Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Nail care, nail problems, and the use of nails in playing the classical guitar.
mainterm
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Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by mainterm » Thu Jul 19, 2018 5:54 pm

After 30+ years as a dedicated guitarist using nails to pluck the strings, I've decided to give no-nails a serious try. (and for example, stop worrying about buckling my seat belt...)

I am (was? :wink:) an advanced player.

It's been 4 days... I've dedicated a few hrs each day since to explore this with an open mind.

I'd like to share some observations with the aim that my account could help inform someone else's decision to try this.

First things first:
  • Soul searching to make sure I wasn't self-sabotaging due to latent bias vis-a-vis nailless technique. I ultimately concluded that I was able to give it an honest shake. (essential)
  • I read a fair amount about no-nail technique, browsed topics on DC, listened to no-nail performers... (highly recommended)
  • Knowing that my modern guitars with their high-tension strings would be perhaps less recommended for nailless technique, I decided to just start there, see what happened and once the strings were worn out, try other recommended solutions. This made sense to me because I was quite aware of what I could do on those guitars with those strings with nails and felt this would form a good initial baseline. (personal taste)
Then after cutting them off, filing...some initial thoughts and observations
  • Knowing that I would need to adjust my finger placement and articulation I began experimenting with current repertory. Immediately discovered that for now anyway I would need to shorten my nails *as far as I possibly could* without bleeding. My nails are very thick, so even after doing this, I found that I needed to file the curb of the nail at an angle.
  • Began focusing on plucking motion, finger placement, angles, etc. while listening for the full, warm sound that I knew was possible. This yielded surprisingly positive results. So I would just play some stuff, listen, think about it, maybe try some different RH approaches, play some more... take breaks.
  • Intuitively went straight to Sor's music for further experimentation - he was a consummate musician, guitarist, and nailless player. Since following Jorge's recent deep dive on op.60, I decided this would be a perfect place to start. Interestingly two thoughts occurred to me right away: Sor's fingerings (general use of p,m,i and LH in pieces) made more sense - almost magically - as does the notion to use lower or open positions when possible
  • Very loose experimentation with techniques that I knew could be problematic (fast loud anything really). For this I tested some of my (previously?) core repertory: El Decameron Negro, Tango en Skai... I found several problems here, but also (oddly) concluded that I didn't find anything that I felt couldn't be overcome with dedicated effort to re-form plucking/articulation technique. With the Brouwer I'm still not convinced I'll get a clear gallop in the valley of echoes at 1/8 = 200 or so, but this may be okay. The intro to Sor op.9 is easier...
  • It is much easier to moderate dynamics and to play softly in general. (playing with nails clearly and with good tone and projection but at piano is very, very difficult in my experience - nailless playing will likely bring it's own challenges here)
  • Harmonics are generally easier to articulate - both in terms of volume and clarity
  • LH slurs make more sense in terms of tone production, e.g. they don't contrast so sharply with the plucking articulation and accordingly don't interfere with sense of rhythmic onset patterns in the same way.
  • Any roughness of the skin on RH pads causes scratchy sound, and skinny, hight tension strings, e.g. high E seem to make this more obvious. I've taken to smoothing my fingertips with sandpaper (there's some irony there).
  • So far my P and A fingers are producing the best tone - trying to solve the riddle of why A sounds so much better than I and M. I suspect it's angle of attack, size/characteristics of finger pad. Anyway...
And perhaps most importantly... my SO who'se been listening to me play for ages proclaimed that it sounded "GREAT" :D

AND.... my ren lute is way, way, more fun to play now.

There's some thoughts to consider for now - and best of luck and wishes for anyone else embarking on a similar journey!

RobMacKillop
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by RobMacKillop » Thu Jul 19, 2018 6:07 pm

Well, I'm not surprised by any of that, though I would warn against sandpapering your finger pads. I use any old hand cream, moisturiser. I also urge you to consider trying Savarez White Card (low tension) or Savarez Red Card (high tension) strings - they are rectified, meaning slightly rough to the touch, which helps flesh make great contact.

One of the mistakes newcomers to flesh playing make is trying to recreate immediately their nail technique - bad move. This is a new world you have entered, and you must be open to finding new ways of doing things, new sounds. So experiment more.

And for your own sake, give it six months, not six days (as many do). The finger pads need time to "condition", get used to their new role.

So far you've had very positive results, so I hope that continues. Good luck!

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tateharmann
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by tateharmann » Thu Jul 19, 2018 8:51 pm

Cool cool! I did the same 3 years ago thinking I'd try it for a while - and here I am 3 years later.

Now you can play that lute the way it was intended! Hehe
"One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them."

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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by riffmeister » Thu Jul 19, 2018 9:07 pm

I played without nails for about 25 years. And I think I had pretty good technique and sound production. For the last 20 years I've been playing with nails. During that time period, I would sometimes break a nail down to the bed (doing something really mundane!) and then cut all the other nails and play nail-less until they grew out again. And wow, I found it really hard to adjust to nail-less, especially since that's how I used to play!!

So, all that to say 'good luck and give it some time'!

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tateharmann
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by tateharmann » Fri Jul 20, 2018 1:13 am

Oh and I will add here that my first finger to sound well was the index...followed by the anular. I'm still working on the middle...for some reason it's a tough one!
"One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them."

mvp019a
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by mvp019a » Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:36 pm

There have been instances where I thought this would actually be the way to go when playing a specific piece (of course none of which I can recall now) but all in all I cannot fathom playing without them. Even as a "hack" player that I am, I am amazed at how precisely I am able to strike the string with the nail/skin junction as I do. (Well, most of the time anyway). When I break a nail I just try to go on without it and the number of whiffs and near whiffs on a string demonstrates this to me.

You are to be applauded for not only trying, but giving it a true effort instead of doing it and immediately thinking it was a mistake and giving up. (Which is I am pretty sure what I would do).
Mark

2007 Ignacio Rozas 1A, 2016 Mark Usherovich Traditional Classical, Prudencio Saez Model 34

guit-box
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by guit-box » Fri Jul 20, 2018 1:25 pm

Upright bass players and harp players can both get a good sound and play virtuoso repertoire with no fingernails, so there are many examples of it being done beyond just guitar players. The sound will be different for sure, but what constitutes good tone is subjective, making music is what's important. Check out some of these other instrumentalists for inspiration and understanding of mechanics. I can actually pluck quite fast i,m alternation with my fretting hand with both free and rest strokes because I had already developed good slur technique in the fretting hand and slurs are basically the same technique the plucking hand uses.
An eyewitness will often only see what he already believes to be true.

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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by guit-box » Fri Jul 20, 2018 1:30 pm

tateharmann wrote:
Fri Jul 20, 2018 1:13 am
Oh and I will add here that my first finger to sound well was the index...followed by the anular. I'm still working on the middle...for some reason it's a tough one!
Does more wrist/forearm supination help?
An eyewitness will often only see what he already believes to be true.

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tateharmann
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by tateharmann » Sat Jul 21, 2018 2:54 pm

Actually what I've had to do is roll my hand more inwards for flesh technique. This was strange at first for me because when I played with nails (for more than a decade) I used the more extreme bent wrist position to make an almost perpendicular contact point with the strings (think of that famous Tarrega photo). I know other flesh players like Pujol, Tarrago, and Cubedo used that bent wrist position without nails so it can work. I just like the sound of the straighter RH position (like many lutenists use).
"One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them."

mainterm
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by mainterm » Sat Jul 21, 2018 7:53 pm

RobMacKillop wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 6:07 pm
Well, I'm not surprised by any of that, though I would warn against sandpapering your finger pads. I use any old hand cream, moisturiser. I also urge you to consider trying Savarez White Card (low tension) or Savarez Red Card (high tension) strings - they are rectified, meaning slightly rough to the touch, which helps flesh make great contact.

One of the mistakes newcomers to flesh playing make is trying to recreate immediately their nail technique - bad move. This is a new world you have entered, and you must be open to finding new ways of doing things, new sounds. So experiment more.

And for your own sake, give it six months, not six days (as many do). The finger pads need time to "condition", get used to their new role.

So far you've had very positive results, so I hope that continues. Good luck!
1. why no sandpaper on the pads?

2. per your recommendation, I've experimented with a product from a company called "Rhino" - their "split stick". It's intended specifically for softening fingertips. This was mixed - moisturizing certainly helped with the scratchy sound, but I think combining with a - as you put it - rectified string would certainly help. Playing for awhile (and it's quite warm where I live right now) also got the tips sweating just a little and this too helped.

3. i'm cheap on strings and will eventually start trying new ones - White Card will be first on the list

4. This is day 6 - I'll still having fun with it - a little perplexed really that people would bail out on this kind of project so quickly.

5. I find your comment about "recreating nail technique" to be very interesting. I have a mixed reaction to it. On the one hand, I have nothing else to really work from as a basis, but on the other hand, the ear has guided my progress more than anything. When I look down to my right hand I can immediately see that I'm using a different technique and kinesthetics are different. Hmmm.

And finally - I've never shared a recording online until now. But since in many ways I've reset the parameters of my playing, I feel almost like a beginner again. So, in this case I made an exception.

I'm not entirely happy with the recording - my usual mojo just isn't there, I don't have all of the control that I'm used to and so some elements that I would normally find trivial to fiddle with (careful phrasing and dynamics for example) are much more challenging. And there's certainly still much, much work to do - things that are working well feel mostly intuitive (I don't know why they work) and things that don't (scratchy I finger) are irritating.

Overall I'm happy with this result on day 6 of the experiment.

RobMacKillop
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by RobMacKillop » Sat Jul 21, 2018 8:52 pm

Well, I thought that was very sensitive and beautiful. You are on your way to the promised land :-) You'll discover a different kind of virtuosity. One more personal. Keep going.

mainterm
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by mainterm » Sun Jul 22, 2018 1:46 am

Thanks for the kind words and encouragement. I intend to stick with it.

Conall
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by Conall » Sun Jul 22, 2018 8:53 am

This topic is relevant to me at the moment due to circumstances: for the first time in years I've been practicing hours every day in a concentrated period. I've had to play loudly also as I'm in the middle of a short concert series with a pianist colleague. Result: I wore down my nails to almost nothing by the time the concerts started.

So of course I had the choice of artificial nails (silk & super glue type) or to attemp to play without nails. Because of the danger of breaking nails mid performance & the weakening effect on my natural nails (it takes mine a long time to heal) I decided to try no nails (having played that way at times over 30 years ago!).

While I know I would really need months to get used to no nails so far I've come to the conclusions below:

- less "attack" / clarity / volume,
- less precise / more prone to missing or fluffing the strings,
- a smaller range of dynamics possible. With nails I can play loudly - plucking into the palm with the knuckle & 2nd joint (never tensing fingertips) but I just get a more "twangy" tone if I do that with no nails,
- less "Hispanic" tone - unfortunate considering I'm playing Libertango, Boccherini Fandango, Requiebros, (Cassado) & other Spanish & Latin pieces.

On the positive side:

- more mellow & more subtle timbre so appropriate for quiet passages,
- reminds me more of the lute so arguably more appropriate for early music (my first love anyway) so it might "suit" the Baroque parts of my current programme (Vivaldi D Maj concerto, Bach viola de gamba sonata).

Personally I'm not convinced long term (though I do quite like the nailess sound) but through necessity I may have to continue nailess until I finish the current series (last concert on Saturday). However I have a quandary: stop playing until just before Thursday (my next gig) to attemp to let the nails grow just enough or stick with no nails & be able to continue practising (I know the pieces well so that's less of an issue)!

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tateharmann
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by tateharmann » Mon Jul 23, 2018 12:09 am

Conall wrote:
Sun Jul 22, 2018 8:53 am

While I know I would really need months to get used to no nails so far I've come to the conclusions below:

- less "attack" / clarity / volume,
- less precise / more prone to missing or fluffing the strings,
- a smaller range of dynamics possible. With nails I can play loudly - plucking into the palm with the knuckle & 2nd joint (never tensing fingertips) but I just get a more "twangy" tone if I do that with no nails,
- less "Hispanic" tone - unfortunate considering I'm playing Libertango, Boccherini Fandango, Requiebros, (Cassado) & other Spanish & Latin pieces.
You've definitely alluded to it here but the key and the nail on the head (like you said) is to take the time to develop these 4 points with the new technique.

I did an experiment wherein I played the same little prelude on the same guitar right after cutting my nails off...and then again after working on the technique for 2 years. I feel like the results speak for themselves but here's a link so you can hear for yourself: viewtopic.php?f=83&t=115189

I experienced those same 4 points on your negative list there and feel like I have been able to either completely overcome them or get very close. I'm only on the 3rd year, though, so I hope it keeps getting better!
"One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them."

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tateharmann
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Re: Snip snip! ... [no more nails]

Post by tateharmann » Mon Jul 23, 2018 12:26 am

mainterm wrote:
Sat Jul 21, 2018 7:53 pm
Overall I'm happy with this result on day 6 of the experiment.
Oops, and I think I forgot to say that I think this sounds very nice, indeed! And the great thing is that, being so early, it will keep sounding better and better!
"One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them."

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