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Fingernails: A little history
Page 1: Overview
Page 2: history

-Miguel de Fuenllana's vihuela method Orphenica Lyra (1554) is the earliest record of the nail-no nail issue. Fuenllana spoke of redobles (ways of plucking the strings with the right hand) and put forth a preference for the use of the flesh. He said that what using the nails gains in technical security, it loses in the artist's ability to transmit beauty. "Only the finger, the truly lute builderliving thing, can communicate the intention of the spirit." What gives real value to this man's comment, is that he was blind from birth, and the years have tought me that the blind, develop their hearing to unsuspected hights. When music is their profession, hearing is the universe.

-The lutenist Alessandro Piccinini (1566-C.1638) in his book Intavolatura di liuto...(1639), et di chitarrone (1623) recommended the use of the nails. "The player should touch the string with the flesh, push the string towards the belly of the instrument and slide the nail obliquely across them." His discription of how to shape the nails is similar to the modern guitarist's approach. -Guitarists from the Tarrega age on, are generally referred to as modern-

-Thomas Mace (c.l612-c.l706) in his book on the lute Musick's Monument (1676) expressed a preference for the flesh but conceded that there was an advantage to using the nails. "The mellow sound of a lute played with the flesh is lost while playing in consort, while the use of the nails allowes it to be heard." However, he greatly preferred the sound of the flesh. 

lute player-The baroque guitarist Francesco Corbetta (1615-1681) used nails.

-Silvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750) said that the lute was usually played with the flesh, but the theorbo (similar to the lute but with a longer fingerboard) and chitarrone were plucked with the nails "and produced, in close proximity, a course, harsh sound.

-Frederico Moretti (1799) and Fernando Ferrandiere (1771-1816) laid the foundation for the early nineteenth century guitarists in their respective books Principios para tocar la guitare de seis ordenes (Principles to play the 6 strings guitar) and Arte de tocar la guitarra espanola  (The art of playing the Spanish guitar) both published in 1799. Of Moretti's book, Femando Sor said, "It is a torch which serves to light the errant steps of guitarists."  Moretti supported the use of the flesh.  Ferrandiere opted for the nails.

-Femando Sor (1778-1839) was one of the most celebrated guitarists and composers of his day. His  compositions are still a big part of the repertoire. On this issue he said, "Never in my life have I heard a guitarist whose playing was supportable, if he played with the nails."
Like writers before him, Sor complained about the sound created by the nails. He felt that it had an unpleasant tone and created too much noise. He also thought that "very few gradations of sound quality could be produced" using the nails. The one redeeming lute playerfactor was that "nails facilitate rapid passages".  In deciding these issues, Sor pointed out that every player was the real deciding factor: "When I direct you to observe this or that precept, never rely on my authority merely, but inquire the reason; and if I have none sufficiently convincing to satisfy you it should greatly diminish the confidence with which you honour me in regard to the science.

-Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849) in his Nuevo Metodo para guitarra (New guitar method) of 1843 described a technique very similar to that of the modern guitarist. He explained how to play using both the flesh and the nail approach with a strong preference for the nails. Aguado himself played with the nails, as did his teacher Manuel de Popolo-Vicente Garcia. Aguado believed the use of the nails gave the guitar a unique sound and hence best brought out its true character. The use of the nails allowed for a great deal of timbre variation as well as rapid and clear playing. 

- The next major figure in the guitar's history was Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909) who, having never written a method book, has become an important pedigogical figure primarily through the writings of Emilio Pujol (1886-1982). Tarrega's teacher, Julian Areas, used the nails, as did Tarrega up until the last nine years of his life. In 1900, Tarrega withdrew from doing concerts and started to play with the flesh. Pujol described Tarrega's use of the flesh as giving a clear sound because of the "width, smoothness, and firmness of the body that set the strings vibrating. This certain touch must be developed". Pujol added, echoing Fuenllana, that "the flesh best transmits the feeling of the soul ...such an unresponsive medium as nails interferes, somehow with the direct contact of the artist's sensibility to the string.

At times, Pujol became very emotional about the subject. "The tone of a string struck with the fingertip possesses an intrinsic beauty, which affects the deepest feelings of our sensibility, just as air and light permeate space. Its notes are incorporeal as might be the notes of an ideally jazz_ensambleexpressive and responsive harp. It has, as well as this intimate character, some of the Roman strength and Greek balance. It recalls the gravity of an organ and the express! veness of a violincello. The guitar ceases to be feminine and becomes an instrument of grave virility. Finally, this style stands for the transmission, without impurities, of the deepest of our emotions."  Despite the tone of this last statement, Pujol ends his treatise. El dilema del sonido en la guitarra (1960) (The guitar sound dilemma), on a very balanced note by summing up the qualities of each approach, and he left the decision with the reader. He said the nails give the player more ability to get timbre variations, clear harmonies, vibratos, speed and articulation. The nails also allow playing with a minimum of effort with the right hand. He said that the flesh gives uniformity, sobriety and volume, clear pizzicatos, loud scales, and an etherial rather than a metallic tremolo. The flesh approach, requires more strength and effort to displace the string because of the increased resistance (of the flesh), hence virtuosity is more difficult. Virtuosity is used as synonim with speed. Mistake.

-Andres Segovia (1893-1987) played with the nails in Aguado's style. When asked for his opinion on Tarrega's use of the right hand without nails, he replied; "It is absolutely stupid. You reduce the volume of the guitar, and the difference of timbre and colour.Tarrega has renounced the real nature of the guitar, which is the richness of its timbres, the different colours of the guitar."  It is because of Segovia's influence, most guitarists now play with the nails. The issue was never solved by evolution nor voted on by a majority, but was decided by the work and popularity of Segovia and his followers. It is this large following that accounts for the almost unanimous use of the fingernails by guitarists today. 

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