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That_Guy

 

Posts: 48
Joined: May 31 2012
From: Abingdon, VA

How important are finger nails? 

For classical guitar, it seems like shaped fingernails are a must. What about for flamenco? I HATE growing out my nails. I like to use my flesh.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 0:06:46
 
Shawn Brock

 

Posts: 271
Joined: Sep. 19 2011
From: Louisville KY

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

I would say that for flamenco or classical that your nails are just as important to your playing as your fingers... So in other words, if you don't want to grow out your nails, your going to have a problem playing flamenco unless you want to become a singer or percussionist. Maybe you could become a flamenco harpist?... You may get some funny looks, but what the hell.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 1:24:28
 
gounaro

Posts: 875
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From: Athens, Hellas

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

You will have a lot of problems playing flamenco without nails plus that you'll feel pain at your fingers.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 1:29:41
 
That_Guy

 

Posts: 48
Joined: May 31 2012
From: Abingdon, VA

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

I've already developed super hard callouses. And my picados are pretty damn fast... for a rookie haha.

I guess I'll have trouble in other areas? Like my golpe maybe? I may discover that soon lol.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 1:54:40
 
shaun

Posts: 176
Joined: May 11 2012
From: Edmonton, Canada

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

They're not essential for playing but the consistency of the sound really suffers without them. Strumming down would be with your nails but strumming up or picado would be with your softer finger tips. You get a mix of hard and soft sounds that is not usually desirable in flamenco. When I started with flamenco I thought "I don't need nails" but within six months I was keeping them long. That's when I knew I was dedicated.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 2:23:38
 
GuitarVlog

Posts: 441
Joined: Mar. 19 2009
From: San Francisco Bay Area

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

When I started out in classical and flamenco, I tried going without nails. I eventually found nails to be essential to my tone and became a convert.

Steel string guitar and lutes can be played without nails, although it seems that many fingerstyle steel-string players prefer to use nails (or artificial nails).

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 3:14:12
 
Elie

Posts: 1837
Joined: Apr. 10 2010
 

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

they're very important !
keep them short and shaped and they'll do the job

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 7:20:24
 
XXX

Posts: 4400
Joined: Apr. 14 2005
 

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

quote:

ORIGINAL: That_Guy

For classical guitar, it seems like shaped fingernails are a must. What about for flamenco? I HATE growing out my nails. I like to use my flesh.


Good luck.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 10:16:06
 
Sr. Martins

Posts: 3077
Joined: Apr. 4 2011
 

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

The first months will be tough because your fingers arent used to have long nails and there will be some minor pain too, especially if they arent shaped right.

Ive spent almost a year with "ramp" on the ima fingers and after a little nail accident which made me re-shape them, I found that the best shape for my nails is following the contour of the finger. As a bonus it turned out that with the nails shaped this way, I dont even have to have them sticking out of the fingers.

The only thing that keeps being a major pain in the ass is that I cant seem to find the right shape for the ring finger.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 11:55:24
 
z6

 

Posts: 225
Joined: Mar. 1 2011
 

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

Of course you can play with flesh. But it is very difficult. (I will try to explain what I mean, specifically, by this later in this post.)

I played classical guitar for years with nails but chopped them in order to 'tap' my ztar (midi 'guitar-like' controller without strings). Then I became interested in flamenco.

It never occurred to me for a second, before that, to ever cut my nails. My tacit assumption had always been, like many of the responses here, that the sound would be 'soft'.

I still have a thumb nail (although some of the confident assumptions here about the 'quality' of the sound might not be aware that most of us, no matter how long the nail, use predominantly flesh when we play with the thumb).

I also have a nail on my right-hand pinky.

I've been playing without nails for around 18 months. There are both advantages and disadvantages... but they have nothing to do with some notion of flesh only managing to produce some kind of wishy-washy sound.

It hurts like hell until you develop callouses. (And it still hurts after that.) Using nails is much easier to learn with. I use a pumis then rub with successive levels of micro abrasive and the tips of the fingers have what feels like a hard coating on them: all the way round to the nail tip.

However, learning, for example, picado, becomes much clearer. It is easier, in my personal experience, to 'find' the technique.

Arpeggios are eventually much easier to do but the road to them may be longer.

But I expect that the people who 'assume' (and then tell you how crazy it would be to try to use flesh) have never spent many months playing with flesh.

Of course, golpes do sound different. You will never get that high-pitched click that a nail provides. It may be thwack or a thump or whatever. But it is not just flesh either. I cannot perform a 'nail-only' golpe, but neither can I play a golpe without the nail making contact with the top.

I would say that there are a thousand things more important, in general, than whether one uses nails or not. That is to say; chop off your favourite famous players' nails and have a listen and the guy will sound as marvellous as ever. (No need for jokes here... Paco with no nails is still Paco.)

Rasguedos: I have heard a guy, on this forum, playing rasguedos with no nails that sounded 'brushy'. I know it is possible not to sound like that. It is in the attack, and the control, where the sound is formed, not because of the nail. We all have different nails, and while an ideal nail may, in principle, produce, a 'better' (whatever that means) sound than callouses, I just don't know

But I never play 'flicked' rasguedo (it was only here that I learned that people consider such flicks 'modern') I don't like 'wrapping' my thumb around the strings and I simply cannot do a continuous roll with flicks... so I tend to use my pinky with them... it has a nail, the others don't but it doesn't sound or feel 'gallopy' in any way that I could contribute to the nails themselves.

In general, if you have good nails (no hooks and can stand some punishment) then it makes perfect sense to use nails. It's what almost everyone does and works very well for that vast majority of players, including probably every professional you'll ever hear.

But don't listen when people simply dismiss the idea of chopping the nails off. For a start, one no longer has to ponce around with nail products or ping-pong balls, or glue or fret over them. The whole nail angst thing gets solved in one fell swoop.

On the other hand, these days almost nobody does it without nails. Lutenists and guitarists, historically, played with or without nails. And I'm sure that the historians here will put me right but Segovia might even have had a strong hand in pushing nails (i. e. the dogma of nails demonstrated by those who have never properly 'researched' it by playing for a long time then judging that playing against one's own playing... not someone else's that might be achieved in some fantasy world).

So, using nails makes a lot of sense, but not using nails doesn't make nearly as little sense as some would have you believe.

Personally, I love it. The feel is wonderful. It eliminates a whole slew of places where problems and 'misdiagnosis' of problems can occur. I find it much easier to relax without nails... much easier.

In all my previous years of playing I was never able to isolate my problems as my nails always got in the way. (But I was never aware of that until I had spent thousands of hours playing without nails.)

For reference: No, I won't be posting sound examples, but thanks for asking. Sound samples of such things are worse than useless, like trying to judge a guitar from a Youtube video. And I know enough to know it's different for everyone.

No, I'm not a pro. I play at home. I play on a double top. I like sustain. But I'm not a novice either. I've played in masterclasses and have a degree in music. This is not the place for it but the reason I play flamenco (techniques) is that I find it so evolved compared to classical. It simply works.

So yes, use nails. But don't be frightened not to. And if you do chop them, know that it will take a lot longer than a few months before you're really able to judge anything.

I hope these words help a little. I've learned so much lurking here but had nothing useful to offer before. I have seen the idea of no nails being dismissed so much that I thought I'd better post my experiences.

Without nails I've actually been able to develop my technique. Before that it was stagnant for years.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 12:30:59
 
gbv1158

 

Posts: 410
Joined: May 29 2009
From: Italy

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

from 1 to 10 : 11 !

:-)
ciao,
giambattista
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 13:04:39
 
That_Guy

 

Posts: 48
Joined: May 31 2012
From: Abingdon, VA

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to z6

Thanks for the detailed replies everyone! I guess I should start getting used to nails...

quote:

ORIGINAL: z6

But I expect that the people who 'assume' (and then tell you how crazy it would be to try to use flesh) have never spent many months playing with flesh.


I've wondered that myself actually...

quote:

I would say that there are a thousand things more important, in general, than whether one uses nails or not. That is to say; chop off your favourite famous players' nails and have a listen and the guy will sound as marvellous as ever. (No need for jokes here... Paco with no nails is still Paco.)


This is true. I've seen a video of Grisha Goryachev without nails and he was still playing great!

I guess I should just give nails another try.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 14:57:38
 
Sr. Martins

Posts: 3077
Joined: Apr. 4 2011
 

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

Hmm... I guess we all have different concepts about what lenght is "no nails".

To me "no nails" would be "not even a bit of nail contacting the strings", which is not what happens in Grisha's video. Short is not the same as "no nail".
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 15:09:41
 
That_Guy

 

Posts: 48
Joined: May 31 2012
From: Abingdon, VA

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to Sr. Martins

quote:

ORIGINAL: Rui Martins

Hmm... I guess we all have different concepts about what lenght is "no nails".

To me "no nails" would be "not even a bit of nail contacting the strings", which is not what happens in Grisha's video. Short is not the same as "no nail".



OH! I really considered that no nails. I meant like these super long talons! LOL!

Is "short nails" acceptable?
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 15:27:03
 
Ron.M

Posts: 7051
Joined: Jul. 7 2003
From: Scotland

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

The characteristic "attack" in Flamenco guitar comes from the flesh/nail combination.
That is the flesh touches the string a fraction of a second before the nail.

Nail length varies from player to player, some prefer longer than others, but it's safe to say that the shorter they are the less chance of breakage.

Just above the flesh seems to be the most popular choice for the finger nails.
Thumb nail length seems to vary from player to player.

Some folk swear by the "flat/angled" nail shape as in the book "Pumpimg Nylon" rather than contoured/round.

cheers,

Ron
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 18:10:54
 
GuitarVlog

Posts: 441
Joined: Mar. 19 2009
From: San Francisco Bay Area

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

quote:

ORIGINAL: That_Guy
Is "short nails" acceptable?


It depends on how short is short.

This might help. Back in 2009, I scanned photos of the nail profiles of two classical guitarists, one flamenco guitarist, and have photos of my own nails.

http://theguitarjournal.blogspot.com/2009/06/nails-with-or-without-and-how-long.html

EDIT:
It's worth mentioning that how "long" your nails look can depend on the length of your nail bed (the part before your nails appear white). I have been told that my nail beds are a little long.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 18:45:27
 
That_Guy

 

Posts: 48
Joined: May 31 2012
From: Abingdon, VA

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to GuitarVlog

quote:

ORIGINAL: GuitarVlog

quote:

ORIGINAL: That_Guy
Is "short nails" acceptable?


It depends on how short is short.

This might help. Back in 2009, I scanned photos of the nail profiles of two classical guitarists, one flamenco guitarist, and have photos of my own nails.

http://theguitarjournal.blogspot.com/2009/06/nails-with-or-without-and-how-long.html

EDIT:
It's worth mentioning that how "long" your nails look can depend on the length of your nail bed (the part before your nails appear white). I have been told that my nail beds are a little long.



The second photo is actually the length my nails are! I never really considered that a length at all. Well then.... that settles that!
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 20:06:47
 
bursche

Posts: 1181
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From: Frankfurt, Germany

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

Flamenco without embarrasingly womanish fingernails? Impossible!

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 21:29:36
 
z6

 

Posts: 225
Joined: Mar. 1 2011
 

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to Ron.M

Ron: First, I have enjoyed tremendously reading your posts, always informative, and often very funny.

What you have described is the act of someone with nails striking a string, and then you ascribed the mystical 'flamenco attack' to that which is employed in every other style involving nails and strings.

Could the nail strike the string anything other than a fraction later? Do classical guitarists do something different from that description?

This is not about someone chopping the nails off, finding that their fingers feel like a bunch of weak bananas that sound like a baby's bum brushing the strings and concluding that only nails will do. It's about thousands of hours and much bloody-mindedness.

The tips of the fingers change.

It's certainly not for everyone but nothing is 'denied', and certainly not the 'characteristic flamenco attack'.

I tried to learn flamenco almost thirty years ago but a hook nail, which had no problems handling Bach or Barrios, denied me the pleasure of the feeling of playing with the ease that flamenco requires.

As I stated, I would advise people to learn with nails. Learning without nails is much more, I found at least, difficult. But the rewards, for me have been worth it.

Suggesting that nails are required for a technical description identical to the classical approach is bogus.

I'm not saying that a characteristic flamenco attack does not exist. I'm pointing out that the path to such a thing is not held within your description... otherwise John Williams et al would sound flamenco.

I suspect that there are people who can produce such a characteristic sound with a pick, never mind nail-less fingers.

Anyone who's ever got really, really stuck, for example with picado, should know that the possibility exists that playing with fingertips might be an approach not to be dismissed offhand.

It's not right to stamp an opinion so hard as to suggest that anyone not on the talon wagon will forever be denied the characteristic attack of flamenco.

It simply ain't so.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 4 2012 22:32:55
 
Sr. Martins

Posts: 3077
Joined: Apr. 4 2011
 

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

Even when my nails are a bit longer, the left side of the nail has to be short or else I cant get the fingers on my thumb (to do a rasgueado) without disconfort and the rasgueado itself ends up "jumpy" and uneven :p

But this are just my noob feelings about the matter.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 5 2012 0:11:34
 
Ron.M

Posts: 7051
Joined: Jul. 7 2003
From: Scotland

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to z6

Hi z6 and thanks for your kind words!

I was always under the impression that classical players (those with nails) aimed for a "clean" nail sound.
That is no or very liitle flesh contact, the "sweet spot" being the point where the nail meets the flesh.
Maybe I'm wrong but it certainly sounds like that.
Also many many years ago I thought I'd take a few classical lessons and this is what I was told to do.

Flamencos dig that bit deeper with more flesh contact, which gives that characteristic "staccato" sound to picado in a mute-strike-mute-strike-mute-strike sequence.

Certainly flesh before nail contact using the side of the thumb is critical IMO to get a Flamenco sound.

A great guitarist here called Todd Kreuzberg used to play (amazingly) Flamenco using a flatpick.
But he used to "modify" the pick with a small cut to get that two-part sound.

John Williams is a fantastic guitarist, but to me anyway he goes for that "clean nail" sound.
Actually early Victor Monge "Serranito" tended towards a more classical approach too.
I saw him play "live" in a small club a few times back in the day and it sounded more like a classical player playing Flamenco.
Damn good though!
But not the kinda "earthy" Flamenco sound. More "sophisticated".

I have only seen/heard one guitarist play Flamenco with no nails at all.
He was a good classical player, but the Flamenco didn't sound right to me anyway.

However after seeing Todd play pretty complicated stuff using his modified flatpick, I believe anything is possible.

It would be great to hear a little bit of your playing z6 so I could hear for myself, since I've never heard of someone practicing and playing Flamenco with no nails over a long period of time.

One great thing about Flamenco technique is that there are general guidelines, but no real rules.

If it sounds good, go for it.

Hell, El Niño Miguel de Huelva sometimes plays with only 4 or 5 strings and broken nails and there is STILL something there.

cheers,

Ron
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 5 2012 8:29:44
 
z6

 

Posts: 225
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RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to Ron.M

Hi Ron,

I'm Scottish too, by the way. I live in Switzerland now but go back from time to time, so maybe you will get to hear me play.

Believe me, I'm no great shakes but the reason I felt compelled to comment in this thread was, firstly, I felt like a sponger, sucking up all this incredibly useful information without ever contributing, and secondly, because I wanted people to know that playing without nails has been a revelation for me.

As I am at pains to point out though, it is only relevant to my experience, and not something I would advocate for anyone outside those 'at the end of their tether' regarding some of the techniques.

I am in no way a flamenco player. I would get thrown off a bus for my lack of compas. But, I have always been fascinated by the ease with which flamenco guitarists seem to play, and always assumed it must simply be down to talent. What didn't make sense to me was that so many flamencos could do it. How the hell are they all virtuosos?

As a music student, many years ago, I even found some letters written by Liszt (not the actual letters), where he wonders the same thing regarding gypsy violinists.

I can't play fast picado, as far as any proper flamenco yardstick goes, but I can now do things which I previously believed impossible for me. All the things people have described here work now. I use a metronome almost all the time. I play staccato, etc. But what is important to me is that I can feel it working. There is now a direct correlation between the amount of time and quality of practise and the improvements I can feel.

I used to practise dilligently as a classical guitarist but it was always a struggle. My practise now relaxes me.

The 'feel' is wonderful. I have read many posts here about how to achieve this or that technique but it all boils down, for me, to being relaxed. It seemed like a paradox to me before but now, the more relaxed I become the better it feels, the more power is unleashed. Sometimes it feels so strange that I get in my own way.

However, my perceptions also seem to be changing, regarding listening. This is super weird for me. I find myself listening to people, who are truly magical classical guitarists, and thinking, hit the damned thing! Classical guitarists are sounding wimpier and wimpier to me. And it's not a conscious imposition, I'm truly hearing something other than that which I heard before.

Apologies if I've strayed too far into insaneland here, and too far off topic. But again, this is so that anyone out there having these same experiences might know that they're not alone. And that it really is possible to find these techniques later in life.

For me it was losing the nails. For others it will be something else. But that 'easy feel' is acheivable for sure.

Thanks again to everyone who posts here. This stuff may be old hat to many of you but it has been a treasure trove to me.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 5 2012 10:10:00
 
Ron.M

Posts: 7051
Joined: Jul. 7 2003
From: Scotland

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to z6

quote:

But, I have always been fascinated by the ease with which flamenco guitarists seem to play, and always assumed it must simply be down to talent. What didn't make sense to me was that so many flamencos could do it. How the hell are they all virtuosos?


z6,

It's 'cos these guys practise, practise, practise ALL the time.

Not like us "hobby guitarists" who reserve a few hours a week if we're not busy with other things.

These guys just sit all day with the guitar, 'cos it's all they want to do.
Their lives revolve around Flamenco and that doesn't change even if they become famous.

I can't quite remember, but didn't Tomatito say on the "Encuentro" video, when asked how long he practised for...."I dunno... just all the time".

Even when Paco Peña was playing solo all over the UK and had a really secure technique since starting at 10 years old, I asked him how much he practised now and he said "usually about 5 or 6 hours a day".

Of course, folk just seeing him for the first time reckon he just got that way easily, just through being Spanish or whatnot.

But he didn't.

cheers,

Ron
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 5 2012 10:37:37
 
BarkellWH

Posts: 3358
Joined: Jul. 12 2009
From: Washington, DC

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

I cannot imagine playing a decent rasgueado without fingernails, especially the four-finger (including little finger) roll. I know many consider that style of rasgueado dated and "old-fashioned," but, then, I am dated and old-fashioned myself when it comes to flamenco. (My all-time favorite is still Sabicas.) At any rate, using just flesh, I don't see how one could produce the marvelous, percussive sound of a first-rate rasgueado of any style.

Cheers,

Bill

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 5 2012 14:16:34

ToddK

 

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RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

quote:

How important are finger nails?


Really really important.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 5 2012 15:00:57
 
Ricardo

Posts: 13502
Joined: Dec. 14 2004
From: Washington DC

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to z6

quote:

I'm not saying that a characteristic flamenco attack does not exist. I'm pointing out that the path to such a thing is not held within your description... otherwise John Williams et al would sound flamenco.


Your ideas are sound. I found a book in my father's library written by Pujol about this nail less technique, as developed originally by Tarrega. That's right, Tarraga played that tremolo piece with finger tip pads of callous skin....NO nails. I have seen people play with no nails also, and on recording some examples are PDL with Chiquitos de Alegeciras, no thumb nail makes an interesting thumping sound for bass notes, also N. Miguel as mentioned on his recordings, he is just flesh with the thumb on lots of tracks. Not sure it was cuz it broke or what, cuz obviously later recordings of PDL have thumb nail and it IS very different sound, but flamenco none the less.

In Pujol's book, it is made quite clear that playing with flesh only produces (as intended) a rounder less bright tone, but full and clear notes none the less. Any of us can compare without months of practice by simply turning the guitar around and play a bit left handed. It is obviously awkward but the notes come out fine so the potential can be seen for developing such a technique.

I will say you will not ever sound exactly the same as with nails, but still flamenco sounding music is possible absolutely. Ron pointed out the main reasons for using nails. I personally feel that the feeling of struggle with technique comes from proper nail shape. In fact I can hear (now after years of experiment) how a flamenco player shapes his nails by the tone of the picado or arps tremolo etc. THe rounded contour shape is alwasy more resitent and can be heard, vs a flat filed crisp attack. I think that a proper nail shape might have steared even TARREGA in a different direction...but it is really hard to learn how to do it right without experiment.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 6 2012 16:54:31
 
itoprover

Posts: 339
Joined: Jan. 3 2006
From: Ottawa, ON

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

if you hate growing nails you can use acryllic. but stopping hating would be better IMO..

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 6 2012 18:02:03
 
NeZ

 

Posts: 96
Joined: Feb. 14 2007
 

RE: How important are finger nails? (in reply to That_Guy

I keep my nails fairly short as far as flamenco players go, the nail barely extends past the end of my finger, if at all. I can still get good nail and finger contact on the string, etc. The weird part though is my nails Look long because the white part starts very low on my finger.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Jun. 7 2012 3:02:45
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