Fingernail Sounds

The fingernail sounds are a quite common and often used playing technique on the harp. There are different possibilities for fingernail sounds on the harp. Generally, they are notated with a sign that reminds of the shape of a upside-down fingernail. There are different types of fingernail sounds:

  • Plucked fingernail sounds:
    Due to the fact that harpists normally have short nails, for a good result of the effect the nails must be placed in an accurate way, which takes some time and is less quick than the normal way of playing. The dynamic goes from pp to f.
  • Fingernail buzz:
    After plucking the string normally, the fingernail is placed lightly against the vibrating string. The amount and duration of the effect depends of the range and attack on a played string. The lower and the louder, the more audible and longer the effect will be. The dynamic goes from p to mf and depends from the range, how strong the string has been plucked and how the nail is positioned.

Luciano Berio, Sequenza II (1963) © Universal Edition, London.

Carlos Salzedo, Chanson dans la nuit (1929) © Lyra Music Company, New York.

Ivo Malec, Pieris (1985) © Salabert, Paris.

Yoshihisa Taïra, Sublimation (1971) © Durand, Paris