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News from the Bench /Common Fingertape Problems

Our small Case Against Finger Tapes

The (Purely Mechanical) Reasons We Don’t Recommend Tapes
A violin neck with fingerboard. Three tapes a on the fingerboard to help a player with finger placement. An arrow points to the center blue fingertape.
Let us begin by saying: this is not a criticism of teaching technique! Teachers are wonderful, under-valued, often over-worked, caring, thoughtful, creative forces of nature who deserve all the credit in the world for what they do to inspire music creation! In fact, most of our staff learned to play our instruments using finger tapes (or similar fingerboard markings) at the beginning of our string instrument educations. 

Our point today is not to highlight a disagreement on teaching tools/techniques, but to explain the mechanical reasons we don’t recommend tapes (or stickers) and a simple substitution.

Why Tapes Work

Unlike the piano, whose keys provide note locations, violin family instruments come with no initial road-map of notes.

Many string teachers will, therefore, add small tapes to the fingerboard for beginning students. These tapes offer a visual and slightly tactile guide of specific notes’ locations on the fingerboard.

In theory and general execution, we think tapes are brilliant. With three small tapes, a beginning student can learn all the notes they need to play a simple one-octave major scale or a rousing rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” 

Three small tapes can help a student develop and hone the muscle memory needed to learn more notes.

BUT just one small tape can cause buzzing.




Tapes can cause buzzing when the student doesn’t press the string down with enough force on the tape. Tapes can cause buzzing when the student plays a note between one tape and another.

Tapes can cause buzzing up here.

A violin neck with fingerboard and three fingertapes. An arrow points to the gradual scoop along the length of the fingerboard.
Tapes can cause buzzing down there.
A violin neck with fingerboard and three fingertapes. An arrow points between the upper nut and the first, red fingertape.
They can cause buzzing EVERYWHERE.
A violin neck with fingerboard and three fingertapes. Numerous arrows point all along the length of the fingerboard.


But Why do Finger Tapes Cause Buzzing?!

An arrow points to the fingerboard on a violin neck. It reads: violins, violas and cellos have a gradual scoop along the length of their fingerboards. This scoop allows the string to vibrate freely when pressed down to play.
Running from the upper nut and all the way down to its very bottom, there is a very gradual scoop running the length of the fingerboard (see the image above; the scoop has been exaggerated for demonstration purposes).

This lengthwise fingerboard scoop provides space for the string to vibrate as the player presses down on the string to create different notes.

When something stands in the way of that vibration, the string will create a buzzing sound as it collides with that interference.


Enter finger tapes.

An arrow points to a finger tape on a violin fingerboard. It reads: when a player pressed down on the string to play, the finger tape limits the string's vibration. Every time the string hits the tape, buzzing occurs.

When a player presses down on a fingerboard between or behind a finger tape, that tape can often stand in the way of the string vibrating freely. And that’s when the buzzing begins.

(Another complaint we have against individual finger tapes is that tapes often slide over time as the heat of the player’s hand causes the tape's adhesive to break down. Not only are sliding tapes no longer going to be in the right place and out-of-tune, they are sticky to the touch. So, yuck.)


Other Finger Tape-Type Products on the Market
In addition to individual tapes, there are other products available on the market which are designed to cover a large portion of the fingerboard with a large sticker. The idea behind covering a larger portion of the fingerboard is that there will be less opportunity for the strings to buzz behind individual tapes.
An arrow points to a violin fingerboard. It reads: with the long sticker fingerboard marking, the additional sticker height can still cause buzzing due to the reduced string vibration clearance near the upper nut.
Although buzzing happens less frequently with these products, it is still not uncommon to run into buzzing issues due to the decreased distance between the string and the now slightly raised fingerboard.

The other primary problem we see with these products is that not all similarly-sized instruments are set up with exactly the same vibrating string length. This means that the pre-printed spacings of all of the notes may not actually be in the exactly correct location for each specific instrument. (In fact, the manufacturers often recommend sliding the bridge closer to/further away from the scroll in order to accomodate the pre-determined spacings printed on the fingerboard marker.)

And finally, just like individual finger tapes, this style of fingerboard marker may begin to pull/roll along the edge of the product and create interferences at the nut or the center of the fingerboard. 

So, what’s our solution for buzzing tapes?

If you own your instrument or if you rent one from us, we recommend using a marker like a Silver Sharpie (or a white-out pen) to make small marks on the fingerboard instead of using tapes.

On an ebony fingerboard, the marker lines will wear away with use and—because they don’t add height to the fingerboard—they don’t cause buzzing!

Since marker lines wear away with use, they work like disappearing training wheels that vanish as the student advances and becomes more proficient at finding the correct notes on their own.

If the student still needs the visual cue of the notes but the marker has worn away, simply reapply the marker to the fingerboard.

If you don’t own your instrument (or rent it from us) and you’re worried about adding these marks to your fingerboard, you can also use a graphite pencil or a grease pencil. The downside to using either of these pencils is that they will require regular reapplication.

Final Thoughts

All markings added to the fingerboard --individual finger tapes, pre-printed single-tape options, and drawn-on marker lines-- are intended to be temporary teaching aids.

If you have reached a point where the buzzing of the tapes has become too distracting --or-- your ear is refined enough that you notice that using the pre-printed spacings on the fingerboard tape is causing you to play slightly out of tune-- you may have outgrown your finger markings and simply don't need them anymore!

However, if your palms become sweaty just thinking about removing your tapes, you can always step down to using only one (or two) temporary marker line that will wear away until you are playing in-tune all on your own.