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Our small Case Against Finger Tapes

The (Purely Mechanical) Reason We Don’t Recommend Tapes
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 like 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.

So.

Much.

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.

Tapes can cause buzzing down there.
They can cause buzzing EVERYWHERE.

But Why do Finger Tapes Cause Buzzing?!

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.

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.

(Our other complaints include that tapes may slide over time as the heat of the player’s hand causes the 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
*8/12/2020: A Note During the Pandemic Caused by COVID-19: 
We understand and appreciate how hard it is to teach students remotely. We acknowledge that the First Fret style of fingerboard marking can cause buzzing because of the reasons listed below, but we understand that when personal instruction isn't an option, this style of fingerboard marking may be an especially beneficial instructional aid since it can be applied by the parents of students. 

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.


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 problem we see with these products is that not all instruments of the same size are set up with exactly the same  vibrating string length so a generic note marker may not actually help a musician play the notes in tune. 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?

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!


And because they wear away with use, the marker lines work like disappearing training wheels that go away as the student advances and becomes more proficient at finding 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.


Or, if you have to, use tapes and remove them when buzzing begins to happen regularly.


...But don’t say we didn’t warn you!