Thoughts on Finger Tapes

When most students begin learning the cello, we teachers put some form of finger tapes or stickers on the instrument. But I want to elaborate a little bit more on why we use finger tapes and how their use differs over time.

Tapes, or some sort of marker or aid on the instrument, are for beginning students, especially those who are unaccustomed to listening closely for intonation, and for parents, who are also not used to this highly focused listening.

Tapes are for beginning students (and parents) to:
-learn what ‘in tune’ is
-hear themselves play the right notes
-learn where to put the fingers and the spacing between the fingers
-learn where to put the thumb; if second finger isn’t in the right spot, the thumb will not be either!

By the time students can do these things, it’s time to take the tapes off. Though, by the middle of book 1, the tapes usually begin to fall off anyway from use and I don’t replace them. Through both kinesthetic and aural development, students can do the following:
-sing in tune
-match intonation with an external source
-match intonation with an internal source (sound you hear in your head)
-acknowledge faulty intonation
-adjust intonation accordingly

Meaning, they don’t need the tapes to check because they know when something is wrong just by listening!  They can connect what they are supposed to sound like with what is actually coming out of the instrument and make adjustments, if necessary.

Occasionally, I leave the 4th finger tape or the 1st finger tape. 4th fingers isn’t usually an issue – those notes are super resonant and the intonation is obvious. 1st fingers are arguably more difficult to get in tune and often run too high – the 1st finger wants to pull closer to 2nd finger. It is helpful for some students to have a visual aid to check.

Few caveats – the finger tapes work really well for younger beginning students. But again, this is mostly for the parents to check that the fingers go down in the right spot. I find that older beginners don’t need to rely on the finger tapes as a crutch and can usually do away with them quite soon. But every student is a little different and every student develops musically at a different pace.

Also, leaving the tapes on too long results in students checking their finger placement for feedback rather than listening to their sound. From the beginning, the focus needs to be placed on the sound that is coming out of the instrument and responding to that feedback, not where the fingers are in relation to the tapes.

Finger tapes are like training wheels on a bike. Tapes are helpful in the beginning but by no means permanent. Everyone gets rid of them sooner or later.