The harpist turns the hand slightly away from the normal playing position and plucks the strings with his/her fingernails. The fingernails of all four playing fingers can pluck the strings, although harpists usually avoid using the thumb.

Playing with nails.


Playing with the fingernails gives a sharp and slightly penetrating sound. The effect is often exaggerated by playing low in the strings or close to the soundboard at the same time.

Playing with the fingernail.


The fingernail symbol is written above or below a note or a group of notes. It should be clear when the fingernail passage ends. Write ordinario (ord.) or use lines for clarity.

Playing with fingernails.

Some composers use an arrow shaped note head to indicate notes that should be played with the fingernail. This notation can be useful when, for example, only one note in a chord should be played with the fingernail while the others are played normally. If this notation is used it must be explained in the legend of the composition.

Alternative notation for fingernail playing.


The whole harp.

Additional Remark

The harpist needs time to place the fingernails accurately on the strings. Therefore his/her playing speed will be somewhat limited when playing with the fingernails.

It is preferable to space four note chords, played with the fingernails, close together. Wide chord-spacing reduces the chances of a clear effect.