The road ends, but the journey continues...

Re-Ramping My Nails for Service

For the past few months, it’s been all about the music.
Most of my playing focus has been in rep* upkeep and composing/practicing new pieces for my Swimming with Swans project.  Before my back spasms in March, I increased technical practice to two hours a day minimum.  Outside the realm of being a student in a rigorous University Music School program where two hours is but a blink, that’s a good amount of time spent on keeping those chops up.
As a working musician, the balance between teaching, playing, practicing, composing, rehearsals, sight reading, learning new rep, collaborations, gigging, performing, recording, and giving presentations is an on-going juggling act. Snoopy Juggling Woodstock Schult These past few years, I’ve been blessed with a space of time that allows me to choose which balls to juggle and for how long.
Since my NaNoRebellion 2014, I’ve been listing out project to-do’s in the form of my “Where I’m At and Where I’m Going” focus sheets. I’m on the fourth such guide, about to compile yet another for the upcoming month.  These allow me to jot down specific areas that need to be addressed, quantify what needs to be done and help me to see progress towards completion in a linear fashion.
In other words, they keep me on task.
Since receiving that new and much needed classical guitar case on Earth Day of all days, a renewed effort towards nail care was ignited in this musician. I’d become a bit sloppy in that department.  With the Prisloe now embraced in a lovely new case, I figured I needed a little cleaning up, too.
When one is on a constant gigging and performance schedule, nail care is de riguer for optimal tone production. Since my juggler balls of performance and gigging are not in the air at this time, I’ve become a tad bit negligent in the nail care area. In my defense, most of the time sound projected from the Prisloe has been pleasing. However lately, my keen ears detected an irritating scraping sound on those wound strings.
Yes, I pushed the limits on this, but well there it is.  Ironic because as a teacher, I admonish students to keep up with nail care and string changes as those are two easy fixes for underlying tone production.  And yes, I’ve extended times between string changes, too.
Sloppy habits indeed…and that new classical guitar case only brought them to center stage.  Kinda like when in the midst of a house renovation – once the carpet is replaced, those walls scream out for a new coat of paint and once done, those scuffed base boards stand out as evidence of interior decorating neglect.
Not that I ignored the sonic irritant. It’s extremely difficult to turn off (and highly un-recommended) the discriminating ear of a musician striving for excellence in tone production – of deliberate tone color choices and such –
But, I purposely overlooked it in brief passages while working through fingerings or phrasings in my original compositions. As I began more interpretational practice, I found that scratching sound unbearable…no matter how slight.  It presented glaring proof of compromised musicianship-hygiene.
Hence the urgency to re-invest attention to:

Re-Ramping My Nails for Service.

Geesh, this would take time away from my intense project focus and yet to not do this would be detrimental to the quality of progress. Toss that juggler ball back into the fray.

Nail Shape

illustration from Classical Guitar Pedagogy, by Anthony Glise

Any cg-er** reading this is already aware of the how, what and why of the actual re-ramp.  Anyone else probably doesn’t have a clue to what a ramp in classical guitar nail care is and probably could care less.
The term itself is fairly new, brought into greater usage after the publication of Scott Tenant’s Pumping Nylon: The Classical Guitarist’s Technique Handbook. However nail shape choices have been around for as long as cg-ers have been experimenting with the relationship of nail to flesh to string contact in tone production and control.
Guitar pedagogue Aaron Shearer detailed many such filing options, listing the pros and cons of each. He simply called it a generic ‘slant’.
As to the usefulness of this re-ramped nails blog post for the non-cg-er, I propose it expands one’s body language knowledge.  Not only contributing to the understanding of individuals in a social setting, but aiding in opening the doors of friendship or other sorts of relationships.
After all, how many in the general population sport short left hand nails and weirdly shaped longer right hand nails all on the same body and on both genders?wine tasting group
Imagine the possible conversations:

“I perceive you are a sensitive individual, immersed in an artistic lifestyle.”
“Why yes, I am a musician.  I play…”
“Let me guess, the classical guitar?”
“Oh how perceptive of you…”

Now that I’m ramped-up, there’s a noticeable improvement in the quality of sound emerging from the Prisloe. inspiring this working musician to just keep on pluckin’!


*musician’s slang for repertoire
**an insider’s reference to classical guitarists


  1. L. Marie

    Nail care. Makes so much sense for a guitarist. So practical! I never thought about the differences in tone and the correlation to nail care.
    I’m looking at my nails now. . . . Some of the nails on my left hand are slightly longer than those on my right hand. I type a lot, so they break sometimes. Or I cut them. I don’t like typing with long nails.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Sounds like we are of the same mind on nails…purely utilitarian. Yours for ease in ‘playing’ the typing keyboard, and mine for playing my primary instrument.

  2. Bob Cloud

    My son is a guitarist and has been playing professionally for over 30 years and even though he is grown and has his own family I’m sure his nails are under constant maintenance. What I find interesting is that even though he hasn’t played in our house for many years we still find guitar picks occasionally. Under this cabinet or behind that chair even in my tool box in the garage. Very mysterious those guitar picks..

    • laura bruno lilly

      Ah, the stories they could tell!

  3. Donna

    I ditto Deborah’s comment. I had no clue either.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Considering how much I learn from your bird-site…I’m glad I could return the favor.

  4. deborahbrasket

    How interesting! I had no idea nail care was such an essential part of playing the guitar, but it makes sense. I suppose this is true in all practices, the need to guard against slopping habits or neglect (the need to clear my desk once in a while so I am working on my novel in a more harmonious atmosphere.)

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh yes, and I didn’t even go into the different levels of filing and polishing involved…of which I had neglected the final step with jeweler’s grade (very fine) sandpaper!!!
      This bottom line of needing to ‘clear/clean’ one’s desk in order to enable a harmonious & prosperous workspace is a point well made.
      Hope the novel is progressing well for you.

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