Do I have to cut my nails to play the piano?  No! (But maybe…)

Should you cut your nails short to play the piano?  Can you practise and play well with long nails?  The answer is perhaps not as simple as some would have you believe…

Boys and Girls

Without wishing to sound sexist, this blog post definitely relates more to my female piano and keyboard pupils than the males!  I have yet to teach a boy or man who was unhappy about cutting his fingernails to play more easily.  The ladies and girls are a different matter.

Can You Hear?

You can certainly tell when someone plays the piano or keyboard with long nails.  The click-click sound is very noticeable as the ends of the nails (natural or false) tap against the keys.  Until you get used to it, the sound can be very distracting.

Does it matter?

I have learnt to ignore the tapping noises and don’t insist that anyone cut their nails, although I do recommend it.  There are a couple of other factors that come into play.

Firstly, the position of the nail bed on the fingers can make a difference.  Some people’s nails are just further up their fingers and it seems they can be grown longer without protruding over the end of the finger.

Secondly, the extent of the problem depends on your chosen hand position.  Whilst beginners in five-finger position have very curved fingers, as you move out of this position the finger straighten a little and nails can cause less of a problem.

I have heard reports of players with long nails getting them painfully caught between the keys, but to date I have no experience of this among my own pupils.

So, yes or no?

Of course, if it comes down to a choice between playing with long nails or not playing at all, I would always encourage people to keep their nails and play.  Indeed, a couple of my long-nailed lady pupils are becoming quite accomplished (despite the clicks!)

I have to concede that playing with longer nails is probably never going to be completely satisfactory because of the loss of contact between the fingers and the keys and the resulting lack of sensory feedback.  This will inevitably affect articulation and expression.

But if you’re a piano teacher, I would urge you not to try and force anyone to cut their nails, particularly teenage girls.  Encouragement is fine, but if playing well is important enough to the pupil they will come around to cutting them anyway.


I did see one possible (not entirely serious) solution – take a look at this video.  Of course this doesn’t solve the problem of reduced sensation and actually makes it worse!  Quite funny anyway, though.

Are you a piano or keyboard pupil with long nails?  Please leave a comment and tell me about your challenges!  And long nails or short – enjoy your playing!


  1. John Smith


    I play classical guitar and piano at around Gr8/diploma level. My RH nails need to be kept long for guitar but when I do occasionally cut them, it fells weird to play the piano with short nails. Is there a way around this problem as I love both instruments and want to do well in both?

    Best wishes

    • Josef

      I was thinking of putting on thimbles but add cushioning below each nail so that even though it’d feel like having longer nails (or like ballerina toes?) it might still help. Rubber ones might work best, I think.

  2. Adrienne Archuleta

    hello! i wear acrylic nails that aren’t that long, every time i go to piano practice, my piano teacher urges me to cut my nails and makes really weird comments like “you still have the dragon lady nails” .. i really love my nails and i feel like i play just fine with them .. i’ve been really having a challenge

  3. Eva

    Thanks for sharing this great article!
    I always cut my nails below the edges of my fingertips. From my perspective, long nails not only damage the keys but also force you to press a key in an awkward way. What’s more, when you have to play pieces which need quick finger movement, long nails just annoy you. Perhaps you don’t have to cut your nail too short, but long nails never match keyboard instruments.

  4. Eric

    I have been only playing piano for about 4 months now and I can hear the clicking sound. It is starting to drive me crazy and it sounds very unprofessional and goofy. I am now going to clip them short and hope I don’t hear that clicking sound again! 🙂

  5. Awa

    I have good nails and just got my nails done as a therapeutic thing for myself. Am I being stubborn by not getting rid of them to learn the keyboard? It is just that I paid £25 for them and it was therapeutic.

  6. AGNES

    I like playing guitar but I do it with my short nails at first it was very painful for my fingertips but am now used to it.

  7. Amber

    Hi there, I’ve been playing piano since the age of four so I’ve never had the opportunity to get manicures or extensions before. Every time that my nails have grown past to the point of being able to hear the clicks on the keys, I get reprimanded. Do you think getting manicures are still fine?

    • David Hendra

      I think it’s your choice, not the the choice of whoever is “reprimanding” you. I see from your email address that you’re an adult, so don’t let anyone reprimand you for anything, I would say!

  8. mark roberts

    Classical guitar is played with nails, piano without. Can anyone play both?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© 2022

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑