bought it. But even as a student I was an engineer.
Posted by: TimR

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/07/12 12:27 PM

Whoops.
I have to take it all back.
Just looked at this picture:
http://bountifulpianolessons.blogspot.com/2010/07/to-curve-or-not-to-curve-that-is.html
and realized my hand position is wrong, wrong, wrong. I've been playing with the pads not knowing I should be using only the tip of the finger. Obviously short nails are more important than I realized!
Posted by: ten left thumbs

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/07/12 01:25 PM

You're not related to a guy called keyboard klutz, are you?
Posted by: TimR

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/07/12 01:48 PM

Hee, hee. Hope not.

Whether you need to cut your nails probably depends a bit on whether your image of curved is dribbling a basketball or gripping a golf ball.

But that's just mechanics.

The psychology of influencing a child is a different matter. They tend to ask why, and are sometimes skeptical of the answer. Especially if there is no immediate payoff, like something being easier to play now rather than in 10 years.
Posted by: Nannerl Mozart

Re: When students have long nails and refuse to cut them - 12/08/12 07:55 AM

The more I read about piano pedagogy, the more I see that it has changed and shifted significantly over the past few decades. I'm saying this... and I'm only 21 and half way through my music degree.

I've talked to my teacher about my teaching issues and I've noticed that he's the traditional type of teacher, with a more fundamentalist approach, the type that only takes on 'serious' students - he won't teach Jazz, or improvisation or more contemporary popular genres... but he will teach classical - including 20th and 21st century music, he will teach harmony, aural and he also is available to accompany and teach me how to teach. He believes that technique is the foundation, without it we pave the way to injury, we also pave the way to bad or limited musicality.

I've always regarded his way as right or perhaps the more correct approach. The more I read and the more I interact with other teachers, I can see that his way fits me but it's not necessarily the right way. Teachers who belong to the latter group (the ones who would teach popular music, improvisation and more 'fun' stuff) are the type who are probably open to less 'serious' students and who are ok with the long nails thing.

It makes me wonder where I stand on the issue. I know that all students are not like me. As a student, I was pretty serious, and still am ... but I have my reasons - I am a music major. I'm not as serious as a piano major as piano performance is not my major but I guess I took lessons as a child and the younger you are, the more superior the teacher is - the teacher is always right in that instance. I suppose with teenagers and adults you leave it to their prerogative - or if you have a big issue with it you drop them. In addition to this, I work in another industry (in the Food industry) and as junior chef there is no option, you either cut your nails or you don't work in the kitchen. It was that simple. Maybe I'm hoping that my teenage student would see it in that light. Or maybe it is that simple - I've done what I can to convince her to cut her nails. She realises that it is physically possible to play with long nails but it is not ideal and in the end, I can either tolerate it or drop her.