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There are a number of ways of determining the correct size of violin or viola for the player:
• Stretch the left arm under the instrument, and have the player wrap their fingers around the scroll. If the elbow is slightly bent but not too bent or too straight, it fits.
• Stretch the left arm straight out under the instrument, and under the scroll, and if the instrument's scroll ends flush with the pulse, it is just right.
Most shops which sell instruments, and many violin teachers, have the Vio-meter (pictured, below). You can go into the shop and have them measure the player, or if you need to do this frequently, you can purchase a Vio-meter ($20 + $5.00 shipping). Please
contact us if you would like to purchase this item.
Talk to your private teacher before you buy an instrument. If your teacher has experience teaching in your city, they will very likely know the quality of the instruments available through music stores and luthier shops, and the best places to rent or purchase.
Someone will need to help you determine what size is appropriate for your student. Violins, for example, come in 1/16, 1/10, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 7/8 and then the full size, 4/4. Music stores do not always do a good job of this. Some teachers enjoy polishing instruments, rosining the bows, and noticing when the next size is appropriate, but others are less effective.
In order to study a stringed instrument effectively, you need to have a good, long-term relationship with a teacher, a luthier, and a music store. Children will outgrow a series of instruments and if you have no ongoing relationship with a reliable person or shop, you will entail more expense in the long run, than you should.
Don't let family members, however well meaning, make purchases of instruments without some input from a professional person. You don't want to be stuck paying $400 for a used, torn-up rental that is not only not worth $400 as is, but is actually worth far less, and will not bring in much as a trade-in, as well as being unpleasant and difficult to play.
Some instruments on EBay or for $75 at Target, may appear to be bargains, but it is often the case that they need so much additional setup work, that they are not the bargains they appear, and will not be pleasant to play. One of my students had the one from Target: the bow was unusable, and the case and the instrument were cheap and did not and could not be made to sound well.
When the FAQ was originally conceived, my recommendation was to rent a violin at first, in order to determine if the child would remain interested. However, based on experiences with my own private students and given the favorable economic climate between the US and China regarding Chinese instruments, many of which are fine instruments and quite good quality at exceedingly reasonable prices, my views have changed. You should not consider spending less than $300.00 for a decent violin "outfit" (viola, cello and bass are consecutively higher, since they're larger instruments); it is more economically sound to just purchase such an instrument. If you work with a teacher the instrument can be sold when the child outgrows it, or traded in for a better and larger instrument. I think, now, that this is the way to go. It's simply that if you can purchase an instrument outright for the price of a few months rental, it's more sensible to purchase it. [Please see our
Peccard Student Violin Outfit and our trade-in policy.]
The contributing factor in the change of my views is the quality of these instruments. Certainly there are still shoddy instruments, but there seem to be a lot of very nice instruments coming from China nowadays, which are beautiful to look at, play well, have no problems, come with a very attractive case and bow (also with no problems) and at reasonable prices. The bows come furnished with real horsehair; this once-dear stuff has now become so reasonably priced that one can hardly find synthetic hair any more.
NOTE: The advanced player, who is no doubt under the tutelage of an experienced teacher, doesn't need my help—aside from perhaps the admonition to play a lot of instruments in combination with bows, and find what pleases you the best, paying less attention to the price and more to the sound. Fine instruments are a major investment and many professional players spend decades paying off the instrument, acquiring it through a loan from a local musicians union or bank. Many players enjoy instruments given to them as gifts because of their exceptional abilities, but most players buy them or borrow them. As orchestras are ranked, in the top tiers the string professionals require instruments starting in the $30-$60K range.
People often write me about instruments with Stradivarius labels, violins which have turned up in an attic, closet, cupboard, or garage sale. The "Stradivarius" label often has a tiny copie de above the word Stradivarius, which means a copy of a Stradivarius, or an instrument built on that model. If repaired, these instruments may be good student instruments, but unfortunately, they're seldom or never valuable. What must be done in every case is to locate a professional repair person who can do an adequate appraisal.
A set of strings costs anywhere from $20-$50 or more; there are three basic kinds: gut, synthetic, and steel. Strings should be changed at least once a year. Players who play a great deal, every six months. See: Strings
Rehair your bow every 6-18 months (the more you play, the more often you change).
Always use BOTH hands to put the bow into the case and secure it before you close the cover. Damage to bows most often occurs due to closing the case on the bow. CRUNCH.
NEVER use anything on an instrument which was not specifically designed for the violin; no Elmer's glue, furniture polish, or anything of that sort. (NEVER do repairs yourself, anyway.)
NEVER put any cleaner or lubricant on the neck or fingerboard or the hair of the bow. Use special cleaners or polish VERY carefully; a little goes a long way.
NEVER force a peg that won't turn.
NEVER let someone else pick up your instrument, play it, or care for it.
NEVER leave your instrument in a car; hot or cold temperatures will damage it.
NEVER leave your instrument on the floor. Number one cause of instrument damage; it gets stepped on or run over. No kidding; picture your violin with your foot through it.
Andrew Wu from SHAR wished to add: "Please do not leave your violin while in an open case, especially with the shoulder pad still attached. It is very easy for the case to close and crush the top of the instrument. With winter here it is very important to keep instruments in an environment of 45-50% relative humidity. This will hopefully avoid the need for repairs which could cost in the hundreds. I recommend an evaporative humidifier. Remember not to leave the instrument in the car for any reason; the cold can do just as much damage as the heat."
NEVER comment on another player's ability, good or bad. If you can develop a reputation of never being heard saying anything bad about anyone, it will serve you well. The music world is a very small world.
NEVER criticize another player to a conductor; it's none of your business.
Show respect to players in the front positions, e.g., the concertmaster.
NEVER touch another player's instrument -- don't touch the percussion instruments when you pass by them.
NEVER take yourself too seriously; always leave room for laughter.