Sarod Finger Nails: A primer

Firstly, you may have heard about the theory of some sarod players using their tip of their fingers to play. Well, from my limited survey of sarod players from all the two other major gharanas (Maihar, Shahjahanpur), such alleged sarod players are no longer in existence. Listening to some old sarodiyas from such gharanas, their muffled sound makes me wonder what they are using to stop the string- however, this could also be the position of their right hand too close to the bridge. I’ll discuss this more in another post.

Secondly, nails will be a big entry barrier to your sarod journey. If you are a guitarist, say goodbye to the guitar – you will not be able to play any meaningful guitar with sarod nails. In the early stages, your nails will hurt, even bleed (if you practice hard). That’s all good. The nail hardens over time. If you have serious problems with a soft nail which is being cut into by the steel strings, you may want to use false nails, however, you will not be able to get a “real feel” of the strings. No professional sarodiya that I know uses false nails for performances.  Remember, the nail’s got to keep the rest of your finger off the fretboard, but not be so long as to buckle in when you apply pressure on your finger. I used to take calcium tablets for some time to harden the nails – not sure if that helped.

Filing nails: As you play the sarod, the steel strings will cut grooves into your nail, (imagine a U shaped groove) to the point where the string will go inside the groove and the edges of the groove (ends of the U) will start touching the fretboard, causing the sound to degrade. By filing, you take out the grooves and level the edge of the nail and start again.

Typically, you’d file your nail before your playing session – so not more than once or twice a day.

Broken Nails: The worst nightmare of a sarod player. If your nails get too long (because of lack of practice and consequent filing), you are risking the nail getting broken in doing everyday tasks – (opening car doors seems to be my favourite nail busting activity). The solution is to keep well maintained and filed down nails and not to use your nail hand to do everyday chores. A broken nail will usually require 1-2 weeks to grow back to a usable state

13 thoughts on “Sarod Finger Nails: A primer

  1. Hi Rahul,

    I am a guitar player in Delhi starting out on the sarod, and I came across your site looking for resources on this wonderful instrument. Thank you so much for putting up all this information over here — we really don’t have enough of it online.
    I’ve just started out on Raag Kafi and my sarod is still being built, so I have a long long way to go, but I have been playing the guitar for a dozen or so years and I just wanted to add to your post here that there are indeed some guitarists who manage to play with longish fretting hand fingernails. I am one them!

    So for guitarists looking to get into the sarod, don’t be discouraged! It can be done and it actually works out quite well. I actually made the move to grow out my fingernails (about the same size as Rahul, but on all four fingers) a couple of years before I started the sarod, for purely guitar-related reasons. The nails give the fleshy part of your fingers more stability and (imo) can lead to a more efficient technique.


  2. Thanks Mark – it’s good to know that you can play the guitar and sarod at the same time. (I simply can’t – I’ve tried and nails get in the way), so it’ll be good for readers to read your opinion as well.

    I’m relatively old fashioned, so have this thing about nails, not using artificial nails, electric pickups etc, which are all coming into the sarod. There is no golden rule set in stone- whatever works for a particular individual is most welcome.

    Raag Kaafi is a wonderful raag – Kaafi, Zila Kaafi and other related ragas such as Barwa, Desi, Pilu, Bhimpalasi, Dhani and heavyweights like Miyan Ki Malhar, Shahana, Megh etc all come to mind. I’ll eventually get around to doing some nice compositions in Kaafi. It brings images of Holi in Banaras (my hometown) to my mind.
    Thanks again for your comments.


  3. Sir,
    My name is Debtanu Roy, I am a sarod player in kolkata. In internet I could not find raag bhimpalasi. So would you please provide me the link of raag bhimpalasi mp3.

    thanking you in advance

    Debtanu Roy

  4. I’m a westerner who’s been playing and studying classical and jazz guitar for over a decade now and I’ve been attracted to the classical music of Indian for a year or two. It’s a very rigorous and interesting form of music to me and I find the concepts of ragas to be absolutely enticing. I love the musicians approach to improvisation as well. Amjad Ali Khan and Ali Akbar Khan is what made me interested in sarod. There’s a lot of resources for sitar and tabla, but the sarod seems to be a bit more shrouded. Such an expressive and deep instrument deserves a revival. I’m a bit worried that my nails on my left hand will halt my guitar studies though. I hate to make such sacrifices. Traditional teachings in classical guitar strongly suggest to achieve a good tone you must file your left hand nails as short as possible. It’s reassuring to see Mark’s comment.

  5. Some mis-info stated here…
    1) it is NEVER “good” to play until your fingers bleed.
    2) It is not a certainty that you can not play guitar with sarod nails – if you keep your sarod nails short you can still play guitar > you have to find a happy medium
    3) Most certainly many professional sarod players use fake nails or some kind of glue on their nails.

    1. Thanks Edward,
      I personally do not like the sound of fake nails. I’ve tried them under duress due to nail damage and it never sounds quite right.
      Other than Pandit Buddhadeb Dasgupta, the other greats (Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan) never used fake nails.
      And I have not come across many sarod players who can competently play the guitar unless they put on fake nails, which goes to my first point.

      To each their own.

      1. Agree. Tried fake nails and failed. Hi. I am a surgeon. Keeping nails is a difficult job for me, one reason why I gave up sarod but have resumed it now. The nail problem continues. Find your blog useful.
        Shall stay in touch if you are still playing. This is an old blog, that’s why wondering.
        Merry Christmas.

        1. Merry Xmas. The post is old, but still relevant.
          Yes, I am still playing – this is a lifelong pursuit!
          All the best for your sarod journey

      2. So the biggest problem with fake nails is that they will eventually degrade the health of the biological mail underneath. Then you won’t have any mail onto which to attach the fake mail. If you’ve resorted to fake nails because of weak nails (like me) then this is a huge problem. I sometimes see pros using one fake mail because of a degraded nail. I would like to understand the full range of possibilities for this temporary workaround. I am currently using a right hand guitar pick, but it doesn’t really stay put and therefor it’s not a great solution. I will share a link to a short YouTube video to illustrate what I mean

        In her other videos, I don’t see any such device. Does anyone know what kind is being used here? I can’t really hear a tonal difference between the fingers.

  6. I am classical and jazz guitar player which started my journey into playing the sarod a year ago.
    My advice to you is to try everything: short nails, fake nails, thimbles, finger picks, slides etc. You can even try playing a left-handed sarod (an entirely different beast to learn if you’ve played the guitar right-handed).
    I tried everything and none worked for me. As the original post mentions, nothing comes close to the sound and ‘feel’ of real fingernails.
    You can make a compromise by having long enough finger nails to play the sarod but short enough to play the guitar. You’ll end up being able to play both but you will enjoy neither! The long nails make some passages and chords impossible to play on the guitar especially when you need those finger tips. And the sarod won’t sound good with full nails, there will be finger tips and callus coming in the way to muffle the sound. You will be frustrated and not enjoy either of the experiences fully.
    One must commit yourself to one of the two. I would advise allowing at least 6 months to playing the sarod exclusively if you are really keen and then evaluate whether you want to carry on or you miss playing the guitar too much.
    As for weak and short-growing nails, like I have, use layers of fiberglass tape on top of your fingers and strengthen them with glue. The sound won’t be exactly like full real nails but it is close enough. I believe it is a compromise worth making for longevity’s sake. They are also easy to extend and file when needed.
    Good luck!

    1. Good suggestion of using fibre glass tape. Dentine powder on a thin layer of glue ( quick fix) works well

    2. I’d like to know more about this “fiberglass tape” option. Exactly what kind of tape is this? Is it tape made out of fiberglass or tape for taping fiberglass. Where would I get it? I’ve tried a lot of the other options you mentioned and found them not very good. Do you think it is what is being used in this video:

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