V.com weekend vote: Did you use fingerboard tapes when you first started playing?

February 23, 2018, 9:19 PM · Playing the violin, viola, cello or any other un-fretted stringed instruments requires some serious motor skills, combined with listening skills.

fingerboard tapes

When first approaching the instrument, the fingers will not likely find their mark without some help. Even beginners who already have an excellent sense of pitch will have to fumble around a bit to train the fingers where to land. And those who are still refining their sense of pitch will need to be hearing correct notes when they play.

These are among the reasons why teachers put tapes on the fingerboard, to help the fingers land in the correct spot. Ultimately, those tapes should eventually disappear and the ear should guide the fingers, but this can take time and training.

Think back to when you started -- which may be many years ago, or just last week! Did you have tapes on your fingerboard? And how long did those tapes last? What are your thoughts about using fingerboard tapes? You can speak from your own experience, or from teaching experience.

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Replies

February 24, 2018 at 05:04 AM · I started with tapes only because my rental violin came with them. I didn't really need them due to having a great sense of pitch and a lack of eyesight. I could feel the tapes, though. After returning my rental, I never used tapes again. I think tapes/stickers/frets/indicators/whatever can help beginners map the fingerboard, but they should eventually get rid of them. I'd personally use them to teach beginners because it aids in their fingerboard-mapping skills. I don't want them to become overly dependent on them, though.

February 24, 2018 at 05:44 AM · I don't think tapes were in use when I started violin in 1959. My violin teacher was quite elderly, so he may not have been a fan if they did exist. None of my school string playing friends had them on their instruments through 1970. I think I would have benefited from them - at least for the first finger in first position. When I started playing again after over 20 years I was consistently a bit sharp on the G and D string first finger placement.

February 24, 2018 at 06:37 AM · I had them on way too long. If i had to do it all again, I would have them for a few weeks and that's it.

February 24, 2018 at 06:37 AM · They helped me when I was first learning, especially the one for the third finger in first position/first finger in 3rd position. I had one for a few months and when it wore off I didn't replace it.

February 24, 2018 at 08:36 AM · Never used them. I had a fairly well trained ear already, because I had 12 years of piano lessons, and two years of euphonium and one of trombone in school bands, before I started on violin. The trombone experience probably helped a lot, because the trombone slide makes similar demands to the fretless fingerboard.

February 24, 2018 at 01:13 PM · As an instructor, I use tapes for as briefly as possible. I’m also a big fan of the thumb fuzzy placed on the neck. It ensures the hand is placed in the correct position as the student is learning finger placement in first position. I had tapes as a student for maybe a year. I think they did more good than harm. I wish my teachers had made me sing more to get me using my ears instead of my eyes.

February 24, 2018 at 01:38 PM · They weren't in use when I started out. You shouldn't be looking at your instrument anyway...

The teacher would have us (the entire class) match intonation with her violin. And we stuck with a note until everyone matched. Only students adjusted.

Most of us would not practice once we left the class, so we didn't acquire any bad habits when not under strict instruction. There was homework, sports, family events, friends, movies, hiking, and everything else that regular kids do. Music was just one more color to our lives.

In retrospect, it was brilliant! We learned to listen to ourselves and each other. If someone was sour, we politely glanced at that person. LOL. It took a while for everyone to match the teacher, who served as the anchor. I think we spent the entire third grade on intonation together and it was the best investment of a year, ever... Scales and arpeggios.

We went on to win competition after competition from middle school on, as individuals, chamber groups, and orchestras. Those tapes (or round sticky paper hole reinforcers) would have been a convenient excuse to learn intonation visually, rather than aurally.

February 24, 2018 at 02:38 PM · I used them for a couple of years as a student and most of my students do too. I prefer that by the time we take them off that the student isn't looking at them anyway (and is also comfortable up to 3rd position) so the transition is a total non issue, even with the tapes we are constantly working on intonation: using ringtones/sympathetic vibrations, double stops, whole vs. half steps, etc.. to play in-tune.

I personally think even students with fantastic ears should start with finger tapes (even just for a few weeks) because they are less about teaching intonation (although this aspect is helpful for those with less well-developed ears), but about teaching hand shape and developing muscle memory. I have transfer students who either never used tapes or took them off too soon, and I find that while many of these students have fantastic ears, they tend to do a lot of sliding fingers around to play in-tune, which results in a lot of out-of-tune starting notes/adjustments, and wreaks havoc on their hand frame. Muscle memory/kinesthetic memory is as important as listening (and in certain situations more important) than listening to play in tune. Once you've played a note to check intonation it's already either in-tune or out of tune, in performance, you can't take it back, so you have to develop the muscle memory to be pretty close to spot on from the start of every note.

I'm sure there are teachers who have found a way around the muscle memory issue without tapes, but for me it is the most efficient way I have found to teach it (considering I only have 30 min. a week with most students). It also allows most students to play with decent enough intonation the majority of the time, that I can focus more on teaching good tone and bow technique from the beginning. There is a certain level of bad intonation that is impossible to ignore and if students aren't even there yet I have to spend the majority of our time together correcting intonation and hand frame, meaning I have to neglect bow technique (which is something I find far too many teachers do at the beginner stage).

I never understand why people sometimes refer to finger tape use as being about laziness or a "crutch." For me it is simply about efficiency, and I find that the majority of students ask about taking them off themselves (I almost always end up letting them take them off when they ask) so they certainly aren't being dependent on them. Some students like them on longer than others and I like to think of it as more of a "security blanket" than a "crutch" some students are just more comfortable with the extra security, in those cases I might suggest that we remove the second finger tape after they are comfortable with low 2's, then have them try without if they size up to a new instrument etc... They all end up playing without tapes eventually and most with very good intonation.

February 24, 2018 at 03:13 PM · I'd heard, before starting lessons, that some beginners used them, but I never had them myself. I'd already had beginning piano lessons before starting violin and could recognize intervals. My pitch sense was strong -- first teacher said so. One thing I clearly remember, though, from my early lessons was that I must hear the next note in my mind before sounding it.

I'm not a teacher; but if I were, I'm quite sure I wouldn't have my learners using tapes, because I never did, and my first teacher never mentioned them. Still, I don't have an absolute position this subject, because some teachers have found tapes useful for certain beginners -- e.g., in group learning environments.

February 24, 2018 at 04:04 PM · I never had tapes on the violin, but I had already learned the piano and music reading before starting on violin. I don't know whether my first teacher actually used tapes for his pupils.

When I teach violin myself I do use tapes for the beginners. You still need to use your ear though, the tapes aren't as accurate as the ear. I mean you can put the finger exactly on the tape and yet be slightly out of tune, because the finger might be a tiny little bit off but still looks as if it is OK, but you can hear if it isn't, so you do need to learn to use the ear.

February 24, 2018 at 04:04 PM · I didn't have tapes. Another teacher in town used them -- actually they were those adhesive reinforcing rings for 3-hole-punched paper.

I also struggled with intonation throughout my childhood and was consistently downgraded on intonation at "solo and ensemble" festivals into my teenage years. However I do not blame that on tapes. I blame that on the fact that my teacher never taught me about the internal resonances of the violin -- ring tones. Nope, never. I asked him after getting a bad "solo and ensemble" report on intonation how I could improve that and he said it would come in time. Fast forward 25 years to "returning" and I think "ring tones" was the subject of maybe my second lesson. I was totally dumbstruck. It was a total revolution in my violin life. Since then I have become a "Fischerman" with respect to scales and intonation. That doesn't mean my intonation is great, it just means now I have at least an idea what's correct and what isn't.

By the way, accuracy is important on the piano too. I was taught, when playing scales or studies, that I should feel the keys under my fingertips and that I should learn to know whether I was striking the keys *in the center* not on the edges, and that I should try to do that as often as physically possible because that would improve my long-term accuracy (fewer slips). That turned out to be very very good advice.

February 24, 2018 at 04:18 PM · I had them on, but they kept moving around due to humidity, finger pressure, and so forth. After about three months I had them removed. They weren't helping. If anything it was becoming more of a visual cue than an auditory cue. Since removing them it hasn't been easy, but I know I'm learning better without them than I did with them on the fingerboard.

February 24, 2018 at 09:34 PM · I had them, but not for long. I also use them with my beginner students, but start removing them fairly early. None of my students have needed tapes longer than a few months. When they learn low 2, for example, I take off the second tape- I make it a big right of passage in the lesson.

February 25, 2018 at 01:53 AM · It has been over 50 years ago that I started but I remember my teacher placed a dot at 3rd and 4th finger positions for a few weens.

February 25, 2018 at 06:45 AM · The idea of tapes as a "security blanket" rather than a "crutch" seems exactly right to me. I have 'don't fret' stickers on all my instruments. Apart from showing beginners how to frame their fingers, the colors are really good for helping visual learners with reading music (colouring in the notes on the staff). I also used colours for corrections when I ran a beginner string ensemble ("white c, monira"), which seemed to work well.

This is especially effective when I'm running strings 101 at reenactment events (really just demystifying strings for anyone who turns up and wants to play around on fidfle viola or cello, but also teaches them a one-string medieval dance tune in about 15 mins) if I have people who've never done music before.

What's missing from the don't fret is the tactile experience - you actually have to look.

My own stipes came off at my teacher's insistence before my grade 6 violin exam (!) but I regretted it because I did my usual dragging of my fingers further and up the neck in that vicious circle of nervousness that haunts me whenever I try to play solo. They went back on when I started playing viola and cello and I've left them there.

When I hear my intonation go out or a string needs tuning in the middle of playing (esp for a dance or at a tipsy o'clock session if there aren't any other fiddles, and when I'm playing viola in an orchestra), a quick glance tells me which way to go. I have alot of trouble hearing if I'm sharp or flat when it's just a smidgen off. It doesn't look professional but it's so much easier than taking 5/6 twitches to get it right by trial and ear-ror.

[Yes I can hear all you violinists gifted with great pitch telling me I'll never learn this way, but remember I was the kid who couldn't tell semitones apart - I've come a long way, and I grab the blanket less and less]

So my point is this: the violin family self-selects for people with good natural pitch. Stripes give those of us with less talent in that area a chance to catch up/join in.

February 26, 2018 at 01:11 AM · I don't think tapes were in general use when I started in 1966/67. Certainly I never had them. I don't like tapes in teaching but I really despise those awful fingerboard stickers with the red, yellow, blue lines that go all the way up the fingerboard. Third position is not a color.

February 26, 2018 at 02:06 PM · I chose not to use tapes consciously when I began violin 2 1/2 years ago. I am now at university with a scholarship for violin performance. I will not say it was easy. I played classical guitar and ukulele before but due to the required flexibility of the wrist and the lack of frets it took about two months of banging my head against the wall before I could play an octave scale without difficulty or error. The 40 dollar bow didn’t help either. Following this process my intonation was fine for Melody but suffered slightly because I didn’t understand interval purity. When I was playing Bach ‘s gavotte in the 2nd Suzuki book I got to the third section with the double stops. C# played in Pythagorean relation to the open A string sounds terrible against the open E and so I got the third in tune by instinctively flatting the second finger to adjust for about 22 cents ( although I didn’t realize it at the time) because the minor third was too narrow at about 294 cents. Following this double stop is an A5 going to E5. I tried to play the A relative to the adjusted C# as the same distance from the melodic C# I was playing the rest of the time. It didn’t sound bad until I got back to E5 because it highlighted the flatness of the A I had just played. I adjusted the half step hand frame to be wider and then the A was in tune with the E string. Conversely, I kept the same half step frame from the melodic C# for a terribly sharp A5. This made me think my intonation and ear were screwed until I learned about different systems of just intonation (about a week later). Once I understood why that was happening I no longer had trouble realizing that A could stay in the same place whilst the C# got tweaked against the open E. If I had had finger tapes I think I would have just thought my ear was wrong and made myself accept the poor third the finger tapes would suggest I play instead of researching intonation to find a whole world of empowering information. At university my intonation in melody, double stops, and as a section player is with the strongest of the violin section and I see many students who have played for more than a decade (starting with finger tapes) struggle with intonation. I think this is because teachers use tapes to get students playing from paper before they are armed with the information to develope their intonation. In response to tapes teaching hand frame - my octave hand frame is great now and playing in tune scales as well as practicing artificial harmonics will do this better than anything and in all positions too. I know this was long and I thank you all for bearing with me.

February 27, 2018 at 10:53 PM · 50s no tapes - plus - I was in a school pull out program with only 2-3 others at a time. We also spent quite a bit of time at the beginning of the book/lessons learning the notes, note names, placement, and intonation.

These days some of the school might have upwards of 30 or 40 in a class of violin, plus other string instruments. So, I understand the need to get as many as possible playing. I have also noticed that many of today's students want to play immediately and don't want to wait to play "songs" but want to do it immediately, which makes it difficult for teachers (particularly in schools) to take the time to adequately spent on intonation, note reading (by name), and fingering issues, much less the bow. But I have also noticed that many students tapes are on far too long. I try to avoid tapes if at all possible, but I have had school put them on. I remove them one at a time as the students becomes more proficient with better intonation or, in the case of 2nd finger, now has 2 places to put it not just one. I also work to have my students avoid looking at the tapes and to use their ears, which tell them is one of the most important parts of playing violin or viola - or any string instrument (including guitar).

February 28, 2018 at 12:42 PM · I still consider myself an adult beginner, so I don't mind tapes on the finger board. I do feel a little embarrassed when someone sees my multicolored finger board, but oh well. The thing I do find interesting is that my teacher told me once that if the tapes start to move, that I should try to hear the notes instead of looking at them. I've already started to do this as well as, either just looking at the sheet music only or playing with my eyes closed

February 28, 2018 at 12:42 PM · I still consider myself an adult beginner, so I don't mind tapes on the finger board. I do feel a little embarrassed when someone sees my multicolored finger board, but oh well. The thing I do find interesting is that my teacher told me once that if the tapes start to move, that I should try to hear the notes instead of looking at them. I've already started to do this as well as, either just looking at the sheet music only or playing with my eyes closed

February 28, 2018 at 02:27 PM · My first violin teacher didn't even mention tapes. He thought I would have a good notion of the positions because I used to play the guitar years earlier. That was wrong, as I would learn later.

My second teacher (nine months later) asked me to play something I liked, just to see how far I was. After a few bars he said "well, we'll have to go some steps back. Bring some tape next week and we will correct your intonation. It was good and necessary for some 4 months.

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