By Katharine Rapoport

When you’re used to playing, your fingers know instinctively where to land on the strings to get the right notes. But at first, they may need some pilot training. Don’t worry; most violinists’ hands are a little tentative when feeling their way around the fingerboard for the first time. After all, your view of the fingerboard when you’re in playing position is telescopic (which is kind of weird), and violins don’t have frets for guidance like guitars do.

Believe it or not, all you need are a couple of useful props — a tape measure and some stick‐on dots — and you’re on your way toward mastering your fingering. You can use these props to create fingerboard guides, which are marked‐off spots on the fingerboard where your fingers land. Just think of these marked spots as training wheels for your fingers.

You can find the stick‐on dots at office supply stores. Or, if you prefer, you can cut narrow strips of tape and place them across the fingerboard. What you use is up to you — some like tape, others stick with dots. You can find suitable fingerboard tape at violin stores, online, and at art or architect supply stores — even at garages that custom decorate cars — and the tape comes in an array of colors.

Choose a color that will show up well on the ebony fingerboard and look cheerful on your violin! Tape comes in various widths; for your violin’s fingerboard, pick or inch tape.

If you don’t have a background in music, or if placing your fingers on the fingerboard feels very unfamiliar, marking the spots helps you to get going. Following these steps helps you figure out where to put your fingers and allows you to feel the correct spaces between your fingers.

Never stick tape or any type of sticker on the varnished body of your violin. The adhesive can permanently damage the varnish.

To get started with marking off the spots where your fingers land, measure the A string to get tailor‐made accuracy for your violin. (The same spots will work on other strings as well, you’ll be pleased to know!)

Start off by measuring the vibrating length of the A string. It’s about 13 inches (33 centimeters) on most full‐sized violins, so that’s the length used for these steps:

  1. Use a tape measure to establish the length of the A string from the nut end of the fingerboard to the bridge.

    You’re measuring the vibrating length of the open string along the fingerboard.

    Measuring the vibrating length of the A string. [Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk]

    Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk
    Measuring the vibrating length of the A string.
  2. Measure of the A string’s length along the fingerboard (about 1 inches, or 3 centimeters, for this example).

    As in Step 1, start from the nut end. You’re measuring to find the first spot to mark on the fingerboard.

  3. Use a soft lead pencil to mark the spot on the fingerboard between the D and A strings, in the center of your fingerboard.

  4. Place a stick‐on dot or a narrow strip of tape over the pencil mark.

    This spot is where you put finger 1.

  5. Measure of the vibrating length of the A string (about 3 inches, or 8 centimeters, for this example), starting from the nut end, and then repeat Steps 3 and 4 to mark the spot.

    This spot is where you put finger 3.

  6. Take up your tape measure, as in Step 2, and measure of the vibrating length of the A string (about 4 inches, or 11 centimeters, for this example), starting from the nut end, and then repeat Steps 3 and 4 to mark the spot.

    This spot is where you put finger 4.

    Marking the spot for finger 1. [Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk]

    Credit: Photograph by Nathan Saliwonchyk
    Marking the spot for finger 1.

If you use tape to mark your fingerboard guides, cut a length of tape that is long enough for the ends to meet when you stick the tape across the fingerboard and around the violin’s neck. In other words, the tape’s length should slightly exceed the circumference of the violin’s neck. (Connecting the two ends of the tape makes the fingerboard guide more stable and less likely to slip around as you play.)

To attach the tape, put your violin safely on a table. Starting under the strings and near the bridge, slip the tape, sticky side facing down toward the fingerboard, between the strings and the fingerboard, sliding it toward your pencil mark and then pressing it down when it is properly aligned. Make sure the tape goes straight across the fingerboard, no diagonals.

Notice that there are no instructions telling you to put on a marker for finger 2, but with good reason. Finger 2 is quite the party animal, spending some time nestled close to finger 3 and then going close to finger 1 for other notes. So finger 2 doesn’t get its own marker.

The guides don’t have to stay on your fingerboard for longer than you need them; three to six months is probably long enough. Later on, you may want to use the occasional guide to target a tricky new note. You can place guides on the fingerboard as you need them, for as long as you need them. Luckily, the stick‐on dots come in large packets, with plenty left over for occasional use. You may even get your office organized while learning to play the violin!

If glue from the stick‐on dot or tape stays on the fingerboard after you’ve removed your fingerboard guides, just take a dry or very slightly dampened facecloth and carefully rub the residual glue from the fingerboard — it comes off easily.