First Frets a blessing for violin teachers

January 24, 2010 at 03:52 AM ·

I have found a wonderful product, which is hard to find, for marking first position fingerings for beginning students.  The product is First Frets, which is a fingerboard decal that marks 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th finger.  It is available for 1/16 - 4/4 violin.  It is self adhering vinyl that lays flat and doesn't buzz like tapes do.

I've had difficulty finding these locally but, I did find a website that sells them if anyone is interested.

Replies (20)

January 24, 2010 at 10:07 PM ·

 I've come across those before but never used them.  Do you find that they accurately lay out where the pitch is?  For example, small instrument sizes (1/32, 1/16, 1/10.....) tend to vary widely from maker to maker.  If you hold two 1/16 sized violins from two different factories back to back they almost never match up in terms of size.  The size of the instrument would, naturally, effect where you place your fingers.

January 24, 2010 at 11:52 PM ·

I've read from quite a few different authors from the past feel that it creates a crutch for students, though when I played in fifth grade, our teacher tried to do the same thing. (I say tried because my private lesson teacher instantly removed them)  What I honestly feel about it is that it causes students to visualize the fingerboard instead of actually hearing the pitches, which sometimes can lead to a delay of proper intonation, which is already difficult enough on it's on. The sad thing is that I distinctly remember people I played with in elementary & middle school had them on their violins well up into their freshman year in high school.

January 25, 2010 at 06:16 AM ·

 I strongly disagree with the idea of putting any sort of marker on the fingerboard.  

1. The goal is to learn, with ever increasing fineness, to respond, with sensitive placement of the finger, to the information received by the ear.  Something which invites the student to respond to the marker instead of the ear constitutes a distraction which retards the learning of the right skill.

2. The placement of a marker teaches misinformation.  Namely that E natural, for example, is one pitch only, and will always be in the same place.  The truth is that one E natural will be in tune in one musical context and out of tune in another.  One proof of this can be demonstrated by playing E natural in first position on the D string together with open G, and adjusting the first finger until it is in tune with the open G.  Then, leaving the first finger where it is, play it together with open A.  The E that was in tune with open G will be out of tune with open A.  It will need to be raised to get it in tune with open A.

January 25, 2010 at 09:17 AM ·

 In response to Oliver....

Ear training is very important, no question.  However muscle memory must also be developed.  It's all well and good to tell an adult student how to tune your pitches.  But a 4 year old is not going to understand this.  The fact of the matter is that you only see your student once or maybe twice a week.  The rest of the week you need some assurance that the parent is helping the four year old place their finger in the right place most of the time.

January 25, 2010 at 01:12 PM ·

I must completely agree with Oliver Steiner on this one. The reasons he cited are 100% accurate in my opinion. I believe that marking the fingerboard is a bad idea.

January 25, 2010 at 02:46 PM ·

This is why parents exist...  to help a four year old to hear the pitches when the teacher isn't there. (hopfully a parent that can reach the good pitches on an electronical or real piano too...)  A so young kid should never practice alone...  I'm sure there is a way to integrate fun and efficient practice at any ages.  Sad thing if one is left alone at these ages...


January 25, 2010 at 03:06 PM ·

Anne-Marie you are too funny.

I clearly remember the frustration I felt as an adult learner trying to find the right notes in the scales and hearing,"!!!" from the next room as my instructor left to get something.  I still stand by my position that the luthier that created my viola purposefully left F# off of it.  It is one of the notes that I find myself chronically hunt and pecking around for.......

---Ann Marie

January 25, 2010 at 03:27 PM ·

Using markers on the fingerboard depends a lot on the teaching situation, and some on the individual student. In a school group of 10 (or 20 or 30),  a couple of carefully-places tapes let the teacher see quickly if the out-of-tune finger he or she hears at her left is coming from player 1 or 2. I think it is valid to teach fingerboard geography as part of playing in tune. Many students don't automatically get, for example, that A, E, B & F# are pretty much across from each other, of course with the adjustments as explained by Mr.Steiner. I am not, however, in favor of the fingerboard decal idea. There are variations in even the most uniform of manufactured student instruments such that a decal is just too much of a compromise for me. Automotive pinstripe tape, which is very thin, sticks for a long time, and doesn't buzz if the instrument is reasonably well-adjusted. Just a 1st finger and/or a 3rd finger tape individually set and checked frequently by the teacher, gives a little outline to help students, especially those with a less acute natural ear, and their parents (ditto.)  Sue   

January 25, 2010 at 04:20 PM ·

I have found, like Sue, that a couple well-placed tapes help give students somewhere to start, especially if their ears aren't yet tuned or they have trouble concentrating on everything at once.  the key is well-placed which is why I often remove and replace the tape that comes on the rental instruments and why I'd be wary of the fingerboard fret thing.   Badly placed tapes will out-of-tune their ears!  

January 25, 2010 at 05:56 PM ·

Oh Ann Marie!  I so concur.  My viola did not come equipped with an Fsharp either! 

January 25, 2010 at 06:28 PM ·

I agree with Mr. Steiner 100% that finger-tapes shouldn’t be used and can be very damaging in learning correct intonation, but I do find that they have uses outside of intonation.

Most of my young students 2,3, and 4 are still developing their coordination and oftentimes they struggle with the ability to control each finger individually ie. I want to put my first finger down but instead the 3rd finger plops down.   So I used colored taped, yellow for 1st, red for 2nd and blue for third. Then I can say put your finger down on blue and they have something to aim their finger for. It seems to help them gain control over each finger a little more easily and without much of the frustration they experience when they don’t have some kind of assistance. That being said, some of my young students never see tape because their coordination developed early and they don’t struggle with that aspect of playing.
However, I rarely use tape because of intonation issues, and if I ever do it’s usually one tape placed for one finger as a reference. And ironically enough I find I use the reference tape for students I inherit who are trying to overcome bad habits – not my students who are started correctly. For example, for a student who chronically has played fourth finger wrong for years and doesn’t even seem to notice that it’s even out tune – I will use a fourth finger tape for a short period of time until they get used to reaching up for the fourth finger. As soon, as the fourth finger is reaching up consistently, even if it’s not being played in tune the tape comes off and we continue to work on our intonation.
All my students young and old who have to use tapes can’t wait for them to come off because I always tell them that the tapes are training wheels and the goal for them is to get rid of the training wheels. My younger students want to ditch the “training wheels” because they want to grow up so fast and my older students want them off because they can’t stand the thought that they have to have them in the first place. So any student of mine who has tapes of any kind works really hard to get rid of them.
I think that for me the most important aspect when tapes are used is getting them off as soon as the finger begins to understand what it should be doing. My earlier example of the student and the fourth finger…I didn’t leave the tape on until the student started playing in tune.   I only left the tape on until the finger got used to reaching for the 4th finger. As soon as the finger was consistently reaching up then the tape came off and we continued to work on learning to play the 4th finger in tune. 
I find extremely limited use of tapes helpful for learning certain things but not intonation. More for helping the fingers learn to function a certain way. 

January 25, 2010 at 08:11 PM ·

The use of fingerboard aids in finger placement is, and always will be a situational one. As we do not insist on every single student using the exact same bow hold, we cannot assume that every single student at every age has a grasp on the cognitive skills necessary to place their fingers on specific points in three-dimensional space without any assistance.

I'm sorry, but those of you claiming they should never be used don't have enough evidence to support that assumption. Have you ever tried to teach a group class of 50+ fourth and fifth graders, the majority of which do not (and probably will never aspire to) have private instruction? The visual aids in this age group and time where students are extremely visual learners because of early exposure to television and the Internet is extremely beneficial. It is not a replacement for ear training, but is used to *support* it so that there is both a visual AND an auditory correlation between the placement of the fingers and the pitch that is produced at that point. Eventually, the students develop the muscle memory and the understanding that pitch is a product of the relationship created by their hand/fingers and then the tape can be removed. Ultimately, it is a tool used to save time where most group classes in K-12 school settings can be as limited as a single meeting a week.

In my experience, my group class students starting in 4th grade generally progress beyond the need for tapes within the first year or two, and these are the ones without private lessons. My private students (my youngest was five, and I work with students all the way through college age) have always progressed beyond the need for visual fingering aids far in advance of my school group class kids, sometimes only needing them for the first month or so...there is simply no understating the value of one-on-one instruction where a musical instrument is concerned.

January 26, 2010 at 01:03 PM ·

Wow, I didn't mean to open up a whole can of worms about whether fingerboard tapes should be used or not. 

For those teachers who do use them, I think this is a great idea because it eliminates the buzzing frequently associated with tapes.  I also like First Frets because they are much quicker to install, which saves valuable lesson time.

Also, First Frets can be trimmed if the instrument has a short string length or moved down the fingerboard a bit if the instrument has a long string length.  My thought is that it is merely a guide for a beginning student to get a sense of finger patterns. 

January 26, 2010 at 06:54 PM ·

 I agree with Gene.  I've never come across a student that has become "handicapped" because of finger tapes.  This is also not to say that I keep the tapes on forever.  As soon as my students are used to the beginner finger spacing (2 and 3 are close together), I start taking tapes off one by one.  Most of them don't even notice they're gone after one day of practice.

January 27, 2010 at 04:28 AM ·

Gene,  that again is the debate between "survival" (as in 50 students 4th graders!) and "ideal" (private lesson with plenty of individual attention with parents that coach the very youngs when they practice to "avoid" tapes). 

Perhaps those who are very against tapes as myself are really lucky to have had private lessons. (and some had parents that coatch them in addition)  It's easy to compare apples with oranges when we speak about tapes lol. So I think it's  find to be against tapes as long as one aknoledges that in some survival context, they might be necessary. 


January 29, 2010 at 04:42 AM · This one is interesting:

January 30, 2010 at 04:56 AM ·

 Wow!  It is so interesting to see how heated people get over this subject.  It actually prompted me to quit lurking and join just to comment.  As a parent of a (Suzuki trained) violinist, I haven't noticed for a moment the tapes becoming a crutch for my daughter.  I started learning the violin along with her three years ago, and being a musician already, I decided to rely on my ears, but for a five year old I think it is helpful to them to be able to visualize the finger patterns.  We still have the tapes on, but I honestly think they could have come off a year ago.  I don't think she ever looks at them, and she has no trouble playing in tune on my violin, though it is much too large for her.  I will say that they are helpful if she is out of tune on a note, I can have her freeze and ask, "do you hear that?  Are you flat or sharp?"  After she has answered, I'll tell her to look at where her finger is in relation to the tape, and she can 'see' her mistake as well as hear it.

As far as the tapes giving a false impression of the pitches, I completely disagree.  Perhaps if you are teaching teenagers this is the case (though I don't think so), but I couldn't imagine the learning sequence where this would make sense from a beginners standpoint.  "This is how you hold the violin under your chin; this is where you place your thumb; this is the first finger; this is why equal temperament is inferior to just intonation; this is how you hold the bow... " something seems out of place here.  

From a practical standpoint the tapes on my daughters violin are far too thick (wide) to pose the kind of problems discussed.  I tried the experiment with the open G and E, then open A and E.  Not more than 1-2mm difference on a 4/4 violin - hers is 1/8 and has needs even smaller adjustment. The point is both extremes will fit on the tape (about 3mm wide).  If the student is listening to good playing often, they will hear whether they are out of tune or not. 

March 3, 2010 at 09:24 PM ·

 I have spent a few hours of my day reading several post regarding fingerboard tape and/or fingerboard visual aids here on vcom.  There have been some heated discussion on the subject and some great arguments for and against it.  I for one, commend all of you for your great insight and comments on the subject.  I am an adult who is trying to learn to play the violin, thus I have very limited experience, if any, on this topic.  I am a visual learner and although I have never utilized fingerboard tape, as my first violin teacher suggested that I'd probably wouldn't need it, I find myself wanting to give them a try.  My reasons for that have to do with the multitude of things I find myself trying to adjust.  Being that I have never had any music instruction prior to this, I find myself overwhelmed with . . . well everything.  From bowing, to holding the violin, to correct posture, left hand placement, etc.  I have noticed that because I try to focus on so many things that I basically spend more and more time trying to find the right placement of my fingers and less time actually learning the mechanics of it all.  Perhaps that is how it is supposed to be, but I'm afraid that if I continue on this path I will eventually give up.

So I have decided to try some fingerboard tape to see if I can better train my fingers "geographically" until I get a bit more confident or get those "memory muscles" up to par.  I'm currently without a teacher (limited funds), but I think a little visual aid can't hurt.  I do understand that the tape does not "cure" intonation, nor am I looking for that.  I'm simply trying to get to the "ball-park" placement of each finger a bit more quickly.  I also know that I will have to adjust each finger accordingly to get the correct notes, but at my level reaching the "ball-park" would be a tremendous help and perhaps even a boost for my desire to learn to play this beautiful instrument.

p.s. This is my first post, so please be kind ;-)

March 3, 2010 at 10:11 PM ·

Does it stand to reason that if a child (or anyone, for that matter) can learn to adjust the pitch of their voice to sing on key, that it would be almost as easy to adjust their fingertip to play in tune?   

I can understand how a teacher with a large group of beginners might find out more quickly who is out of tune, but from the learner's viewpoint  the extra step of a visual check and correction would, I think, delay the learning process and add to the frustration.  Instead of the visual aids wouldn't it make more sense to play simpler tunes, more slowly, in smaller groups?




March 4, 2010 at 10:02 PM ·

> Gene,  that again is the debate between "survival" (as in 50 students
> 4th graders!) and "ideal" (private lesson with plenty of individual attention
> with parents that coach the very youngs when they practice to "avoid" tapes).

I wouldn't characterize it that way. There are many people in this world who for one reason or another aren't all that interested in playing a musical instrument or only enjoy it minimally. I know that might be hard to believe for the "hardcore" instrumentalists to believe, but that is fact. It's for the same reason that many people don't play sports beyond their K-12 years (when's the last time most of us ran "the mile?").

The ones who are really into it will pursue private instruction, extra-curricular performance opportunities like student recitals, youth orchestras, certificate programs, etc. However, making use of time-proven visual aids helps students who do not have private instruction in comprehending subject matter in a field where instruction time is very limited.

I have private students who are ten years old studying Lalo and Sarasate who haven't seen a shred of finger tapes since they were five (if ever). I also have 8th graders who are in school orchestra for the sheer enjoyment of playing music and have no interest in private lessons, and happily use visual aids to ensure that their limited practice time still results in a contribution to the overall ensemble.

Different strokes for different folks.

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