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Video 7: The Stages of Fingernail Refinement

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I’ve been working on a “stage” system that I am applying to all aspects of classical guitar technique. Here I apply it to fingernails and how you get better and better at refining their use. Each stage depends on the previous ones being adequately mastered.

  1. Survival: It starts with Survival, or basic ability. This means filing your fingernails to a basic shape that works, more or less consistently.
  2. Quality: Once you have them working, a basic shape, you start playing with the quality of sound, or tone.
  3. Expression: Once you have a sense of how to create and work with the quality of your sound, you can widen your range of expression—-and your nail shape needs to be played with in order to find the widest variety of expression.
  4. Flow: Getting it to all come together, often the last thing you have to work out is exactly how long to keep your nails. This is because speed and power (volume) are somewhat at odds with each other: shorter nails give you more fleetness, longer nails give you more power. You have to find what works for you as your musical abilities really start coming into their own. Of course, you’ll have to continue to work on other refinements as well, as they become pertinent.

Take these stages lightly—they’re just a way to get you thinking and a very loose map to give you an idea of where you are.