Chinese Proverb

"Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand." - Chinese Proverb.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cello Practice Log #10: Removing frets and thumb marker

Seven months after my first cello lesson (has it been that long?), I've decided it's finally time to take off the thumb tape on the neck and erase 3 out of the 4 penciled-in frets for first position. I removed them last weekend, but decided to leave the 3rd penciled-in fret on the fingerboard as a guide. As you can tell from yesterday's post, I had absolutely no luck with that, so in my frustration I decided to take off ALL of the markings! Yeah, I know not very logical...

Intonation issues without the thumb marker
  • I didn't realize how much I depended on the thumb sticker and am really, really tempted to put it back on!! It's horrible knowing that I can have good intonation by just adding a sticker back on! Ugh...frustrating... I worked really hard to get good intonation using the thumb marker and penciled in frets and now I have to start the process over again. Out of my comfort zone again... 
    • I guess I can't complain - my teacher didn't suggest doing this, I just thought I was ready to start removing the markers. My goal was to have first position down by the end of the year, and since its already October, I'm a little behind!
  • The thumb marker was really helpful because I always knew where I was on the fingerboard and neck, i.e. if I didn't feel that comfortable piece of tape below my thumb, I knew I was off. 
    • Now when I move from the A string to the D string, my thumb moves around which causes my entire hand to move so I become too sharp or flat! I'm going to have to figure out a body indicator or something to know if I'm in the correct place. 
  • hhmmmm... I wonder if it would have been better NOT to have used the thumb marker in the first place... 
    • Does this help the learning process or hinder it? Does it provide a good means for muscle memory or is learning first position without a marker better? Which helps develop intonation faster in the short term versus long term?

A great thumb marker:
  • I tried some different types of thumb markers, but all of them just got greasy and peeled off. However, I've discovered a good way to make a great thumb marker that lasts until you decide to peel it off! 
  • I had painter's tape laying around so I cut a small thin piece and then put Johnson Strings Fingerboard Tape over the painter's tape for the thumb marker. 
    • This way, the fingerboard tape is sticking to the painter's tape and the Fingerboard Tape's metallic top keeps the sweat from making it peel faster.
    • If I put JS Fingerboard Tape directly on the neck, it slides around after awhile because the glue heats up from my body heat and sweaty hands. 
  • Painter's tape also peels off fairly easily and I can stick it back on a few times. It's amazing stuff! I use it to mark off sections in my bow too. 
  • I also like layering the tape on top of each other to get a thicker feel. I normally cut two thin pieces of painters tape and stick them on top of each other, and then layer two JS Fingerboard Tape on top of that. 
  • The black felt thumb marker that comes with the JS Fingerboard Tape package gets really mushy and gooey quickly, and kept peeling off after a couple of days. I also found that the silver fret tape works best. I purchased both colors, but discovered the gold Fingerboard Tape rubs off to show silver underneath so it doesn't look as nice - so might as well get silver, right?

Anyway, hopefully it won't take that long for me to get my intonation back...grrrr..

I won't be doing a video this week (maybe next week) because my playing is really terrible right now! No exaggeration!

My practice log: Working on LOTS of scales to get my intonation back


  1. I've only discovered the existence of thumb markers and fret stickers recently by reading blogs and resources online but have been coping well without the use of them.

    As you've mentioned, it's all down to muscle memory and I've only been playing for 3 months but find that I do find myself at the right spots if I keep my cello at the same level each time I play, ie. when in c major, the first position sits roughly slightly above my chin. I'm unsure if there's an exact science to this method but it seems to work for me!

    ps: I realise I'm a tad late to the party having only recently discovered your blog so I'm sure you've sailed past this particular phase in your cello journey :}

    1. Hey Shi,

      It's funny you should mention that! ;)
      I was doing fairly well learning how to do first position and finally found myself consistently getting notes without the fret markers. I recently started to do shifts and I'm lost again! Lol! :)

      Although I'm still a bit iffy when I have to change chairs...

      Just curious, how did you learn to find the notes without markers? :)

    2. Ooh shifts. I hope to do the other positions soon. Want more pieces to play! :}

      I remember clearly finding the notes by moving up, down and around each string and bowing each note until it sounded right (just as a blind person read braille.). The tuner so happened to be turned on so it further confirmed I was playing the right note!

      Probably an unorthodox method of note finding but there you go :}