Written by Simon Cheong

Tuesday, 18 August 2009 18:08

This article written by me was published in the Classical Guitar Society Malaysia‘s website and is reproduced here.


Keeping fingernails and the problems students face in Malaysian public and private schools :-

First and foremost, classical guitarists need to keep fingernails on the right hand (unless they play the guitar left-handed). These nails are used for plucking the strings as opposed to the left hand which cannot have nails as it is used to stop (depress) the string. The length of the nails depends heavily on the players’ preference – some prefer to have short nails while others prefer longer nails. (I personally advocate longer nails. The reason – when I practise 3 to 4 hours a day, the wear and tear on my nails will require me to continuously file and shape the nails, and if my nails are short and I keep filing and shaping, there will be very little nail left. And I can’t play without nails!).

Is the keeping of fingernails necessary for playing the classical guitar? Definitely a yes today* as the advantages of using fingernails far out weigh those that do not. I do not know of a single professional classical guitarist in the world today who does not use fingernails.

The reason for the rules and regulations in schools stating that students must cut their nails is obviously to keep the students kempt – neat and tidy (as in a civics class, teaching the pupils how to groom themselves). As with girls, keeping fingernails for aesthetic purposes is definitely a no…no. Moreover the schools need discipline.

BUT…if a student studying the classical guitar which requires fingernails and shows proof by providing a letter from the classical guitar teacher/music school/or even the parents, to the disciplinary teacher, should this student be allowed to keep fingernails on the right hand? Any authority will understand that this will be an exception to the rule and allow it – after all, the student is pursuing an education in  music. The discipline teacher as an educationist should recognise this and allow it without too much fuss.

Sadly, in my 30 years of teaching the classical guitar, recently, I have been  encountering students as well as other guitar teachers complaining to me that even with the letter, the discipline teachers refuse to allow them to keep fingernails on their right hand! Some of these discipline teachers show their total lack of understanding and are downright authoritarian in their approach, refusing to talk reason. This attitude either shows abuse of power or the educationist does not understand that education should encompass a holistic approach whereby the appreciation of the arts will achieve this. Music education is sorely not stressed in our education system and the parents who want to give their children a rounded education often have to take their children to private music tuition.

Previously, there were two schools of playing the guitar – one with fingernails and the other, without. For those who are unable to keep their fingernails because of prohibition by the authoritarian, unreasonable discipline teacher, then they will have no choice but to play with the flesh temporarily. In my 30 years of experience, I have come across students who have played with flesh and then having a frustrating time learning to play with nails. The sounds produced with flesh is totally different from sounds produced by nails.

Simon Cheong

19 August 2009

by admin