While re-stringing my guitar the other day, I was reminded of something I read many years ago about the classical guitarist Francisco Tarrega. Coming from a musical family (his father was a talented flamenco guitarist), it was hardly surprising that the young Tarrega soon took an interest in learning an instrument. However, after some years of playing and composing his own works, Francisco took the unusual step of cutting his fingernails.
Okay, so to non-guitarists, this might not seem terribly important, but as most finger-pickers (and especially Spanish and classical guitarists) will know, the ability to pluck each string with the fingernail is of paramount importance, since it produces a wonderfully loud, clear note and allows a variety of different tones.
Tarrega, being somewhat forward thinking, wanted to be different – his decision to cut the fingernails on his right hand meant he could produce a much softer, mellower sound, more suited to his own music. Even today, students of Tarrega’s style sometimes follow in their hero’s footsteps (or fingersteps) and keep their picking fingers short.
So what has this to do with writing? Not much, except that it made me think about how I write – ie which methods I use to get my words onto paper etc.
Like most folk these days, I work mainly on a computer, since anything worthwhile is going to end up on my hard drive anyway, at some point. I do occasionally write in long hand (good old fashioned paper and pen) but I find this quite difficult due to being a guitarist. Unlike Tarrega, I choose to pluck my guitar strings, rather than allow them to roll off the ends of my fingers, and this means that my right-hand fingernails are quite long, which in turn, means those very same fingernails interfere with writing by hand, scratching the paper in a rather irritating way that tends to send me running back to my laptop.
While my fingernails do sometimes get in the way of the keyboard too, it’s not so much of a problem and provided I don’t let them get too long, I can manage fine (though I sometimes wonder who women with mega-long nails ever manage to get anything done online).
To be honest, I don’t mind doing all my writing via my keyboard, because, possibly due to the fact that I don’t write by hand very often, my actual handwriting has become almost illegible! Maybe that’s the way forward for us all – a world of people who can produce beautiful prose but can’t write a note to the milkman.
If you’re still not sure who Tarrega was, have a look at the video of Australian guitarist John Williams playing one of Tarrega’s greatest works, with uncut fingernails.