What is so FANTASTIC about our violin finger guides?
What is so FANTASTIC about our violin finger guides?
I have learned from teaching middle school orchestra for the past 12 years that the best way to improve student learning is to improve the teaching system.
I wondered if there was a better way to teach than with finger tapes. I realized through my own experience that finger tapes don't provide any actual musical information to help the student grow musically smarter and are overall a very abstract teaching tool for helping students gain confidence in learning the notes on the fingerboard.
I was concerned that by using finger tapes, my students were labeling the sound only by its physical location and not coding the actual musical language. At one point I used different color tapes for different locations: 1st finger was red, 2nd finger was white, and the 3rd finger was blue.
After a year of playing with color coded tapes, many of my students using this system were coding the locations as 1st finger on the red tape on the A string, but not coding the letter name "B" nor acquiring the musical language necessary for more advanced playing. By the time these students reached the 7th grade, many had deficiencies in understanding their fingerboard in terms of a musical alphabet. This slowed down their growth as the music became more complicated and we started changing keys.
After years of using finger tapes I had a breakthrough in the Fall of 2017:
Why don't we just put the letter names on the instrument?
If we want our students to have their primary coding be more musical we should put better information on the fingerboard itself.
I ended up creating the Fantastic Finger Guides to solve this problem for my students. I created the D Major Beginner Guide for my first-year students and the All Notes Guide for my second-year students. When students are beginning to learn the violin, less is better thus the rationale for a more simplified finger guide.
Let's dig deeper and take a look at what makes for a great finger guide.
What makes for a great finger guide?
As part of the process of inventing the Fantastic Finger Guides, I spent 2 years perfecting the design with these key goals in mind:
- Easy to install
- Highly durable during hours of practice
- Does not leave a sticky residue on the instrument upon removal
- Looks good on the instrument. I actually teamed up with an interior designer to select colors that would compliment the wood tones of the violin.
The hard work paid off. In the end I succeeded with all of the above, tested the invention in my classroom with great success and I am now sharing the invention all over the world to help beginning violin students more easily learn to play.
Now let’s look at both the D Major Beginner Guide and the All Notes Guide for Beginners/Intermediate Guide in more detail as a music note learning aid. Both guides were designed with the beginner in mind with the intent of streamlining the music learning process.
- Finger numbers trainer on side of neck - All of my beginners start in guitar position per similar instruction found in most beginning method books. On day one students are given a road map on the side of the neck as to where 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th fingers go.
- One scale concept (less is better) - The beginner only needs one scale to get started. There are hundreds of songs that can be learned with just one scale.
- Easy to read and communicate note location through shapes
- Triangles = open strings
- Squares = notes with fingers down
With the Fantastic Finger Guides on my students’ instruments we are able to spend more time on bow technique, posture, setup, and learning more songs. Students practice more confidently at home and take more ownership of their music learning in the classroom.
What about students learning with the Suzuki Method? Did you design a finger guide for them?
Yes for sure. I love the Suzuki Method. The A Major Beginner Guide works well with this method. The first 9 songs in book 1 are on the A and & E string and the finger guide supports the student as they are getting started and learning their first songs.
I designed the All Notes Guide after finding success teaching with the D Major Beginner Guide. I was determined to create a content rich learning tool that would streamline the process of learning musical concepts like sharps/flats, whole steps & half steps and playing in different keys with more ease than with finger tapes.
Here is what I came up with:
- Shapes to represent notes
- Triangles = Open Strings
- Squares = Natural Notes
- Dots = Sharps and Flats
- Sharp/flat directional indicator on side of neck
- Students simply use the side of the instrument to know which direction to go in reference to the natural notes for a sharp and flat note.
- Note locations that match the way violin is taught
- Low 2 -C natural on the A string is closer to the B
- Regular 2 - C# on the A string is closer to the D
- High 3- D# is closer to the 4th finger E
- Position Roman Numerals
- On the other side of the neck are the playing positions. This empowers students to start the process of moving beyond first position earlier on.
Do the Fantastic Finger Guides work?
One of the most debated subjects among violin teachers is whether or not to put a visual teaching aid on the beginner instrument. The opinions are vast and I actually don't have an answer for others that teach or students that are learning to play the violin. I have found success using the Fantastic Finger Guides over finger tapes in my own classroom with my students. I do believe the FFG are the most thought out finger guide available and worth taking for a test drive to truly find out if they are FANTASTIC.
Have a musical day! Toby Weston -Inventor of the Fantastic Finger Guides
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