Stop Fingernail Wear and Tear

Want to Nail Your Kalimba Playing? It’s All in the Keratin!

Acrylic nals on my right thumb and index finger help me play

The sounding of the bell is only as good as its ringer and the chime of a kalimba’s song is only as good as the nails on its player! Ready to connect with your kalimba voice? It all begins with the tips of your thumbnails.

For those of you who possess the gentic code for thick tough evergrowing fingernails, we are happy for you. This tip however is for those of you whose nails just seem to break, crack, bend and shred; no matter how many vitamin D and biotin capsules you take daily. This Tip is for you if you have been thinking of giving up the kalimba just because you weren’t born with killer nails!


We often don’t pay a lot of attention to our hands and nails.  Yet in kalimba language they are a key part of the instrument and are in fact the point of contact between your earthly being and your musical spirit and they are the conduit of that spirit to your kalimba.

Playing kalimba with abandon is the best way to incorporate your musical practice into your life.  Let us happily assume that you are making that serious leap from being a seldom or once in awhile kalimba player to being a musician who PRACTICES kalimba! As a kalimba player you have more than likely looked down at your hands after a heartfelt performance or after an especially passionate practice session and been a little shocked to see your thumbnails are shredded, split or cracked. The following tips will get you started on the road to healthy strong kalimba player thumb nail growth and regeneration that will help you stay ahead of the wear and tear.  It is not about pretty.  It is about function.  The following tips are uni-sex.  All players need to give care to this human aspect of their instrument.

Four Great Nail Habits for Kalimba Players

Keep Equipment at the Ready

A first step is to keep a pared down set of favorite or quality professional nail tools in a case or small bag stored along with your kalimba.  The best nail care is preventative. Today’s beauty supply stores on and off line offer a huge array of tool choices to aid your mission. A good sharp nail trimmer, fingernail sized, and a couple of quality nail files both fine and coarse grit are important. A good rule of thumb is to use the finer files for nails that are easily damaged and the rougher grit files for thick strong nails. Guitar players who like to fingerpick often use a sanding and finishing tool that resembles a wedged multi edged file with a variety of nail finishing surfaces including a side that is smooth, solid and with a leather like finish.  It is formed to give a finished shine and functional seal to natural nails. A natural nail produces an invisible oil layer of protection as the basis for new growth and nail health. The shiny polishing edge helps to keep the trimmed end of each cut or filed nail protected from the tines of the kalimba instrument.  

Use Improved Nail Technology

If your nails need more than cursory help, use new nail technology to hone your instrument interface! Split nails are almost impossible to repair. It takes a long time to grow a new set. So, have a good preventative and backup plan if your natural grown nails are not resilient or if they break under stress.. Get ahead of the game and use nail hardeners if good nutrition alone has not given you the nails you desire. Hardeners are created to assist the nail in maintaining integrity as new growth is encouraged.  Most hardeners will leave a clean and shiny or glossy finish on your nail. When the gloss begins to wear or dim it is probably time to clean it off with an appropriate polish remover (acetone based or as gentle a product that will effectively remove the old hardener) and renew the application.. Or in some cases you might be able to brush on an additional layer of the product and plan to strip and retreat the nail every week or two.  Most products can be applied in layers that strengthen the original nail.  Many nail preparations are to be used over a long period of time to begin to make a difference to the strength of the nail keritan.  Some hardeners include product to support healthier new growth for problem nails. Others have silk or polyester additives that will contribute to a stronger nail.  

If all else fails Fake it til You Make It

When push comes to shove be prepared to make the move that many guitar players have made once all else fails. Fake it til you make it or plan to use it indefinitely as a part of your healthy nail toolkit.  Go acrylic. When the nail hits the steel sometimes you simply need to seek reinforcements from the awesome world of acrylic musician fingernails. The online world of  home grown picker’s suppliers used by guitarists is available to all.  Research a bit and find forums where musicians discuss at length the ways they keep their nails in tune.  There are numerous over the counter acrylic nail options depending on your needs. Although you can find numerous options in any five and dime or big box store with a cosmetic counter, you will find a whole new world of solutions by searching for the acrylic replacements that have long been available through guitar player sites.  Join forums to discover solutions for any and all musician nail issues.  And stay tuned for more in-depth suggestions in an upcoming article zeroing in on acrylics: “Best Practices for Acrylic Applications for Kalimba Players”.

Stay the Course

Do not give up!  Although it may be impossible to unearth the original antidote to flimsy thumbnails that threaten to disintegrate the more you get into your groove with your finger and thumb instruments, today’s resources are plentiful. So, if you play mrimbas, karimbas, sansulas, kalimbas, and/or any other form of finger and thumb piano instrument, don’t hesitate to turn to the fabulous resources available online.

It is time to become a part of your instrument. The most important interface between your intent and your instrument.    Time to execute conscious nail care to help you stay on top of your kalimba skill set. Ready, set, now go; take your playing to a new level.

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