So you’ve decided to take up the violin (good choice) or your child has asked to start learning at school and needs their own instrument and you don’t know where to start. Luckily here at Promenade Music we’ve got experts on hand to assist you in finding the right instrument for you and your budget.

Sizes

One of the first things to consider is the size of the instrument. Having the right sized instrument is important if you (or your child) are to succeed in playing it.

Violins come in six main sizes. The size corresponds to the length of the body of the violin (not including the neck and scroll). The smallest is 1/16, and the sizes work their way up through 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and finally 4/4 or full size. Most all adults use a full size violin.

To measure what size violin best suits you, you need to know the length between your neck and the middle of your left-hand palm or left wrist.  This is measured when your hand is fully extended and raised perpendicular to your body, just like holding a violin.

As a rough guide, the following sized instruments are suitable for certain age groups, but it is always advised to get a measurement or come and try holding the instruments.

1/4 Size – 5-7 year olds

1/2 Size – 7-9 year olds

3/4 Size – 9-12 year olds

4/4 Size – 12 – adult

Cheap vs Second Hand vs New

Something we get asked a lot is have we got any cheap violins in stock. While there are many different answers to this question, the general response is no. A cheap instrument is always going to be harder to play, not sound as great and usually not set up as well as a good second hand or new violin.

If you’re a parent reading this and are concerned about having to buy a new violin every couple of years, don’t panic. We offer a part exchange service* where you can trade in a smaller model for the next size up.

*This is subject to the manufacturer and condition of the instrument.

If your budget is something that you’re worried about, then we have a range of quality second hand violins that won’t break the bank. A well cared for second hand student violin could be as good if not better than the new equivalent. The tone woods will have matured and often you’ll find that the violin has been fitted with better strings than original.

Older used violins often produce a more mellow tone than the modern violin. Some of this is due to the aging of the tone woods and some is due to the modern trend of making louder instruments.

However, there is nothing quite like getting a brand new violin, the shine and the smell of the new varnish every time you open the case and tuck it under your chin is a pleasure that lasts for quite a while. Even more importantly it will be nice to play and respond to your every change of bow stroke.

A good new violin should improve with age, the wood, even though well seasoned, will dry even more and subtle changes to the varnish as it ages will often improve the tone of a violin. There’s also this mysterious fact that many violinists talk of, “A violin gets better the more you play it”. For some reason violins bed down over a period of time. It’s especially noticeable when you change strings, a couple of weeks of playing can often transform a set of new strings.

A new violin should last a lifetime if is well looked after, you shouldn’t have to worry about any repairs coming undone and old cracks re-appearing. it’s a fantastic investment, no other purchase has the potential to give you so much enjoyment.

Accessories

There are many accessories required to not only play the violin, but to care for it as well.

Bow

Before you start your quest for a bow, there are a few things you should know about the selection process.

Types of Materials

The three basic materials used in bow sticks are brazilwood, pernambuco, and carbon fibre.

Brazilwood is a generic name given to several kinds of tropical hardwoods used for inexpensive bows.

Since the late 18th century, pernambuco has been the wood of choice for the best bows. It’s a dense, heavy wood that seems to possess just the right combination of strength, elasticity, and responsiveness.

Due to environmental degradation, pernambuco is now scarce, and as a result, the government of Brazil has put severe restrictions on the export of this wood, making it rare and expensive. Within the last 20 years, carbon fibre bows have become popular, in part because of the shortage of pernambuco. Carbon fibre bows – manufactured from various grades of carbon fibre bonded with a resin – possess many of the qualities of pernambuco. Carbon fibre is also durable, and at its price range represents a good value.

Sound

Inexperienced players are often surprised at how different bows can create different sounds on their instruments. These differences are subtle and can be clearly heard by the player under the ear, but can sometimes be heard by the audience as well.

Weight and Balance

The average weight of a violin bow is about 60 grams. Many bows by the great makers of the past weigh as little as 54 grams and yet play beautifully. On the other hand, a 66- or 68-gram violin bow would be too heavy for almost anyone. Proper balance is far more important than weight. A bow should feel natural in the hand – well balanced from tip to frog with equal weight throughout.

If a bow feels right in your hand, it probably is right.

Rosin

Rosin is a solid form of resin that’s obtained from pines and other conifers. Produced by heating fresh liquid resin to vaporize its volatile components, it’s semi-transparent in nature and varies in color from yellow to black.

Rosin helps create friction between the bow hair and strings. Essentially, rosin helps the bow grip the strings and produce sound. Usually applied to the instrument before playing, rosin comes in many different forms, ranging from powder to blocks or cakes of solid rosin.

Shoulder Rest

Sometimes confused with the chinrest by beginners, a shoulder rest is simply a support or cushion attached to the underside of the instrument and removed after playing, whereas a chinrest is sold as part of the instrument, attached to the top of the violin where the player’s jaw rests.

Shoulder rests come in a great variety of shapes and sizes. Because every player’s body and style of playing is different, trying a few shoulder rests to see what works best for you is always a good idea.

Case

If you’re looking at transporting your instrument from home to practice or school then a case is essential. It is also important that you have the right case for your instrument so that it is snug inside the padding – You don’t want your violin loose in the case as this will result in it getting damaged.

The majority of student violins that we stock come as full outfits which includes the case, bow and instrument.

Hopefully we’ve given you some food for thought and you now know what you should be thinking about when choosing a violin. If you have any questions, let me know (I’m in most days, with the exception of Thursdays).