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Training Wheels
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (1 votes) 
Regular advisor

June 4, 2015 - 10:05 pm
Member Since: February 21, 2015
Forum Posts: 149
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I've had my violin fingerboard taped for the few months I've been learning to play.  But I find myself looking to see if I'm placing my finger in the right spot...  yet correct it by the sound.  I'm beginning to think the tape is teaching me a bad habit of looking at my fingers.  So I peeled it off the violin I have at work with me tonight, and do what I've done even with the tape... adjust my position by the sounds.

I know it's a subject that's probably been talked about many a time...  is taping a fingerboard like training wheels on a bike, where it's OK for a short time, but once you start to depend on them, it's time to take them off and get your balance?

Fort Lauderdale
June 5, 2015 - 7:41 am
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 15724

Differs from person to person and teacher to teacher. It's very possible to use tapes or guides in the beginning to get a basic idea of location to place your fingers and remove them later without developing any bad habits.
It's also possible to learn completely using hearing if you have a good ear to begin with, can sing scales.... etc..

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

June 6, 2015 - 3:15 am
Member Since: April 3, 2015
Forum Posts: 22
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One thing that helped me take of the tapes was listening for sympathetic vibrations. A good example of this is to play a G on the D string and gently tap the G string. Assuming the note is in tune, you should hear the G string vibrations stopping when you tap it.

This works with the G on the D string, the D on the A string, and the A on the E string. It works best on the G on the D string because of how the G string is, it's much more audible.

From there you can find the second finger and from the second finger the first finger.

This trick also works with the A on the G string (The A string should vibrate if it's in tune) and the E on the D string (The E string should vibrate).

So if you use sympathetic vibrations the only finger that you really need to find is the second finger which is usually by the first or third finger.

I hope this helps you instead of confusing you, and good luck! thumbs-up


June 6, 2015 - 10:32 am
Member Since: July 5, 2011
Forum Posts: 969
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My teacher uses tape so both my daughter and I have tapes. My daughter had four tapes during her first year or so and when the teacher noticed that she was in tune and didn't need the tapes any more, she removed them for her. When she switched to 1/2 size, our teacher put one tape on third finger for her because she lost her finger placement due to different distance, then she removed it again after a few weeks when my daughter had adjusted. my teacher only put one tape on mine, and I still have it on I think because I have this bad habit of creeping my finger up toward violin body. My teacher wants me to use and trust my ears and that's probably why she did not put tapes on other fingers or high dot, etc.

@ fiddlerman: I could sing scale and when I play a scale I always sing it in my head. However, when I play a piece and when my fingers creep away from the nut, I could still be "in tune" but in a different scale without noticing it; I could tell I was out of tune or switched scales when I came back to open strings. Obviously my scale singing is not perfect because I would switch to a different scale. Any  way to fix it?


June 6, 2015 - 12:55 pm
Member Since: May 4, 2012
Forum Posts: 2379
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I don't think the tapes are that important.  They are not like the fret on a mandolin or guitar, in that they are not actually involved in producing the sound.  They are just a visual indicator, and the sound still comes from your finger and the string on the fingerboard. 

Training wheels on a bicycle will actually do something to keep the rider from falling over.  Tapes aren't like that, and you can still play out of tune in violin even with tapes or a fingerboard overlay or etc.  If training wheels on bicycles worked like tapes on violins, they'd have to be something like made out of soft foam rubber, so you could look and see if the bike was starting to tip over, but still have to keep it from falling all by yourself.  But "training wheels" is still probably the best analogy we have.

They don't actually help you get the note right and in tune though.  That is all you, with or without tapes.  They can give you a general idea of where to put your finger down, and you adjust by ear to play in tune just like without them.

Some teachers do feel that they make it easier to instruct the beginner.  That it will take less reminding of where the fingers need to go for the notes until muscle memory had been built and the student's ear is developed enough to know that they are in tune.  If you think of an instructor trying to teach a class of maybe 20 brand new violinist kids in a 40 min or so class period, it is pretty easy to see where tapes can streamline that process. 

On the downside, I think that both beginner players and also teachers can come to rely on the tapes too much as a sort of "security blanket", rather than using their ears.  How it can happen for the player is pretty obvious, but how it can happen for the teacher is some of them will just decide that tapes stay on until after a certain point in the lesson book without really listening to hear if the student is ready to take them off.

Tapes, a high point marker, bow markings and all the other visual assists are just reminders that can be useful for some folks at some points of their development.  They are things to help your mind a bit as your experience builds.  But the sound of any song you play, with or without them, is all still just you with your ears and fingers and the violin just as much as it is with any violin pop star or soloist.

They can have another drawback, in that some people will use them to rely more on their eyes than their ears.  Or to feel like they do, anyway.  That tendency to feel you need to look can slow you down a bit.  It takes your eyes away from better places they could be like the written score when you are learning a piece, for example.  The urge to keep "checking" and to feel you have to move your eyes back and forth between the tapes and the notes on the paper "to make sure" can hamper playing a bit.  That is relying on the tapes too much, when by that time you probably either aren't getting any real "help" from them, or you are close to the point where they no longer actually help with anything.  So you want to make sure you don't let your mind exaggerate their importance.

The real situation though, is kind of like a line from the old movie "The Matrix"..

"There is no spoon."

"This young wine may have a lot of tannins now, but in 5 or 10 years it is going to be spectacular, despite the fact that right now it tastes like crude oil. You know this is how it is supposed to taste at this stage of development." ~ Itzhak Perlman

California, the place of my heart
June 6, 2015 - 1:29 pm
Member Since: January 11, 2012
Forum Posts: 4180
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I say congrats on getting the tapes off.   I had them on for a year.   I was a slave to them...but I think I sounded better intonation wise. LOL... :)

Anyway.. it took several months to get over not having them and get any sort of confidence back up.  I fought daily with putting them back on.  And I only had two that my teacher had put on....

Anyway... To use or not to use is everyone's choice.   :)  

But yes.. I found it like training wheels on a bike... etc...

edit to add:  I was given a new violin in December 2013 and was told if I put tapes on it, they were taking it back. LOL... I am sure it was a joke.. right?  Right  - @cdennyb 

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

Fort Lauderdale
June 6, 2015 - 4:29 pm
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 15724

The only way I know to fix that Pky, is by playing slowly while focusing on your intervals. Eventually your intervals will be closer and will reflect on the open strings. :) Focus is extremely beneficial for improvement. Practicing and playing are the same but can be very different. A person who only plays without focus does not advance as quickly as a person who focuses on details.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."


June 12, 2015 - 6:28 pm
Member Since: July 5, 2011
Forum Posts: 969
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Fiddlerman said
The only way I know to fix that Pky, is by playing slowly while focusing on your intervals. Eventually your intervals will be closer and will reflect on the open strings. :) Focus is extremely beneficial for improvement. Practicing and playing are the same but can be very different. A person who only plays without focus does not advance as quickly as a person who focuses on details.

Thanks, FM! I think my problem is I like to play through the whole piece and do not like to focus on details. My teacher's advice has been play a few notes at a time to get the intonation right and listen to my intonation etc. Genetic or what, my daughter has the same problem:) -- not focus on details, better get rid of that bad habit!

New Jersey
June 13, 2015 - 3:37 pm
Member Since: May 31, 2015
Forum Posts: 39
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As a beginner (I don't remember my lessons from 40 years ago), I find this topic of interest - how to "find the notes."

I can see how tapes would be helpful in the very beginning, when you literally have no idea where your fingers go, but I never used them for two reasons.  I am afraid to mess up the finish, and at playing position it's almost impossible to see if fingers are on a tape.

Now if you can feel the tapes, it may work, but then it could affect the sound.  At one point I made a cardboard cut out of my viola, then glued thin strips of cardboard to the finger positions.  I used that to tap the positions and get feedback by feel when I was right. It almost immediately allowed me to use my uncooperative fourth finger.  I need to make one for my violin.

Despite that, sympathetic vibrations are the main way I know some notes are in tune. I love the way the violin comes alive in my hands when I get them right. Too bad that doesn't work for every note....

Tuners to the rescue. Most are equal temperament only, but I found some that can be used for string players.  A clip on tuner, Peterson Strobo Clip, picks up on vibrations to determine the note. It is easy to see when clipped to a tuning peg, and responds quickly.  If you like visual confirmation of tuning, this one is ideal.  

Another one I have, Korg OT-120, has a great feature when used with an accessory contact mike. It plays back the closest note to the one played, allowing you to hear when you are out of tune.  It also plays any note as a drone.  

I don't have enough gadgets....LOL....I'm using the "kitchen sink" approach to learning to play!

I think (correct me if I'm wrong) it is more important to focus on the feel of the hand in various finger positions instead of the absolute spots to hit on the violin. So many repeating patterns! Place one finger correctly, the rest should line up nicely - in theory anyway - I say but cannot do! Of course, the spacing gets smaller as you go towards the bridge, and larger if you switch to a viola, but the proportions remain the same.

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