What is my Violin Size and where do I get them? – Even Adults should read this! 

In my last blog post on selecting a violin, I did not cover this. Yes it is definitely important when choosing a violin to be able to get a sizable violin that fits you well.  Just like getting the right glove to fit your hand when playing a sport like golf, you most certainly will not want it to fly off together with your swing!
1st method:

 

Violins come in sizes from 1/16 to 4/4 and have fixed standard measurements. The most obvious way in determining what size is for you would be to measure your arm length from your shoulder (start at the neck area end at middle of palm) to check that the size is correct. Most good music stores would be able to size you correctly with this method as there is a fixed chart for this.

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ViolinMeaurements

2nd method:

A) Estimate the size visually and using an actual violin to measure

This is the method that I favor more. I would pick out a violin that is an estimate size proportionate to the student, then let the student hold the violin in a posture like they were to play it. However, extending their arm to the end of the violin with their fingers and hand palm encircling the violin scroll. It is important at this time to make sure that their elbow is not in any angle and their arm is stretched out straight all the way. If there is an angle at the elbow while wrapping their hand around the scroll, the violin is most likely too small for them and if they are finding themselves stretching out with difficulty to grasp the scroll then the violin may be too large for them. I personally use this method and not the first measuring method as every individual has a different physique and would be best to see how they take the the instrument size visually instead of just using a ruler.

This would be a tip to all violin teachers out there to invest in getting the various violin sizes like I did so that the student will always have a correct sized violin to use at all times (and of course matching shoulder rests). I actually recently sent my daughter for her ballet class without her shoes, I was thinking it is probably a similar situation here 😄 when the kids show up without their violins which happen more often than you think!

B) Check finger posture playing at first position – is it alright to buy a violin that is slightly a larger size for the child to grow into?

It is important to also check that your four fingers can reach all notes COMFORTABLY in the first position. And that the pinky does not have to stretch unnecessarily. Just like shoes, you will not want to buy a size too large for your kids that it is likely they might fall down wearing them, it is better to buy a violin at a suitable size for the child to use comfortably and to be able to learn well without the added frustration to deal with a badly sized instrument. If one is using a violin too small, it will also be frustrating as the bow may seem too short and the finger positions and elbow positions are undermined and incorrect so it is also important to upgrade the size in a timely manner.

How about getting a bow at 3/4 size and violin at 4/4 size?

My answer is not to mismatch sizes.  Do not buy a violin and bow of a different size. I have encountered more than a few students whose teachers have given such advice. The violin and bow should be the same size as that is what it is intended to be. Using a shorter bow does not give a “baroque effect” as a baroque bow in construction and shape is different. If your arms are shorter than average, then there are ways to deal with this without resorting to get a different sized bow. One way would be to use less of the tip of the bow and just the parts you can reach – do not bow further if your bow stops moving in a straight line and starts to curve inwards towards you.  (To check this you could look In a mirror) Or you could swing gradually your violin towards the front while bowing downwards to reach the tip of the violin bow.

Violin sizes for Adults

Lastly a word for adult beginners, the size for an adult is always a full size 4/4 violin unless you are particularly petite than you would use a 7/8 instrument. (Most kids at the age of 12 are using a full sized violins) Do take note that using a 7/8 instrument limits your purchase as most good violins come in full size and the selection for 7/8 is much less. For this I would recommend if you have a budget to get a violin made in the 18th century as they tend to somewhat be slightly smaller in size. Or choose a violin with a thinner fingerboard (width) if you have small hands.  Some French made violins have a thinner fingerboard which may give an advantage to someone with small hands) Whatever the case, I would highly recommend going to a large violin shop with a big selection and if you can, you could try the good ones like Bromptons violins or Tarisio where they have an excellent selection of instruments ready for purchase or by auction (so it could be a good deal). They also have valuations on most of them and appraisement certificates which certainly helps with certainty of investment. Not mentioning a very large price range to their violins and bows and even some rare beautiful cases. If you were to consider a more inexpensive violin in the 1000-2000 range, Belcanto Violins does occasionally carry stock of 7:8 size Violins.

Do like this and like and comment on my Facebook Page “Belcanto Violins” and let me know what other violin related topics you would like me to write about! Thank you for reading 😃.

Guide to Choosing and Selecting a Violin (for the first time)


Before even learning the violin, you may want to purchase one to try out yourself. These days with online violin tutorials (like mine) you will be able to learn a far bit without formal lessons.

Here is some advice I can give in selecting a new or second hand violin.

1. PRICE

This is always important as violins can start at $100USD new and into the millions. So it is important to set a budget for yourself. Obviously, the higher the budget the more options you would have. On the other hand, the higher the price does not mean the better the violin. For example, if you are at an auction house, a $15,000 violin bow could sound out just as good as a $5000 violin bow due to its history and maker.  Most importantly, it’s best to set yourself a budget that you would like to spend on your new found hobby without burning a hole in your pocket.

2. APPEARANCE

Colour and lines 

I’m not trying to be superficial, but it is important that you like the way your violin looks. There are many shades of varnish your violin could be in, some skew to being more reddish, some brown, dark brown or even orange. The varnish colour does not affect the sound at all but if you are a first timer on this instrument you may want to choose something pleasing to your eyes. (since it will be sometime before you will be able to play something pleasing to your ears 😊)

On violins for a more advanced student, there are also natural wood lines (like a tiger back) some are closer together and thinner and some are broader and further apart. This is a matter of taste and completely subjective to each individual.

Cracks

Important factors while checking the appearance besides the shade of wood you would like your violin to be, would be to check for cracks. If there are minor and superficial chips and flaws it may be acceptable, while major cracks may be expensive to repair.

Fingerboard and f Holes (sound holes)

Next, check if the fingerboard is straight and glued on well and if you are getting a second hand violin, make sure that the fingerboard is not too worn out, when you move your hand up and down the board there shouldn’t be too many grooves and crevices along it and should be smooth. Make sure that the f holes are symmetrical on the same level. You could use a ruler at this time to assist you in case of a parallax error.

Bridge

And how is the level of the bridge? Too high or too low as this will affect the sound. Note that the bridge of the violin is not glued onto the violin and if you are at a specialist violin shop, you could ask them to carve it to a suitable level. To deduce this, simply bow on the 4 strings to check for buzzing sounds which may be an indication that the bridge may be too low and is vibrating against the fingerboard. If you have some prior skill and are able to press onto the strings you could test the height of the strings by pressing on them. If on the higher registers there is too much resistance, then the bridge may be too high.  An unsuitable bridge level is the most common problem that I encounter with my students’ violins

Pegs and Fine Tuners

Move the pegs gently clockwise and anti clockwise. If you can move them in a way that they are smooth and the strings can hold its tune, then the pegs will not require any peg soap for lubricating them or chalk to make them have more resistance to stay put. Make sure of this before you purchase your new or second hand instrument as tuning is very important to learn the violin well and correctly.

As for fine tuners, most Professionals only have at most two fine tuners on their violins as the fine tuners do affect the sound of the instrument. At a beginner level, I would recommend to use a tailpiece with inbuilt fine tuners, especially more so for students with smaller instruments half size and below as tuning the instrument will be easier and less frustrating on the long run.  Do also make sure you move the fine tuners clockwise and anticlockwise to test that they work fine and do not require oiling or a change.

3. Sound

Now that you have established that the violin is something you like to see and proud of to display, you will need to test the sound which is equally if not more important. A violin’s sound does differ in different players’ hands so it is best even though you may have no experience in playing the instrument to try it out yourself (or for your child). Violins the same price at a shop will differ in sound so choose the one which you like most and feel most at ease at playing.  If absolutely you cannot play the violin, get someone to demonstrate it for you. Never buy an instrument without testing the sound unless you are getting it solely for collection purposes.

4. Chinrest

There are so many types of chinrests and as our physiques differ, do find one that is most comfortable for you. I highly recommend the German made Wittner range as they are made of a high quality hypoallergenic plastic that does not abrade your neck as much as the traditional ones with the wood. Make sure that the angle of the chinrests is comfortable and suitable for you individually. Do make sure that you test out the chinrest of the violin with a suitable should rest that you are comfortable in.

5. Bow

The more advanced violins may not come with a bow as this is a separate art completely. Someone who makes the violin is called a Luthier while someone who makes the bow is called an Archetier. However, if your violin comes with a bow. Make sure that it is straight. You can put it on a table and see if it is level. Make sure too that the horse hairs are sufficient and clean. On cheaper bows, it is not cost effective to change the hairs and would be actually cheaper to buy a new bow than to rehair. Do note not to touch the hairs of the bow as human oils from our fingers will affect the way rosin sticks onto the bow and is an irreversible effect.

In conclusion, I would strongly recommend to borrow a violin for the first months if possible before purchasing an instrument as you would be able to come to a better idea and impression as to what you would be looking for in a violin once you have a better sense of how to hold the instrument and master basic straight bow strokes. But if you are fine with starting out with your own violin, do follow this guide and I hope it has been helpful in selecting your new musical partner!

Practising Bach’s Partitas and Sonatas for Solo Violin

This work from Johann Sebastian Bach is a staple for every violinist.  I have been playing and learning these pieces since I can remember.

Even though most of the music is composed only in the first position, it is ever so challenging with the half position changes and use of second and even fourth positions. It has to be also stylistic sound meaning that Bach hardly wrote any expression to it. So one can have a wider room for interpretation.

Unlike many other conventional pieces where identifying a theme and phrase after another would be more obvious due to the changing rhythms in the composition, in Bach’s composition like many other Barouque Era pieces have more or less the same rhythm throughout with little rests in between. Here is the Fugue from the second Sonata in A minor that I am currently working on to see what I mean about this:

The phrases occur in almost repetition and you can play each phrase with a different zest and feel but of course not too much so that the piece does not sound comical but tasteful.

The preceding Grave (alike to the First sonata in G minor-Adagio) had its different challenges with the semiquavers and  demisemiquavers (16th and 32nd notes), every beat had to be calculated in an ever so precise manner to add up to the 4/4 timing, not too late or early.  I don’t find such similar type of practise in other genre of violin Repertoire.

I love in these pieces, that there is so much room for interpretation.  They are like Bible verses where they can be digested again and again always in a different angle to be explored.

The quality of it being a solo violin performance without any accompaniment is that not only being rhythmically precise, the phrasing and intonation has to be also ever so precise. On the whole, I have certainly improved much of my playing in harmonic intervals (double, triple and quadruple stops) because of practising these. I feel like whenever I practise, I’m like a conductor, conducting a choir (being in alto section in church choir at a young age has given me an advantage to be sensitive to this), always listening to the precision of the weight of notes and that they sound accurately in tune and controlling my speed of the bow to execute the exact sound that I want to achieve for every note. -the polyphonic texture certainly does come alive!

I love it! And if I could, I could go on for hours practising Bach. 🙂

A tip on practise would be to conquer Bach in short phrases or sections. In every piece of this work, be really disciplined not to move on to the next section till it is really 120 per cent precisely executed. As you would find sections thereafter easier and easier to play.

SISIVC 2016 winners are out 

In 1st place 

Mayu Kishima giving a heartfelt and authorative renditon of the Butterfly Lover’s Concerto

In 2nd place

Sergei Dogadin giving his crisp and powerful performance of Paganini’s Caprice 20 & 21

In 3rd place 

Taiwanese violinist Sirena Huang giving a delicate performance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.5 in G major

I was actually disappointed that Sirena Huang only came in at 3rd place as I’m a big fan of her flawless and effortless technique on the violin. But it was Mayu Kishima who brought the house down with consistently sensitive and heartfelt renditions of the various pieces showcased, it was without a doubt her turn to shine.