The Finger Tape Debate

By: Patrick Clark

As I walk into a classroom, private lesson, or master class, I’m analyzing, thinking, and planning.  Each clinic I do, each lesson I teach, and each student I encounter, all present their own challenges.   One of the things I notice is the variety of teachers, especially in the classroom, that use/don’t use finger tapes on their beginning students.  There seems to be a large debate regarding finger tapes amongst the teaching community, so I thought I would chime in a bit.

First, let’s talk about the private teaching sector, then move onto the group/classroom teaching sector.  There are three general situations that I deal with when teaching privately.  They are as follows;

1. Beginner Student (Never Played Before)

2. Transfer Student (Has taken lessons, but decided to try me, or has been referred to me.)

3.  Self-Taught/Group Taught Only

With complete beginners, both fiddle and classical, I’ve been starting with finger tapes for the first three fingers.  My students do very well with this.  Their pitch, because I hound them, usually is very solid.  I then begin to take away the finger tapes, one at a time, starting with the third finger tape.  My philosophy with this take away process is that they establish the FEELING of the distance between their second and third finger.

I recently attended a workshop put on by Barbara Barber, and her suggestion was to never put on a second finger tape.  She suggested only first and third.  Again, the feeling aspect is still there but in a way, she’s saving a step in the process.  A short cut, if you will.  My only caveat is that the smallest, 3-4 year olds, may not have an ear that is developed enough to grapple with the idea.  Another concern with this age group is that there is so much to pay attention to in the beginning, that the lack of at least some finger tapes could result in a frustrated, overwhelmed, and ultimately discouraged student.  I believe there is some security, at least in the beginning, of knowing where the fingers should go.  Over time, we develop the ear and wean the student off the tape.  Thus, solidifying muscle memory.  I will be experimenting with this in the future and I will let you all know what I come up with.

For the last two items on my list above, the decision to add or take away finger tapes is completely subjective to the age, level, and maturity of the individual student.  So, let’s touch on the transfer students.  Many, definitely not all, but many, students that I see in the transfer stage have left hands that are so out of place, they struggle to play well.  I spend a large amount of time fixing this.  In this instance, there is so much work going on to change muscle memory, I put all three, or even sometimes four, finger tapes on.  I do this because the correction of the muscle memory can be so difficult at first, making them hunt for the note without finger tapes, might send them over the edge, and I would lose them.  The last thing any music teacher wants is for a student to quit.

Finally, in regards to the classroom.  I really believe that by the time a student is in an orchestra situation, they are old enough to do SOME self analysis.  Therefore, the use of a first and third finger tape ONLY, could be suggested.  This is only my opinion.  I have seen classroom teachers for beginner level, middle school orchestras use no finger tapes.  I would be very nervous about doing that.  I’m not saying it’s wrong, I just don’t think I would be comfortable doing that.  I would love to know what some of the teachers out there think about this.

Additionally, in regards to Learn Fiddle Online, put on all four!  Unless you are taking private lessons, there’s no way I can reach out and touch you and remind you of everything while you play along with the video. Eventually, you can begin to slowly take one tape away at a time, as you get comfortable with the instrument.  I will say that you shouldn’t leave the tape on terribly long because you may stop listening as closely as you should.

For instructions for installing finger tapes, take a look at my book, “Fiddling, The Basics and Beyond.”

I would love to hear what your experiences have been with this at any level, or in any situation.  So, please, let me know what you think posting on our Facebook page.  Facebook.com/LearnFiddleOnline