Are Long Nails OK For Playing Piano?

As we're heading into an era of rediscovering some 70's-90's fashion, we're seeing the long nail trends coming back in full force, which makes this post both timely and necessary as I'm seeing more of these coming into lessons again. My goal with this post is to provide some considerations that piano parents or non-musicians may not be aware of.  

So are long nails ok for piano students? 

Unfortunately the short answer is: No, they're really not a great idea.

This means that when you head to the nail salon with your piano kid, keep in mind that those really fun long nails can cripple good piano technique. So much so that it can actually cause tension related repetitive stress injury or nerve issues if sustained in the long term. Our hands are part of our equipment for playing the piano, and just like you wouldn't send your child to soccer practice in ballet shoes, you don't want to send them to piano lessons or performances with the wrong equipment on their hands either. 

Does this mean you can never get the fun long nails? 

Different piano teachers will have different feelings about this, but as far as I'm concerned, you can still get them once in a while with some considerations. For a special event where you'll keep them for a just couple weeks or so, it's usually ok to go for it. Just understand that piano playing will be affected during that time, so you want to make sure that your special event doesn't fall too near a recital or performance. 

If you have a fancy event that falls near a piano performance event, maybe opt instead for a fun color or design on your natural nails instead of getting the artificial length. Lots of pianists continue to regularly have fun with color and design by simply choosing shorter styles. 

And if you want to get long nails just for fun, consider planning your salon appointment during a studio break where it won't affect lessons or performance at all!

What happens if we show up to lessons with fabulously long nails? 

This will also vary from teacher to teacher. In my studio you don't have to worry about getting scolded, sent home, forced to cut your nails, or anything like that. Instead after playing through a song or two, I usually ask students what they're noticing in their hands. Are they able to play as accurately as usual? Does the piano feel the same way under their fingers? Where are they feeling tension in their hands and arms while playing today? And then we'll have a quick, gentle chat about why they're noticing what they're noticing, and that they'll want to consider that in future salon visits. Similar to this blog post, it's less of a 'never do this' and more of a 'consider some of these things you probably didn't realize before.'

So what is the recommended nail length for a pianist?

My general recommendation is that if you look at your open hand with your palm towards your face, you should not be able to see nails peeking past your fingertips. 

I hope this post is helpful and proactive, while also encouraging some thought about when it's an ok time to go all out on the fancy long nails, and when it might be a good idea to choose an alternative style.