After deciding that your child will begin violin lessons, the first thing you must look for is an instrument that your child can play. Parents quickly find out how much choice there is with violin sizes and it can be difficult to know where to turn for good information. Below I’ve shared my thoughts on some of the most common questions for parents of beginning violin students. There are follow-up questions for parents whose children have been learning for a while, and might be ready to change sizes.
Why do violins come in different sizes?
Violins are played by people of all ages. They are made in different sizes so that even a small child can find a model that he or she can hold and play comfortably.
How many different sizes of violin are there?
Violins come in 8 main sizes. The size corresponds to the length of the body of the violin (not including the neck and scroll). The smallest common size is 1/16 (just 9 inches or 23 cm), and the sizes work their way up through 1/10, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 7/8 and finally 4/4 or full size (about 14 inches or 36 cm).
How do I know if a violin fits?
Generally speaking, you know if a violin fits if you can reach the notes comfortably with your left hand when holding up the violin.
Do small adults use a 7/8 or a full-size violin?
Most adults (and many children from around age 10+) will require a full-size violin. It depends on the length of your arm and what you feel you can hold comfortably. When holding up a violin, it should not feel too heavy and it should be possible to grip the top of the fingerboard with your hand, while still bending your arm easily at the elbow. If an adult feels more comfortable doing this on a 7/8, then it’s fine for them to play a violin of this size.
What size violin should I buy for my 5 year old?
Similar to buying shoes, there is no easy rule about children’s ages and violin sizes, it’s best to measure to get the correct size for each child.
How do I measure my child for a violin?
Have your child stand up straight and hold out their arm with their palm facing upwards. Measure from the left side of their neck to their wrist. Check the length in cm or inches against the table below:
Measuring to the wrist is a method favoured by Suzuki teachers and will normally give a slightly smaller size than when measuring to the middle of the palm, another method. Therefore it may be ok to choose the bigger size here, if your child’s wrist measurement comes very close to the next size up.
|Violin Size||Length neck to wrist|
|1/16||33.5 cm or less, 13 ¼ inches|
|1/10||36 cm, 14 ¼ inches|
|1/8||38.5 cm, 15 ¼ inches|
|1/4||44 cm,17 ¼ inches|
|1/2||48.5 cm,19 inches|
|3/4||52 cm, 20 ½ inches|
|4/4||54 cm, 21 ¼ inches|
Why is it important to choose the correct size?
A violin that is too big will be heavy for a child to hold. Playing a heavy violin will make their arms tired and sore and may also hurt their neck and eventually their back. Also if they have trouble reaching the notes it will be very difficult to play in tune. Aside from the discomfort, none of this will be good for their motivation to play music!
Violin Books for beginners
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What happens if my child is growing quickly?
Of course a parent will want the best possible value out of a musical instrument. If your child is growing quickly and you are worried that a new violin may only last a few months, then it may be a good idea to rent for a while. This could be cheaper than buying several violins in quick succession. Or, if you talk it over with your child’s teacher, it may be ok for your child to continue playing on their own violin, then when they are ready, skip to the next size up (i.e. go directly from 1/2 size to 4/4 etc.).
Is it ok to skip a size?
It usually works fine. The potential difficulty is in adapting to a much bigger instrument. I’ve known many children who have skipped sizes and it’s always been ok. If your child is able to play the fourth finger notes in tune then they will be fine with the new size. Best to discuss this with your child’s teacher as they can give individual advice.
If I buy a bigger violin will I also need a new bow and case?
Yes. Violins, bows and cases come in matching sizes, so if your child is playing on a half size violin, they will need a half size bow and half size case. Many student violins come as an outfit. This means that a violin, matching bow and case are all included in the price. Often, higher quality instruments are priced as instrument only, so a bow and case will not be included in the price and will have to be bought separately. Some stores will offer a discount if you buy violin, bow and case together. It’s always worth asking!
And what about my shoulder rest?
Shoulder rests also come in a selection of sizes, but a shoulder rest will often accommodate two different sizes of violin. Best to check with your teacher to see if you’ll need a new shoulder rest or not.
When is a good time to move to a bigger size?
Children tend to adapt quickly to a bigger size of instrument, so I usually advise just to go ahead with a bigger violin whenever your child is ready. If possible, it’s best to allow a few weeks to get used to the bigger size before playing in a concert or exam. Occasionally, a teacher may hold back a child from moving up a size for a couple of months to develop their bow technique and make their arm just a bit stronger before the jump up. So consultation with the teacher here is always good.
Is it ok to change sizes in the middle of a term?
It’s ok to change in the middle of a term as long as your child is ready and motivated to use a bigger size violin. A new instrument will often provide a child with new motivation and a bigger violin will usually also sound much better. Try to leave as much time as possible to get used to the new instrument before they have to play in a concert or exam.
My child’s teacher says the violin we are renting is now too small. What do I do?
Just phone or call in to the rental shop and explain that you need a bigger size. It usually means simply swapping the present violin for a bigger one. The new violin may be in a higher price band, either because of its size, or it may be better quality than the one you have been renting. Rental shops may only allow upgrades at the end of each term. This is normal and your child will manage fine to play on their current violin for an extra few weeks. Check with the hire shop about their upgrade policy.
Should I buy a better quality violin when I need a bigger size?
I advise to buy for the level of instrument that your child needs, rather than buying a certain level of instrument for a given size or age of child. For example, if you are looking for a new violin for your 9 year old who has been playing for a few years, it’s likely because they are making good progress and are keen to continue with music lessons. In that case I would advise upgrading your child’s instrument. The 9 year old who is working towards grade 3 exam will need a better instrument than another 9 year old who is just starting violin lessons for the first time.
Do violins come in different colours?
In addition to the traditional natural wood finish, many music shops supply violins in fun colours too. The stylish colours attract attention before a single note has been played. Plus, if your child is able to choose their favourite colour, it may inspire them to practice more. If you’re looking for a coloured violin, here are some we’ve found at Gear4Music, an online music shop and Amazon. Click any picture to view more violins in that colour:
Rhoda Barfoot is a violinist and experienced strings teacher and is Director of The Strings Family (stringed instruments and accessories online). Think of Rhoda as your personal shopper for the stringed instruments world! If you have a question about stringed instruments or music study, Just Ask Rhoda at thestringsfamily.eu/ask-rhoda.