Kim Perlak: “Pongs”: Making fake nails out of ping-pong balls

From the beginning of my guitar study, I’d heard about this idea of making fingernails out of the plastic from a ping-pong ball. I’ve used this method myself for about ten years now, and have found that with the right materials and technique these nails produce a consistent, clear, warm tone and do not wear down. Each set will last about a week on average, and if they are applied properly they will not “pop off” in performance.

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Tell a Story

As interpreters we have to tell a story with every piece we play. To best do his, we need to study how a work is put together structurally as best we can. In addition anything we can learn about the style of the music as well as the composers influences and inspirations will be of great value.

I ask my students to ask themselves what the character of the given phrase is.  We have as our tools, dynamics, articulations, rubati, retardandi, accelerandi, and vibrato to make this given phrase come alive. Daniel Barenboim has stated that the score was 50% of the piece. If that is so, then we need to pour our hearts and imagination into every phrase . By not doing so, we are cheating the composer, the audience and ourselves.

Repeated Notes

When we encounter repeated notes or repeated motives that have no dynamic marking , we need to make a decision as to how to play such passages.  Suggestions for interpreting them are:

  1. Make a crescendo.  
  2. Make a diminuendo
  3. Make a crescendo and diminuendo
  4. Make a diminuendo and a crescendo
  5. Play all notes on the same dynamic. 

Your decision in deciding on one of these options depends upon what you intuit is musically sound for the given phrase.  Once you are convinced of what works best for the musical structure, you are then free to “take chances on firm ground,” as Artur Rubinstein once said.

Recommended Books on Technique

Some of the more useful technique books I have used are Aaron Shearer’s Slur Ornament and Reach Development, Ricardo Iznaola’s Kitharologus, Scott Tenants Pumping Nylon and Joseph Urshalmi’s A Conscious Approach to Guitar Technique. In addition, I would highly recommend Simon Powis’s Major and Minor Scales and Arpeggios for the Classical Guitar as well as his Technical Routines for Classical Guitar. These can be downloaded at Also, don't forget Abel Carlevaro’ Serie Dedactica. Finally, Jeffrey McFadden’s Book Fretboad HarmonyCommon Practice Harmony on the Guitar is a must for all guitar students! There are many other fine pedagogical books and articles available. Seek them out! It’s a great time to be a guitarist.

Two Technical Exercises

Left Technique: Exercise A. Slur exercises are an essential part of our basic technique. This one uses combinations that have proven beneficial. Independence and rhythmic accuracy in fingers 234 can for some be problematic. They are for me!! I often repeat beats one and two for this reason.

Right Hand Technique: Exercise B. The study of some form of rasgueado technique is a must for classical guitarists. I will often play simple one-finger rasgueados before or during scale practice. This exercise helps with left and right hand coordination as well as with developing one-finger rasgueados. In warming up I will play down and up thumb strokes on strings 6 and 5 as well.