Thursday, August 4, 2011

Putting Tapes on Your Violin: Is it for You?

The violin is a tricky instrument. Unlike other musical instruments that give you an idea on how and where to hit the correct notes, the violin is like doing guess work on where you should place your fingers for the correct sound. Violin instructors often recommend putting tapes on a violin's fingerboard to help beginning students develop muscle memory. And like most adult beginners who wish to be good in playing the violin, you're probably asking if finger tabs are good for you.

Let's discuss first what is muscle memory for the sake of those who are new to the term. Muscle memory is the automatic, unconscious finger action on the violin produced by hours and hours of violin playing. The more you practice, the better your fingers will learn not to rely on your conscious command on where to go.

How fast one develops muscle memory for violin varies from person to person. Some can practice for several days and will not need the tapes at all. Others find it difficult to remember where the notes are and have a hard time developing muscle memory even with the tapes. Your violin instructor cannot predict how fast or how slow you'll learn your notes; in order to help you get a good start and also make your lessons less frustrating, instructors will often put on tapes to your violin.

Violin tapes guided with help from

If you have a hard time mastering your music piece because you're concentrating on where your fingers should go for the proper note, then putting tapes on your violin may be for you. As a beginner, it can be hard to focus between straight bowing, intonation, beat, timing, and finger placement all at once.  And it can be frustrating to play a section of your music sheet over and over again because you always miss hitting the right notes. With guide tapes, playing your first piece will be relatively easy.

One question you may well be asking about fingerboard tapes is developing dependency on them. You may be relying on them at first because you don't know where to put your fingers. But once you have developed muscle memory, you will notice that you no longer have to concentrate on finger placement as you play your piece. You can concentrate on bowing, right intonation, and keeping up with your metronome or accompanying music. You'll forget worrying about finger placement eventually.

Violin playing with tapes will make memorization of the piece easier and more fun. No more constant trackbacks just get the notes right and you'll have more time concentrating on your techniques instead. But if you feel that the tapes are not for you, don't be afraid to tell your instructor.  Regardless on having tapes or not, learning to play the violin should be a fun, enjoyable experience. 

Next on my blog: how to put violin guide tapes with bits and pieces of ideas I got from . Thanks for reading and please comment below about this topic and your preference on putting tapes on your violin.


  1. Hi and thanks for your post...
    I am also learning the violin and have found learning the notes in the fretboard to be one of the most interesting areas since I am coming from a fretted instrument (guitar). I have found that even though the frets could give you an idea where to go while playing the bottom line is that the same principles of muscle memory apply regardless.

    As you mentioned in your post, playing the violin (or any other instrument) should be an enjoyable experience...that is the key! If you are able to relax and enjoy while you practice the muscle memory process will be accelerated greatly.

    In regards to the specific issue of the tapes lets not forget that our ears are a muscle as well! There are some teachers that argue that the tapes will slow down the development of the ear specially in the beginning stages and thus -even though it will take more time to internalize the notes- recommend against using the tapes.

    I personally have decided to take the non-tape approach in the spirit that in violin as in distance running speed is not essential but stamina and resistance. Sometimes we want to expedite things for the sake of reasons other that our enjoyment of music and our instrument (i.e to impress others, to show signs of 'progress', to go ahead and start playing 'real music' etc). However, sometimes those decisions lead to frustration and eventually to just missing the point that brought us to the violin in the first place.
    And I don't want to argue against using or not using tapes but such decisions should be made in the right spirit and for the right reasons.


    (a fellow ViolinLab member)

  2. Hi Pedro, thanks for taking the time to post.

    Great point on the ears being a muscle. You are correct in saying that your ears, above all, should be the main basis for learning the notes on the violin. Me being a beginning student, and with music in my blood, I often get frustrated on my notes.

    Tapes are a guide to those like me who are easily confused and very forgetful. My tapes are there to ease the frustration between me and my instructor (whom I've let go since 3 weeks ago after finding Beth and ViolinLab)

    I commend you taking the non-tape approach. I envy those who have great memory and higher patience than me and decide to learn the violin without the tapes. However, those qualities are not within me, so the tapes stay on my fingerboard. No offence meant to those who prefer no tapes. :)

    Thanks again, Pedro! Hope to see you here again.

  3. Many thanks for you..It is a very very helpful article for a beginner like me, i have decided to give up learning violin because i couldn't pick up notes and i thought that it is not working only for me, but when i read this article, i knew that it is a normal thing for a beginner and thanks to violin tape that i will use until i prepare my muscle memory :)) ..

  4. I just received the student violin from Bizarkdeal several days ago but I am quite pleased so far. I'm a beginner (skill wise), so I don’t play much. The violin sounds great, everything is brand new, and it is such a good deal for the money! Just make sure to sand off the top layer of rosin before you use it. This violin came with an extra set of strings in addition to the ones on the instrument, just in case if one breaks in tuning. If you don’t play much with tight budget, strongly recommend this thing.

  5. Thank you Donna Marie for posting this. Like Pedro, I come to the violin with fretted instrument experience. In fact, part of my motivation in learning the violin is to develop my ears. But training is a feed back control loop. You don't make progress by doing something wrong over and over again. There is a lot of discussion on the web about the use of finger tapes. All those arguments miss the point that if you don't have a knowledgeable teacher correcting your intonation, your ears will never learn what is right. So I live in a remote area and can't find a teacher, so what do I do? The answer is start with finger tapes! That will help develop the kinesthetic memory properly while my ears get used to looking for the harmonic resonance that occurs for the open string notes and subtlety for the odd numbered harmonics of them. Either that or my practice will be limited to following a recording and trying to learn the kinesthetic placement of fingers while focusing on pitch. Given the choice, I think the finger tapes will help me progress faster.