Since violins are made in a range of sizes, including very small sizes, it is an appropriate choice for very young musicians.
Young violinists often begin by studying with teachers who teach the Suzuki method. With this method, the young musicians first learn to play by listening and imitating and then later learn to read music. Slightly older students may be able to start to learn to play through school orchestra programs. Adults usually start with private, group or online violin or fiddle lessons.
Violins are used in many types of music, from orchestra music, chamber music and classical solo violin music to fiddle music, bluegrass, Celtic music and even occasionally jazz.
Violinists read music on the treble clef.
Why Play Violin?
Violinists have many types of opportunities to play.
Violin in Orchestras: The typical orchestra has more violins than any other instrument. In fact, orchestras have two violin sections, the First Violins and the Second Violins, since major composers usually wrote two violin parts. First Violins often play the melody part, while Second Violin parts vary, sometimes including the melody or parts of it, as well as harmony and supporting parts. The orchestra’s top violinist, who sits in the “first chair” in the front closest to the conductor and audience, is a type of leader whose duties include leading the tuning of the orchestra before they play.
String Quartets: String quartets are comprised of a First Violin and a Second Violin, as well as a Viola and a Cello.
Violin Solos: A huge amount of music has been written for solo violin, including pieces intended to be played either without accompaniment, or accompanied by an orchestra or piano.
Fiddling: Is a fiddle a violin? Yes, violins are also often used in folk or bluegrass music, where they are called “fiddles”.
Additionally, violins are often used to add descant or harmony lines in many styles of music. They’re even used occasionally in jazz ensembles and rock groups.
How To Buy a Violin
Where To Buy A Violin
Violin buyers have many options. Violins for beginners can be found at both local or online stores that specialize in stringed instruments or at larger retail or online stores that carry a broad range of music and electronic gear.
See “Where To Go To Buy Musical Instruments” for general buying advice on:
- Buying in a Specialty Store vs. “Big Box” Stores
- Buying Online vs. In-Person
- Renting vs. Buying
- Buying Used Instruments
Violins are made in several different sizes to accommodate younger students with smaller fingers. A full-sized violin is 4/4, while the smallest size normally available is 1/16. In between, violins are typically available in 1/10, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 sizes. (Note: These sizes do not indicate literal measurements. That is, a 3/4 size violin is not literally 3/4 the length of a full-sized violin.) At a local store, the salesperson can help you determine the right size. Online stores often have videos and other help resources via website or phone to help with this as well. The best option for giving advice on which size to choose, though, can be your own teacher if you have one.
Violins vary greatly in price, depending on the quality and age of the wood and the skill of the makers. While a very inexpensive instrument may be a tempting buy, trying to learn on a poor quality instrument can be very frustrating for students. In addition to good workmanship, the quality of the sound, of course, is an important factor. It is also very important to have well-fitting tuning pegs that are easy to turn and then hold the string in tune.
Sample Violin Prices:
- Beginner “Outfit”: $250 – 400
- Intermediate: $500 – 1,200
- Advanced: $1,500+
If you are buying your instrument from a specialty music store, inquire about a trade-in policy. When your student is ready for a larger or higher quality instrument, they will often give you a good portion of the original instrument price back when you trade it in.
In addition to the violin itself, a violinist will need a good bow and case, as well as a shoulder rest. A tuner and metronome are also recommended, along with a music stand. Also, a violinist needs a cake or block of rosin to rub on the hair of their bow to enable it to grip the strings and make sound.
Bows can range in cost from approximately $25-100 for a beginner bow, to $400-600 for an intermediate and $750-2500+ for an advanced player. In addition to traditional wooden ones, bows made from synthetic materials, ranging from fiberglass to carbon-fiber, are now available. These durable synthetic bows are a good alternative for younger players. Choice of bows becomes more important as the student advances and develops techniques that produce different sounds. Bows vary in weight and flexibility, allowing for differences in dynamics and tone. By the intermediate level, most players notice differences in bows and start to develop personal preferences.
The violin will need to be tuned every time you play it. Violin strings are, from lowest to highest: G, D, A, E. Start by tuning the “A” string to a tuner, accompanying instrument, such as a piano, or designated instrument in an ensemble (usually the oboe in an orchestra). Then tune the other strings by ear in perfect fifths to that (or continue with a tuner if you are using one).
Violin strings must be replaced every few months. It is wise to have an extra set of strings on hand at all times, as a string will break on occasion.
The “bridge” of the instrument, the part that raises the strings, should be checked and straightened often so that it stays perpendicular to the violin. Occasional inspection and conditioning by a skilled technician is also recommended.
Stringed instruments are very sensitive to temperature changes and extremes. They should be stored with care to avoid very warm or cold temperatures. They should not, for instance, be left in the direct sun, next to a heater or in a warm or cold car or trunk. If they have been outside in colder temperatures, they should be allowed to warm up to room temperature inside the case.
Stringed instruments are also very sensitive to humidity fluctuations and extremes. Storage at humidity levels of 40-60%, or use of a “Dampit” – a device that is soaked in water and than inserted into the instrument to provide humidity – is recommended.
After playing, wipe the instrument carefully with a soft cloth to remove fingerprints and rosin.
The bow also needs good care. Be careful not to leave your bow where it can fall, be knocked down or stepped on. The horsehair on a bow shrinks and stretches with changes of humidity. To avoid damage, loosen it when not in use and then tighten it before playing. The hairs wear and occasionally break with use, so the bow also needs to be re-haired periodically – usually about twice a year.