My violin student plays both guitar and violin—right hand fingernails

Lois Reiter said: May 28, 2017
Lois Reiter
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Gatesville, TX
13 posts

Has anyone ever had a serious student studying both guitar and violin? Her guitar teacher wants her fingernails on her right hand to be long which is making her bow hand position really difficult—especially as she is at the level of learning how to use her fingers at the frog of the bow. I’ve been teaching for 40 years and have never had this situation before (I’ve had multitudes of teenager girls and the fingernail argument, but never this).
Anyone have any suggestions for me? Guitar teachers—do all of you insist on long nails on the right hand?

Melanie Drake said: May 28, 2017
Melanie Drake36 posts

I’ll try to answer this as a guitar parent (not teacher). Guitar students, boys and girls alike, are encouraged to grow their right hand fingernails. I believe it becomes more important to technique in book 3 and beyond. Nail growth and shape has been discussed by my son’s teachers and by institute teachers as well, so I believe it is a standard expectation. One of my son’s teachers compared buffing the nail edges to rosining a bow.

Kurt Meisenbach said: May 28, 2017
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Plano, TX
45 posts

I studied guitar seriously for 6 years while I was working in London. Guitar study taught me more about relaxation and efficiency of movement than any of my viola teachers. My approach to the viola is now very different from my approach many years ago when I performed professionally. I no longer suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or other repeated stress related ailments that plagued me during my earlier years. I have recently played as much as 10 hours in one day without stress or pain.

I never found the long nails required to play the guitar to be a problem when playing the viola. With the exception of the little finger and the thumb, the nails do not touch the bow stick. My thumb position did not place the thumb nail in direct contact with the frog, so I never had a problem. However there are some bow grips that do bring the thumb into direct contact with the stick, and this may be the case with your student. The little finger is not used in guitar playing except in flamenco rasgueado effects, so a shorter pinkie nail will not impair one’s tone production on the guitar.

Long nails in the right hand are a requirement for the serious guitar student, but some players take it too far and allow their nails to reach an excessive length. Bottom line: if your violin student is serious about the violin and guitar, some compromise may be necessary, and this may affect the technical approach to one or both of the instruments. As a violinist, your student may want to analyze their bow grip and the length of the thumb nail. They should also consider what nail length is required to produce a good tone on the guitar. A satisfactory solution should be possible if the approach to both instruments is objective and well thought out.

Good luck in finding an acceptable approach.

Holly Blackwelder Carpenter said: May 29, 2017
Holly Blackwelder CarpenterSAA Board
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
College Place, WA
156 posts

Well it just so happens that I am a violin teacher and my husband is a guitar teacher and our daughter is serious about both.

Here is how we cut the nails on the right hand: Pinky—short for violin, not needed for guitar. Middle 3 fingers—long, my husband shapes them for her. Right thumb: I cut off the finger side (right side) of the nail where the thumb goes into the bow in a curved position. The left side is left long, as happily that is the side that the guitarists need and my husband files/shapes it for her.

It is working great (except when I forget and chop the nails off, so now she is responsible for reminding me!).

Holly Blackwelder Carpenter

Schuan Carpenter said: May 29, 2017
Schuan CarpenterGuitar
College Place, WA
1 posts
Violin Guitar Finger Nail

Violin Guitar Finger Nail

Image by Schuan Carpenter

I am Holly’s husband and Suzuki Guitar teacher. I’ve attempted to upload a pic of her nail. In addition to my daughter (violin/guitar/piano) and son (cello/guitar), I have a book 7 cellist and a book 2 violin in my guitar studio. I have found that there is no conflict between what the violinist needs and the guitarist needs. There are as many “right” ways to shape a guitar nail as there are finger shapes, so if there is a small problem, it can usually be filed in such a way as to work for both instruments.

The bigger threats for any guitarist are damaging nails and parents who think boys with long nails are too girly. Because of this we must learn to play with our nails in various states of disrepair…and to teach the parents that there is more to male life than machismo.

As a side note, one thing that has helped us manage multiple instruments is to choose which one will be the “main” one. My daughter LOVES guitar and because of her violin is speeding through the rep at a rapid pace. However, when it comes to practice I always keep in mind which instrument is her main one (violin). I don’t push her as much on the guitar. Practices stay shorter, however I do still expect good tone and technique.

Della Barnett said: Feb 1, 2018
 1 posts

That is good!!

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