When you’re learning the violin, there are so many things to remember: how to hold the bow, string names and of course finger positions. You know which fingers to use, but how do you know you’ve hit the right note?
Sometimes it sounds kind of right, but other times, well…not really. Here’s where fingerboard tape comes to the rescue, as it makes hitting the right notes easier.
In this article, we’re going to show you how to do it.
Table of Contents
Why Use Fingerboard Tape?
Learners usually use fingerboard tape for around the first year of their learning journey, though this, of course, varies from person to person. It’s to make hitting the right notes easier until your ear and muscle memory are both trained enough to do it naturally.
The first piece of tape usually goes a tone after the open string, the second piece follows a tone later and the third tone is a semitone after that one. The fourth piece of tape goes a tone later. This is due to the pattern of intervals in the major scale.
If that sounds like jargon, the tape is placed to make the tune, “Do, re, mi, fa so,” with “Do,” being your open string and the other four notes being your four pieces of tape.
What You Need
So, now you know the size of your instrument, you’ll need a few tools.
- a pencil
- a ruler or tape measure
- violin fingerboard tape. If you don’t have special tape, masking tape cut into thin strips will work fine, or even pinstripe tape for vehicles
Note: although you might have seen small, circular stickers on some people’s violins, strips are preferable, as they go across every string, minimizing any guess-work.
Step 1. Make Your Measurements
So, step one is measuring the distance for your first strip of tape.
The distance you measure will depend on the size of your instrument. Full-sized violins need to measure 35mm from the nut, 3/4 size violins measure 32mm from the nut, and for smaller instruments, that measure decreases. See the bottom of the page for measurements for the common sizes.
Place the top of the ruler or tape measure at the nut of the violin, then measure down in a straight line. Make a small mark with your pencil.
Once you’ve added your first pencil mark, check the measurements for the common sizes and add your second, third and fourth. Then you’re ready to add your tape.
Step 2. Place the Tape on the Fingerboard
As you add each piece of tape, ensure it’s straight across the fingerboard. It can be tricky to get it under the strings but be patient: it’s worth getting it right. If you’re really struggling to slide the tape under the strings above the fingerboard, start lower, near the bridge. Then, you can slowly feed it up higher.
Step 3. Check with Tuner
Of course, if you have an electric tuner, now is the time to use it. You can download loads of free tuner apps with built-in microphones that can tell you if you’re in tune.
The easiest way to check is to put your finger on the tape and pluck the string pizzicato. Is it showing up as the right pitch? If not, move the tape slightly. The sound of the tuning is more important than any physical measurement.
On the first piece of tape:
- Your G string should flash up as an A.
- The D string should come up as an E.
- Your A string should become a B.
- Your E string should be an F#.
The second piece of tape should go: B, E, C#, G# on the G, D, A and E strings respectively.
The third piece should make the notes: C, F, D, and A.
The fourth should play: D, G, E, and B.
Don’t settle for anything less than perfection! Your fingers will remember these positions.
Measurements for the Common Sizes
To get the positioning of the tape right, you’ll need to know the size of your violin. Adults are likely to start with a full-sized violin, but children often have smaller instruments, from 1/8 size through to 3/4 size.
If you’re not sure, you can measure the length of the body. Full-sized violins have a body of approximately 35.6cm, whilst 3/4 violins have a 33cm body. 1/2 sized violins are 31cm and 1/4 sized violins are 27.9cm.
Tape placement measurements for full-sized, 3/4, 1/2 sized and 1/4 sized violins are as follows:
Full Size Violin (4/4)
Tape 1 – 35mm (1 3/8 inches)
Tape 2 – 66mm (2 5/8 inches)
Tape 3 – 80mm (3 1/8 inches)
Tape 4 – 106mm (4 1/8 inches)
Tape 1 – 32mm (1 1/4 inches)
Tape 2 – 61mm (2 3/8 inches)
Tape 3 – 75 mm (2 7/8 inches)
Tape 4 – 100 mm (3 7/8 inches)
Tape 1 – 28mm (1 1/8 inches)
Tape 2 – 54mm (2 1/8 inches)
Tape 3 – 68mm (2 5/8 inches)
Tape 4 – 91mm (3 5/8 inches)
Tape 1 – 25mm (1 inch)
Tape 2 – 48mm (1 7/8 inches)
Tape 3 – 60mm (2 3/8 inches)
Tape 4 – 79mm (3 1/8 inches)
Violin fingerboard tape can be a really excellent learning tool. It allows you to focus on all the other things you’re learning: bow technique, string names, note names, and fingers, without worrying too much about how to find the right note: the tape will guide you there.
It’s important to be diligent about getting the tape positioning perfect, so you don’t give yourself bad habits. When they’re in the correct place, playing an open string followed by its four pieces of tape should sound like: “Do, re, mi, fa, so.” Don’t you dare shy away from using that pinky!
Have fun making beautiful music :), and when the time’s right, tear that tape away. You’ll know when you’re ready.