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Are nails needed for guitar exams?

classical guitar exams finger nails

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#1 ten left thumbs

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Posted 29 December 2013 - 18:12

For guitar teachers: Can a student do guitar exams using flesh technique? And do well? 

 

I'm playing with fingers just now as piano is first instrument, and I have no plans at all to do exams. Just curious as to whether it would be feasible. I didn't see anything about nails in the syllabus, but wondering if it is assumed. 

 

Also I would be curious to know what the attitude is of other exam boards, like RGT.


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#2 Boogaloo

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Posted 30 December 2013 - 21:13

Hi!

 

My main study was classical guitar with piano being my second whilst at school and then music college, although I don't play much guitar any more. My advice would be that to get a half decent sound you would be better with nails. However, not much nail is needed if you have the correct technique. I certainly managed to play both successfully at the RCM and my piano tutor never gave me any grief over it. Hold your right hand up level with your eyes and so long as you can see a small amount of nail then that should be enough. The advantage of this is that a nail doesn't take long to grow back if it breaks. The other option is false nails (obviously not from Claire's!) though I haven't used these for years so don't know what's available on the market. Ultimately, if you're after a decent sound you will need some nail. But experimentation is also key - see what you can get away with!


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#3 ten left thumbs

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Posted 30 December 2013 - 22:12

I know some play piano with some length of nail, but not me! I am a piano teacher first. if I needed to grow nails for classical guitar, then I,d just give up classical. I also play plectrum guitar, where I don,t need to feel like a second class player.

I,m considering trying Alaska picks, which are like an artificial nail that just clips on. I can,t be doing with long complicated rigmaroles for getting them on and off.

As it is, I get some nice tones with flesh. Not much by way of forte, but I can get some dynamic contrasts. Historically, lot of important players used flesh at least sometimes, sor, Tarrega.

I can cope with being marked down for not having nails. I can cope with knowing, only to a certain grade. If exams are just a bad idea for me, I can cope with putting them out of my mind and just enjoying what I can do. I would just like to know.
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#4 ten left thumbs

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Posted 31 December 2013 - 09:08

Thanks for that, all ears! Sounds like nails are assumed by the board, this is fine. I,ll just keep going then and put exams out of my mind.
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#5 Violalala

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Posted 31 December 2013 - 10:04

I suppose you have to choose between a clickety click noise on the piano and a lack of tone colour on the guitar. A nice tone on classical guitar does require a bit of polished nail making contact with the string as well as flesh. Long nails can sound unpleasant too if nail is all that is touching the string,; I like a bit of both pressed diagonally across the strings for a really nice tone. About a milimetre or two is all that is required, following the curve of the pad of your finger, if you have a good hand position technique this is also equally important. I've put child pupils into lower grade abrsm exams who bite their nails to the flesh and have achieved respectable passes, but it is not ideal especially as you get more advanced with everything else.  


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#6 ten left thumbs

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Posted 01 January 2014 - 22:44

Up to what level did you enter the nail biters? Just curious.

I suppose probably a letter to the board would give me a better idea. I can,t be the first to ask.
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#7 Violalala

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 10:09

Up to what level did you enter the nail biters? Just curious.

I suppose probably a letter to the board would give me a better idea. I can,t be the first to ask.

Only prep test to grade 2. I did not teach for very long. The chances of your examiner being a classical guitarist are extremely slim, and I am guessing they would have had to sit through a large number of guitarists with less than ideal technique making a terrible noise. So if you can make a nice sound they will always be impressed! (Just my experience; for my own guitar exams I have examiners comments that seem to express astonishment about this, yet I was not all that great a player; just well taught.)

I know a young nail biter (not one of mine) who took his grade 7 and passed. I've heard him play and he makes a terrible twangy thuddy sound in my opinion, but can get all the notes out correctly, enthusiastically and at speed. Having been through both guitar and violin exams as an adult, I do think that my guitar exams were marked more generously than my violin ones.


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#8 ExpressYourself

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 10:38

I did my G2 classical guitar many moons ago with short nails. Used my fingers and neither my teacher nor examiner ever mentioned it
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#9 Violalala

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 12:11

I did my G2 classical guitar many moons ago with short nails. Used my fingers and neither my teacher nor examiner ever mentioned it

I am surprised your teacher had not discussed nails with you. I believe a classical guitarist's nails and fingers are a part of your instrument, just as much as a violinist's bow is. It makes such a huge difference to your sound as to what state they are in and how you use them.


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#10 ExpressYourself

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 14:47

It was 20 odd years ago so I'm not a reliable witness!
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#11 UnnaturalHarmonics

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 18:43

These?

Free-Shipping-Halloween-Supplies-Hallowe
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#12 Cauchy

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 19:53

I suppose you have to choose between a clickety click noise on the piano and a lack of tone colour on the guitar. A nice tone on classical guitar does require a bit of polished nail making contact with the string as well as flesh. Long nails can sound unpleasant too if nail is all that is touching the string,; I like a bit of both pressed diagonally across the strings for a really nice tone. About a milimetre or two is all that is required, following the curve of the pad of your finger, if you have a good hand position technique this is also equally important. I've put child pupils into lower grade abrsm exams who bite their nails to the flesh and have achieved respectable passes, but it is not ideal especially as you get more advanced with everything else.  

I'm interested in the diagonal contact you mention.  Do you find this scratchy on the bass strings?  I appreciate that in most pieces it is the thumb that plays the lower strings but in exercises the fingers are often used on all strings.  I also make contact diagonally with the fingers but I find it sounds scratchy on the bass strings (even with a polished nail).  If I switch to more perpendicular on the bass strings then it sounds cleaner.  However, to play perpendicular to the strings my wrist is at an angle which probably isn't good practice.  The joys of learning an instrument ......


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#13 ten left thumbs

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 21:09

All really interesting, thanks.

Maybe I,ll consider it then! I did look at the Alaska picks again, but they are to be worn under the nail. Under the nail? What nail? I don,t think my millimetre of nail would support them.

But I did notice as I practiced that I could make some dynamic changes, so maybe I,ll just focus on that and not worry too much about nails. I have an occasional teacher who plays nail less.
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#14 michael N

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Posted 02 January 2014 - 23:17

I'm not a Guitar teacher but I would be extremely surprised if nails are required for any Guitar exam. I strongly suspect that they are much more concerned with technique and (more importantly) musicality rather than whether or not you play with nails. 

For those who aren't convinced here are a few examples of Players who play without Nails:

 

http://www.youtube.c...h?v=rX_Hm71qnCk

 

http://www.youtube.c...h?v=dAhCi0XaQD0

 

http://www.youtube.c...NgGrc4DiA#t=101

 

 

All playing 19 th century Guitars but there are plenty of people who play the larger modern guitar without the use of Nails. They are in a minority but they do exist! Most who play without Nails employ a slightly different technique, with string tension slightly lower than normally found with nail playing. I strongly suspect that the above players might pass an exam or two, even without Nails. :-)

As for 'decent tone' ? You have the harder sound of Nails against the softer sound of flesh. Bright sounding guitars will go some way to getting more of a Nail type sound - if that's what you prefer. Nothing wrong with playing without nails though. Perhaps it's a little like comparing a modern Steinway with a Chopin/ Schumann period piano. They have their own sound, not necessarily inferior. 


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#15 Violalala

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Posted 03 January 2014 - 08:53

 

I suppose you have to choose between a clickety click noise on the piano and a lack of tone colour on the guitar. A nice tone on classical guitar does require a bit of polished nail making contact with the string as well as flesh. Long nails can sound unpleasant too if nail is all that is touching the string,; I like a bit of both pressed diagonally across the strings for a really nice tone. About a milimetre or two is all that is required, following the curve of the pad of your finger, if you have a good hand position technique this is also equally important. I've put child pupils into lower grade abrsm exams who bite their nails to the flesh and have achieved respectable passes, but it is not ideal especially as you get more advanced with everything else.  

I'm interested in the diagonal contact you mention.  Do you find this scratchy on the bass strings?  I appreciate that in most pieces it is the thumb that plays the lower strings but in exercises the fingers are often used on all strings.  I also make contact diagonally with the fingers but I find it sounds scratchy on the bass strings (even with a polished nail).  If I switch to more perpendicular on the bass strings then it sounds cleaner.  However, to play perpendicular to the strings my wrist is at an angle which probably isn't good practice.  The joys of learning an instrument ......

 

You are absolutely right to be paying careful attention to the sound you are making, and that is half the battle won with guitarists! In reality for most pieces the thumb plays most bass notes and can approach the metal strings straight while the rest of the hand/fingers sit diagonally across the nylon strings.. If you have a run of notes on bass strings to be played as a single melodic line, I would use alternating fingers and change my wrist slightly to minimise horrible technical noise. Think of it in the same was as a violinist being first taught to hold the bow in a precise prescribed way, then as they get more advanced learing subtle changes in bow placement and control to produce more variety of sound. It's the same with the guitarist's right hand.

 

Edit: (quiet at work, thinking about guitar...) using fingers on the bass strings can produce a gorgeous dark powerful tone as it is easier to press rather than twang the string. Pressing any string towards your belly button can produce the most glorious tone as the string glides over your pad and polised nail as it releases. You can do runs of notes on bass strings with the thumb if you choose, but it can sound clumsier at speed, whereas alternating fingers (from the knuckle joint) can go faster and are easier to control if you want to emphasise particular notes for musical phrasing etc.


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