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Finger Tapes: How They Work and How to Put Them on a Violin

Learning to play the violin involves understanding its structure and how your fingers need to move on the fingerboard. Finger tapes are a helpful tool for beginners to get accustomed to finger placement for proper intonation.

In this article, we'll explore what finger tapes are, why they are used, and how you can install them on your violin to make learning the violin easier.

What are Finger Tapes?

Finger Tapes

The Purpose of Finger Tapes

Finger tapes or finger guides are visual aids placed on the fingerboard of a violin to indicate where fingers should be placed to produce specific notes. They are especially useful for beginners who are still developing their ear for pitch and understanding of how to use their hand.

Varieties of Finger Tapes

There are different types of finger tapes available, such as colored tapes for a more visual guide and finger guides that can be felt more than seen, just like on a guitar fretboard. These options cater to the learner's preference, whether they want a clear visual reference or a less noticeable guide that they can feel.

Why Use Finger Tapes?

Finger Tapes on a Violin

Benefits for Beginners

Finger tapes help to promote proper left-hand posture and finger placement. They provide a physical reference point for where fingers should press down on the strings, aiding in the development of muscle memory and intonation skills.

Transitioning Away from Finger Tapes

As students progress, they may gradually remove the tapes, relying more on their ear and muscle memory. However, the initial phase of using finger tapes is extremely helpful in building a solid foundation.

How to Install Finger Tapes on Your Violin

Installing finger tape on a violin is a meticulous process that requires precision and patience. Here's a more detailed guide on how to install finger tapes on your violin to ensure accurate finger placement.

Materials Needed

  • Finger tapes (colored or black)
  • A chromatic tuner or tuning app (or a good ear)
  • A pencil
  • Scissors (if needed to cut the tape) 

Preparation

  1. Tune Your Violin: Before you start, make sure your violin is well-tuned. Each string should be tuned to the correct pitch (G, D, A, E for the violin) as this will affect the placement of the tapes.
  2. Clean the Fingerboard: Ensure the fingerboard is clean and dry. Any oil or dirt may affect the adhesive quality of the tape.

Identifying Placement for Tapes

  1. Use a Chromatic Tuner: With the violin in playing position, pluck each string and use a chromatic tuner to find the exact pitches where your fingers should go. Commonly, you'll mark placements for the notes F (1st finger), C (2nd finger), G (3rd finger) on the E string, and so on for other strings, following a standard tuning.
  2. Marking the Positions: Once you've identified the correct pitch for the first finger placement (for instance, F on the E string), lightly mark the spot on the fingerboard with a pencil. Repeat this process for each finger placement, typically four per string for beginners.

Applying the Tape

  1. Cutting the Tape: If your tape isn't pre-cut, measure and cut small pieces - just long enough to reach across the fingerboard and under the neck.  It's important they they overlap on the neck slightly, so the tape stays on the violin longer.
  2. Sliding Under the Strings: Carefully slide one end of the tape under the strings and align it with the pencil mark you made on the fingerboard. It's important to keep the tape straight across the fingerboard; it should be perpendicular to the strings.
  3. Securing the Tape: Press down on the tape to secure it to the fingerboard, smoothing out any bubbles or wrinkles. Ensure the tape is making as good of contact with the fingerboard and neck as possible, to ensure it stays on longer.
  4. Repeat for Other Notes: Following the same process, apply the tape for the second, third, and fourth finger positions as necessary.

Tips for Installing Finger Tape

  • Accuracy is Key: Take your time to ensure the placement is as accurate as possible. Incorrect placement will lead to poor intonation and hinder progress.  Try to aim for the tip of the finger to be placed in the middle of the tape.
  • Check Placement: After installing, play each note with the finger right above the tape and use a tuner to check for accuracy. Adjust if necessary.
  • Avoid Residue: When placing and eventually replacing or removing the tape, be careful not to leave sticky residue on the fingerboard. Clean any residue gently with a soft, dry cloth.
  • Consider Visibility: Choose a tape color that stands out against your fingerboard for better visibility, or go for a less obtrusive look with black tape, depending on your preference.

By following these steps and ensuring each tape is precisely placed, you'll create a helpful guide for finger positioning on your violin. Remember, finger tapes are a learning aid and should eventually be phased out as you develop muscle memory and aural skills. Practice regularly with the tapes, and over time, you'll find yourself relying on them less and less as your playing improves.

Popular Finger Tape Options

Don't Fret and First Fret Finger Tapes

Don't Fret and First Frets

"Don't Fret" guides are stickers that adhere to the fingerboard, covering a portion of it to indicate notes, including some higher positions. They are pre-measured and provide a comprehensive guide for beginners.

"First Frets" are similar but focus solely on the first position.

Fantastic Finger Guides


Developed by a local orchestra teacher, these guides not only show finger placement but also include note names and indicators for sharp and flat notes. 

Fantastic Finger Guides are designed to come off cleaner than other stickers and are ideal for self-learners or students with less frequent teacher interactions.

DIY Taping

For those who prefer a more hands-on approach, small rolls of tape can be applied manually. This method allows for customization and adjustment based on the student's finger size and violin's specific measurements.

Tips for Using Finger Tapes

Installation Services

Some violin shops offer installation services, ensuring that the tapes are placed accurately and securely.  Teachers are most often the people that apply finger tape to a students violin.  This can be especially helpful for beginners who are unsure about the placement.

Conclusion

Finger tapes can be one of the must useful tools in the early stages of learning violin. They provide a visual and tactile reference for finger placement, helping beginners develop accurate intonation and a feel for the fingerboard.

Whether you choose a colorful, vibrant set of tapes or a more subdued option, the key is to use them as a temporary aid on your journey to becoming an independent and confident violinist.

As you progress, the tapes will become less necessary, but the foundations they help you build will last throughout your musical journey. If you have any questions or need assistance in choosing or installing finger tapes, don't hesitate to reach out to music teachers or local violin shops for guidance. Happy playing!