To Tape or Not to Tape

Lesley Schultz • September 2021String Section • September 6, 2021

It’s that time of year. The time of year when you think “are finger tapes on the instruments really worth it?” What to use that won’t leave a nasty residue and stay on the entire year. For my wind/percussion players turned string teachers, this is always a moment of shock if you are newer. If you are one of my college readers, this article is something to keep in mind. Good finger taping can help you with your pedagogy, and if done right can last the whole year (or even longer) allowing beginner students to develop that critical hand shape and muscle memory so that hopefully they can move on from tapes in a couple of years. Though in full disclosure, some students never move beyond some tapes, though there are different strategies for older students.

First, let’s talk about material. I have seen EVERYTHING with marking instruments. Electric tape, those fancy sliders that claim to do all fingers, cutesy stickers, paint pens. The single best thing I have found that works on every instrument without fail is auto detailing pinstripe tape. You may have to take a tour of your local auto parts stores, and you are looking for Prostripe 1/8th inch pinstripe tape. It comes in a few colors, but you want to stay away from any shiny metal colors, as these have an extra coating that can peel, and become annoying. White is available, but I find white hard to work with because it is the same color as the backing. The go-to colors at my school are red, a soft grey/silver, a soft gold, and black. I have also heard from teachers in my area who have blue as a school color that blue is good as well. The reason I use pinstripe tape over those fancy sliders with all the half-steps marked, is depending on how the instrument is set up, string instruments are not nearly as standardized as wind instruments, and I have found those pre-made ones to be off pitch and sometimes overly confusing for the students. 

Next, let’s talk about color selection and pedagogy. Yes, we ultimately want our beginners to read music, but for some learners, a color association, especially in younger grades, can help make a lot of difference. For our beginners, we use red for first finger, first position, like the top of a stoplight. Then we use black for fingers two and three, as these start the move around the quickest with low two f-naturals. Finally, we use the soft gold for 4th finger or “couch position” on cello, as that is a marker that they will go to often. Consider using color for major shifting points, usually 1st positions and 3rd positions, as that will help in 2-3 years when you concentrate on shifting. 

Now your beginners have reached high school, and their original tapes are wearing off (though some tapes at my school have lasted up to five years). Some students are reluctant to give them up. This is where I use the black pinstripe, and I also reduce the number of tapes. For high schoolers, I give them a first finger first position, a third finger for third position and a fourth finger for 4th position, all in black. Some of them express some hesitancy, but most come on board with it after a few days, and they gain confidence that they don’t need the bright visual reference anymore.

Finally, here are some do’s and don’ts for finger taping. Do pre-cut lengths, this will save much time. Do investigate 1/4-inch tape for basses, that is teacher preference. We have used both at my school. Don’t worry about making sure the instrument is spotless. In most cases, the fingerboards just need a wipe with dry cloth and the pinstripe still sticks fine. Don’t assume each instrument is exactly the same. Use your ears to place the tape, and don’t trust any light markings that may be left from the previous set. This takes practice, but eventually you will get to the point where you can eyeball it and then just adjust finely. The brilliant thing about pinstripe tape is that you can reset it a time or two to get it placed correctly. Hopefully this article has taken some of the mystery out of finger taping and given you confidence that you can do it.  

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelors of Music Education from West Virginia University and her Masters of Music Education from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves as the Ohio Chapter President and on the National Conference Committee. Lesley is a columnist for SBO Magazine. In her copious amounts of spare time, she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports and spending time with her family and making TikToks about her cats.

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