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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Finger tapes, or not?

November 3, 2007 at 4:59 AM

Having been a violinist first in life, I was puzzled the first time I picked up a guitar. What on Earth were those bumps all over the fingerboard? What are they for? I was told that they are "frets," and they help the fingers get the note right.

Come again? HELP the fingers? Isn't that illegal? What's up with those guitarists, can't they use their ears!? ;)

But then, in my early days, my fiddle had finger tapes to help me learn where my fingers went. I didn't need them beyond the first ten minutes or so; but some beginners have a very hard time with no visual guide.

How did you start out, did you have finger tapes, or did you have a totally blank fingerboard? And if you are the teacher, do you use tapes or not? Let's see!

From Emily Grossman
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 6:08 AM
If I recall correctly, I began without tape, and then it suddenly became fashionable among my friends to have tape, so I put tape on my fingerboard, too. I was taught in the public school...

I teach without. Works great.

From Susan D
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 7:54 AM
Comment from one of the parents today, when I taught a previously 'taped' class I've taken over how to find E on the A string and use finger patterns: "it was great to hear them play in tune for the first time". I think tapes are counterproductive to developing the ear and the feeling for the fingerboard.
From Royce Faina
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 12:00 PM
At age 10 I to started with finger tapes. I was/am one of those people that have depth of field sence with my eyes first. As time went by I developed my depth of field sence in my fingers and forearm (actually it's the brain). About age 14 Shucked off finger tapes.I liked finger tapes since I could glance at them and felt assured that I was going to hit the right note when we began a song. However, I noticed that the girls shucked off finger tapes sooner than us boys! ;->
From Hannah Frey
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 12:21 PM
I teach with finger tapes because I've found few students can differentiate between pitches well enough at first, and that leaves me more room to focus on bow technique, most importantly tone. Sure they may not play perfectly in tune, but who does? I would prefer them to not have to worry about where to put their fingers, and be able to make a beautiful, full sound. Once they can do that well, they start to notice whether their intonation is good or not.
From Sue Bechler
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 12:29 PM
In my public school program of about 180 kids, with lesson groups of up to 10, tapes made things much more manageable. I could hear which child was off, but telling everyone, "first fingers aren't matching, look & listen", made for a fast fix and a variety of learnings going on. Tapes are very helpful for parents who help at home; the ones lacking either a good ear or self-confidence in this area. Just be SURE to use a thin & narrow tape, and be obsessive in placing it well. My method is to get the instrument beautifully in tune, find 1st finger, put a little pencil mark, put the tape over that, check again. And plan that on some instruments and certainly seasonally, you should check and change the tapes. // With my private students I find I take the markers away sooner.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 1:01 PM
I couldn't remember if I had tape on my fingerboard as a student or not. I checked an old photo of myself, and there was no tape. The left hand wasn't a big deal for me as a beginner, but the bow was very tough. I am left handed, so maybe that is why...

For my own students, I put a tiny round sticker where the first finger goes (A-E-B-F#), and usually leave it on until it falls off, or the kid graduates to a bigger size violin. My adult students usually scrape it off when they are ready to do without.

Sometimes I inherit a student that has a taped violin. They get fair warning that the tapes will gradually be removed, (usually one tape a week is taken off) or not added to the next-size-up violin they get, but this hasn't been a problem, so far. I have had more than one student eager to get rid of all the tapes at once!

Also, I don't put tape on the bow at all. If I want a student to have a visual reference, I put a tiny chalk mark on the bow. This is useful for upper-half martele, or sautille.

From Deborah McCann
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 1:52 PM
I voted for the tape. Acutally I use small round stickers as I have had students buzz with the tape. When the stickers wear off, I do not reapply them and clean any residue off the fingerboard. I use these in my public school classes (I have 30 or more students in these classes) as it is hard for me in 40 minutes 2 times a week to ensure they understand and are creating correct intonation. I only use the stickers with my private students who have difficulty with intonation and prefer to have them use their ear. I find that most of the students, if they have worked at a good hand position and fingerplacement, do not need the stickers after a time, and if they are there, I will remove them. I also find paper stickers easier to remove than the tape.
From Ray Randall
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 2:43 PM
My teacher had my parents superglue my fingers to the fingerboard so for the first five years I had this fingerboard
to carry around 24/7. Still don't play perfectly in tune. LOL
From Catherine Fairweather Beck
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 3:12 PM
I am a string teacher in public schools - I have read research (though I don't remember where) that shows kids learn better with tapes, so I always use them now (I've experimented with using no tapes, 4 tapes, 3 tapes, 2 tapes and 1 tape). Right now I am putting the 1st 3 tapes on at one time.
From Arthur Haule
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 3:05 PM
My teacher didn't use tapes, nor did we have a completely clean fingerboard. My teacher used a No. 2 pencil to draw the lines on the fingerboard. Advantages: We could see where our fingers needed to go. We didn't rely on the feel of the tape against our finger to tell if we had our fingers in the right place, we had to listen. Also, the darkness of the lines still maintained the look of a clean fingerboard from a distance. It looked good in concert situations. Disadvantages: Black, Black, Black Fingertips leave fingerprints everywhere you go. (At least we had visual evidence that we were practicing.) Also, the drawn lines wore off and needed to be redrawn on a regular basis. Over long breaks between lessons it was possible for students or parents to redraw the lines just a little bit off, so your fingers hit the lines but the notes produced were not in tune.

My daughter's teacher used pinstriping tape she bought at an auto parts store.

From Leslie Dawn knowles
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 2:47 PM
I didn't have tapes but I have perfect pitch so I could always hear if I was out of tune. Still had to learn to be disciplined about where to put my fingers though - as Miss DeLay would say about perfect pitch 'You don't play with your ears though sweetie, it's the fingers..." How true!!!
Speaking as a teacher myself, I think it's good to try a multi faceted approach, whatever works. I will use tape in the very beginning to help. I also find using a mandolin to illustrate where notes are is useful. It is vital that ear training go along with these too and I have students sing the pitches they are supposed to play (using an in the keyboard of guitar for reference if needed) and match that up on the violin. There seems to be something about using the voice that works magic in my experience.
From Alayna Faulkenberg
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 3:46 PM
I think that I began with one or two tapes, I teach mostly little kids, and the tapes really help them to see and feel where the note is in addition to hearing it, because how many beginning 6 year olds do you know that have perfect intonation and a clean bow stroke that makes it easier to hear if it is in tune?
From Debi Maier
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 4:21 PM
As a teacher I see where the tape can be of help. However many times the presence of tape causes a buzz when you are playing in between two tapes. Now I use whiteout instead of tape. By the time the whiteout fades the student no longer needs it! It works great.
From Mara Gerety
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 4:41 PM
I began with tapes, but would not use them if I were a teacher. Or rather: I would only use them for a VERY short time--s couple of weeks maybe. I don't like "crutches", and the sooner students start using their ears the better. But then again I'm no teacher, so what do I know?
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 5:29 PM
I had one tape as a kid, where the third finger goes in 1st position, and I had it again for a few months when I was learning third position, as a marker for where to put the first finger. I thought it really helped a lot to have a visual cue to reinforce the sound cues. It even helped a bit with visualization, I would think of the tape when I didn't have the instrument, and now even with the tape long gone I still think of that place on the fingerboard and I feel very comfortable and grounded there.

Lately I've been wondering if it would help me to have a tape in higher positions (5th+), where I've never been very good and never felt very comfortable (and have had corresponding trouble visualizing anything in my mind's eye up there--it just all gets blurry and after a few minutes spent wailing around up there I become pretty disoriented audially too--I don't have perfect pitch and if one note is off it's very easy for the next one to be off too and for me not to even notice). Has anyone ever used tapes for 5th+ position--even just for a little while to aid in visualization?

From Daniel Blomdahl
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 7:56 PM
I think finger tape is a bad habit to stick children into. It just makes them dependant on it. Just like assigning numbers to nots like in Suzuki, but never taking them away. It's hard to take away something like that. It you start them with out it'll be better later so they aren't dependant on them.
From Jenny Fischer
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 7:56 PM
What do yo mean, "Can't guitarists play with their ears?" If there were no frets, the guitar would sound more like cello pizzzicato and it wouldn't soun like a guitar at all. Frets aren't there for finger reference. They're there to make it possible to play chords so you can have a bunch of fingers down in relatively the same place and still have it sound in tune. The guitar would sound absolutely awful without the frets. Besides. Guitarists have to have good ears to tune their instruments properly. Good guitarists also know how to bend the strings to fix intonation problems due to the tempering of the frets. Frets and finger tapes have nothing to do with each other.
From Sung-Duk Song
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 8:05 PM
I agree with Hannah.
"I teach with finger tapes because I've found few students can differentiate between pitches well enough at first, and that leaves me more room to focus on bow technique, most importantly tone. Sure they may not play perfectly in tune, but who does? I would prefer them to not have to worry about where to put their fingers, and be able to make a beautiful, full sound. Once they can do that well, they start to notice whether their intonation is good or not.
Plus the boot-camp style drilling for 1st position intonation is achieved through Leopold Auer's Graded Course of Violin Playing Book 2. So after my students go through this whole book very meticulously, they know their 1st position so well that they don't need the stickers anymore. :)
From Cathy Gray
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 8:10 PM
I didn't learn with tapes. I didn't even know it was an option! I have never taught students using tape either. I think students should use their ears and learn the feel of the violin and where the fingers go. I think tapes are a crutch and also create a tendency to look down at the fingerboard. If a student can't differentiate pitches he/she should be singing them first to learn to hear them. If you can't match pitch with your voice then it will be difficult to learn to play the violin. Piano teachers don't like students to look at their hands, either. They want them to learn where the notes are by feel and not look back and forth from hands to music.
From Jenna Potts
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 9:28 PM
I have taught students using finger tapes 1, 2, & 3 in the past (using 4 if they are consistently low), but now I'd really like to experiment with only the tape for the 1 - and only for hand placement. Then teach the finger relationships with no tapes for the other fingers.
From Tara Shaw
Posted on November 3, 2007 at 11:18 PM
I voted that I had tapes, but actually, they were little round dots that were on the finger board between the a and d strings. I remember actually being jealous of the kids who got tape all the way across. ;-)

I also learned in public school.

I think as a teacher I would use the dots again instead of the tapes. It seems like a sort of middle ground. While I recall having an idea of where the fingers should go, since the tape didn't stretch all the way across, I learened to use my ears as well, especially on the G and E strings.

I've considered putting tapes on my violin now, for the 5th through 8th positions... ;-)

From howard vandersluis
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 12:04 AM
I use finger tapes with my students in the beginning for the same reason that math teachers use diagrams- for clarity. It's not so much that I want the student to stare at the tapes as that I want them to understand visually the spacing between the notes and, before they've had much ear training, be able to find those notes if there is not competent help at home during the week. Actually, come to think of it, even with my own daughter I'll use finger tapes in the beginning to orient her when she starts violin next year.

Now, that's not to say that kids should be running around with old, rotten finger tapes on their fingerboards for years, just for a few weeks is fine.

From howard vandersluis
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 12:10 AM

I think it's interesting that you called the use of tapes a "crutch". Of course, you use crutches to take some of the weight off of a leg to allow that leg to get up to strength. Once the leg is up to strength again, you give the crutches to the next poor guy who has broken his leg, or you throw them out. You don't generally keep using them forever after the leg has healed! Also, nobody would tell you that the crutch was an unecessary support and that you should do without it while the leg was healing.

So, yes, tapes are crutches that allow the student to play reasonably well in tune before his/her ears and fingers are completely "up to strength". Pretty soon though, when the student can play in tune without the tapes, you throw them out just like a crutch.

Sorry, this is not intended as a flame at all, it just suddenly struck me that people use that image of a crutch as if "using a crutch" were a bad thing!In fact, we use all kinds of scaffolding all the time to teach kids violin, so why NOT tapes?

From Linda L
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 12:54 AM
I had tapes at the very beginning. My teacher was a stickler for intonation, so just putting a finger on the tape wasn't good enough. Once the tapes lost their stickiness, off they went!

I don't think that using tapes to begin with is a crutch, because you still have to use your ears!

From Laurie Niles
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 4:11 AM
I was joking about guitarists! My daughter is actually taking guitar, and it is so incredibly complex; I have a lot of respect for this instrument. It's just that non-musicians ask me, how do you play the violin without frets? And actually, my problem more is, how do you play a mandolin or guitar WITH frets? It's a completely different art, and a much more subtle one than it seems, too.

Also, I'm an advocate of using tapes in the beginning for violinists, anyway. A beginner sometimes has a well-trained ear, but very often you are training their ears while simultaneously training their fingers. The act of putting the fingers down on the fingerboard is a physical skill, and I use the tapes to orient all the fingers, even the thumb.

Sometimes a student also needs tapes for a while after changing violin size, simply to help train the fingers for a new spacing.

Sometimes a student doesn't need tapes at all, though! It really depends on the student and how that student learns.

From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 4:16 PM
"Sometimes a student doesn't need tapes at all, though! It really depends on the student and how that student learns."

Very true, and so is the complementary truism:

Some teachers don't need finger tapes at all.

From Oliver Bedford
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 4:23 PM
Surely very few tapes are in exactly the right spot, so aren't the kids just being taught that out of tune is OK ?
From Deborah McCann
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 4:33 PM
There are students who think if you use the correct finger on the correct string that is enough to get the correct note. Teaching how and what to listen for is difficult in classes of students. Private lessons are a different case altogether. I wish all my students had perfect pitch, or even perfect relative pitch. That is not what I get. Most are content to put the fingers down a half step or less apart and not listen to the pitch. That is where the stickers come in. Perfect for pitch-absolutly not. But some students are visual learners and need this to help develop the concept of whole and half steps physically as well as aurally. Then you keep fine tuning (pardon the pun) pitch devlopment in classes. Two things my students can quote that I do drill-1) It takes 3 things to play in tune. being on the correct string. Using the correct finger. Placing it in the correct place. It only takes one of these to be out of tune. 2)Close is only good in horse shoes, atom bombs and handgrenades and does not work for intonation.
From Randy Mollner
Posted on November 4, 2007 at 8:08 PM
I find that using stickers of different animal shapes helps with very young students. The stickers are big enough that the student still needs to listen for intonation from the very beginning. This method works very well to teach the general "frame" of the hand position without becoming a visual or tactile crutch. Plus, its fun to play songs dictating the different types of animals on the sticker, instead of always using note or finger numbers.-- "chicken, chicken, pig, cow, open, open, chicken, etc."

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