piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, playing the piano with long nails, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten

Piano lessons, long nails, and peer pressure

One of the loudest protests I’d ever heard, came from a 13-year old piano student who screamed at the top of her lungs on the doorstep of my house. Her mother was trying to clip her overgrown fingernails on the eve of a Middle School dance, and the teen loathed the idea of losing her adornments.

In the “short” term the student complied with my requirement to have the pads of her fingers exposed for piano playing, but once high school rolled around, it was a different story. Full-blown adolescent rebellion had set in.

At least two to three times per year my secondary school pupils have come to lessons with fake, long finger nails and navigate the keyboard like they were skating on ice. The click clack, tap, tap percussive effect is pronounced, and nobody gets anywhere fast, unless playing a Flamenco style piece that could use a pair of castanets. A Spanish dancer could easily stomp to his heart’s content while the player clicked out an accompaniment.

Peer pressure mounts during the teen years  so having long painted nails goes along with the territory, but it has a negative effect on piano lessons and progress.

Very young students often have very long nails because mom forgot to trim them. It makes having a relaxed, round hand position nearly impossible. Parents understand and try to keep up with nail related growth spurts while schlepping their brood to mega sports activities.

To soften the impact of nails grown out of control, I think of worse case scenarios where little palms full of blue or black ink have left indelible keyboard imprints behind.

Middle schoolers, in particular, relish the idea of spending the first 15 minutes of their lesson upstairs in my bathroom washing the stickies or greasies from their hands. If school lunch menus featured fried finger foods, it’s all the worse.

All in all, I take each situation as it comes up and try not to have a hard as nails policy. If I want to keep my students practicing and progressing I can’t nail them down to obeying rigid rules without bending them once in a while. Long nail waivers are issued at prom time, and fake nails have an expiration date.

For the most part, students comply with my policy and stay on task.

Incidentally, tattoos and nose rings are never a problem along with Gothic attire and accouterments.

A Piano Teacher’s Worst Nightmare!



3 thoughts on “Piano lessons, long nails, and peer pressure”

  1. I’m always surprised people even *try* playing with long fingernails – I find my fingers and nailbed actually get sore from the tapping pressure. I can feel it when they’re getting even a little on the long side.

    As for sticky, dirty kid fingers, it’s the name of the game when teaching children, I think ;). I know my walls are covered with little dirty fingerprints, and a white piano key would probably be worse!


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