Trying Out the Violin

Bob Kreutz walks you through the violin! He shows you the proper way to hold the instrument and bow and just how easy it will be to play a familiar tune (with some practice!).

Equipment Considerations:
All string instruments are sized to the player, and violin is no exception. In general, students entering the sixth grade will begin on a 3/4 sized violin, but some students who have experienced an early growth spurt will start on a 4/4 or full sized violin. An improperly sized instrument will be frustrating for the player and inhibit their musical development. Their teacher or your local music store will be able to offer guidance on what sized instrument is appropriate, so utilize these resources.

Accessory Considerations:
Shoulder Rest! All violins will require a shoulder rest (or for the smallest fractionally sized instruments a sponge). This is crucial for learning proper posture and technique in holding the instrument. If you are renting your instrument, this is typically an additional one-time purchase (not included with your rental) but is an essential accessory.

Rosin! Rosin is typically provided with the rental of an instrument, though upgraded brands are always available for purchase. This sticky substance is petrified tree sap and is applied to the hair of the bow to create friction between the bow hair and the strings. This causes the strings to vibrate, creating sound. No vibration, no sound, so rosin is quite important! Rosin will eventually be depleted through normal use and will need to be replaced.

Tuner! Violins go out of tune through no fault of the player and must be tuned every time they are played. The best way for a beginner to learn this necessary skill is using an electronic tuner. There are many brands and options of tuners, but by fare the most popular are ones that can clip on to the scroll or the bridge of the violin. They provide an instant readout for the student so they can quickly and correctly tune their instrument. This item is a one-time purchase typically not included with an instrument rental.

Strings! Strings are the lifeblood of the violin. There are many brands and varieties of strings from steel core to synthetic core to gut (yes, really!) strings. Student level instruments will almost always come with steel core strings due to their relatively inexpensive cost and durability. Having said that, all strings eventually break or wear out, so while these should be considered fairly durable, they are an ongoing expense. Strings are sized to the instrument, so make sure you are purchasing the correct ones for your violin. Some teachers will recommend always having a full replacement set on hand in case one needs to be replaced, so check with your teacher for clarification.

Maintenance Considerations:
Violins are made of wood, an organic material, and are therefore affected by atmospheric conditions (temperature and humidity, specifically). Extreme highs or lows of either of these can be damaging to your instrument. What will typically happen is that the violin will crack or a seam (or multiple seams) will come apart. All of this is fixable by a professional repair technician or luthier. The tools and glue used are very specific so not only are home repairs strongly not recommended, they can possibly damage the instrument beyond repair.
Violin bows are almost always strung with horsehair, which will eventually need to be replaced. How often depends on the level of use, with top level professionally having their bows rehaired several times a year. Beginners should not need this done often at all, but if you think your bow might need new hair consult with your teacher or local music store for guidance.

Financial Considerations:
Given the sizing considerations inherent to string instruments, it is strongly recommended to rent or rent-to-own any string instrument until the player is large enough for a full-sized instrument. This will assure you have not purchased an instrument that will eventually become obsolete. The good news is that violins tend to be one of the most affordable instruments to rent, so the out of pocket expense will be as minimal as possible while your player grows.
Step up and professional instruments and bows can (and will) start in the low thousands and rapidly increase from there to purchase new, so if violin is an anticipated life-long pursuit this long-term expense must be taken into consideration.

Fun Facts:
The violin was considered the leader if the orchestra before conductors were asked to do the job.
The violin and the fiddle are two names for the same instrument. The violin is considered an orchestral instrument while the fiddle is more associated with bluegrass or folk music. The only difference between a violin and a fiddle is attitude!