Last week, our elder son started violin lessons. As you can imagine, we’ve been excited about this for a very long time! We’ve put together a blog on the choices we made for his equipment, hope that it’s useful.
First of all, the violin…
We had so much fun testing out little violins to find the perfect one! The violin we chose is French, made in the J.T.L. workshop around 1900. These violins were very much the student instruments of their day, made to be played by young children and correspondingly solid!
I really liked that it already had lots of generations of wear to the varnish: although we want to him to treat instruments with respect, it’s really important that children aren’t so worried about marking the instrument that it gets in the way of their learning.
Although we picked the violin for its tonal characteristics, ease of playing is probably the more important factor at the very beginning. To this end, we asked our luthier to make a new bridge and to reshape the nut slightly to adjust the string heights. Making sure that these are just right is vital for small fingers: sometimes student violins have very high action and so the child has to press really hard to compensate. Check that the string spacings are equal too: often on student instruments you see that one string is placed much closer to the next than the others, making it hard for the young player to play in tune.
Finally, we made sure that both the adjusters and the pegs worked really well. As a former music teacher, I know exactly how much teaching time is spent trying to tune instruments which don’t work as well as they should!
Antique or new?
We chose an antique instrument because we knew that with some time in the workshop, we’d be able to find one that outplayed the new outfit violins. The violin will be passed onto his younger brother once outgrown and so we were happy to invest a little more in the instrument. Whether new or antique, the most important thing is the ease of playing.
What size of violin should we buy?
We went for a violin on the smaller end of what he could manage to ensure that he is as comfortable as possible.
Having the right size of instrument is absolutely crucial for the child’s comfort and development.
Your child’s teacher will usually be able to advise on the correct size, however if you live locally you are most welcome to make a size check appointment here in the shop.
What chinrest is good for a child’s violin?
Our son’s teacher recommended a central chin rest as this promotes good posture, particularly for young children. We chose a model with as flat a profile as possible to make sure that there was no uncomfortable ridge digging into his jaw.
What shoulder rest is good for a child’s violin?
We have gone straight for a KUN mini shoulder rest as our son is already seven and tall enough to have space for it. A sponge is a very common solution which makes the violin a little more comfortable without adding too much height: your teacher will be able to advise what’s best for your young person.
What strings should we use for a small violin?
When choosing strings for fractional violins, it can be interesting to consider relatively high tension strings which allow the instrument to sound as loud as possible. These also minimise the oscillation that can sometimes occur with small strings when bowed enthusiastically. Choosing to upgrade from the factory strings on student outfit instruments makes a massive difference to the tone.
The bow: carbon fibre or wooden?
Perhaps controversially, we chose a carbon fibre bow for our son. They are slightly lighter than a wooden bow of the same size and have the advantage of not warping. Given the treatment it’s likely to get, all we wanted here was a bow that is straight and works fine.
The only problem with student bows is that they really challenge our eco credentials: it’s much cheaper to buy another than to have the bow rehaired when it needs it. Furthermore, a restorer will usually recommend this route as small student bows aren’t usually constructed in a way that makes a rehair very straightforward.
What violin case should I buy?
Funnily enough, we have a lot of old cases lying around as so didn’t buy one specially! If we were shopping for one, my main requirement would be a large music pocket so that all of the music, notebooks and assorted other items stay neat and don’t get lost on their way home. Having all of this in one place also makes practice much smoother.
I would also look for a case which has plenty of room for accessories and rosin so that they don’t get lost. Shoulder rests can sometimes be quite tricky to fit into a smaller case but are very easily misplaced if they have to be transported separately.
Most cases have space for more than one bow but it’s worth making sure of this: having a spare bow can be very useful in due course.
I’m very interested to try one of the GEWA Bio cases which has growing room for the violin: apparently these fit from ½ size to full size. This seems like a great option for getting good use out of a more expensive case and I’m definitely keen to try one once our son moves up to a half size.
Top tip: we always recommend taking away the keys if the case comes with a set! There’s nothing worse than a child being locked out of their case just before a lesson/ rehearsal…
A final suggestion would be to consider fitting an AirTag to the case. This is quite a personal decision but it would certainly be an option for peace of mind if your child has form for misplacing their possessions!
Other useful accessories
We recommend getting a music stand so that the young player is not bent over to see the music on a surface like the dining table. Having a music stand at the right height with plenty of space around it will allow the child to get into the good habit of playing standing up with good posture. A fold up version is a good option if you don’t have the space to keep one out all the time.
If possible, it’s also great to have access to a full length mirror whilst practising.
How do I tune my child’s violin?
If you are responsible for tuning the instrument and not sure how to go about it, we recommend downloading a good tuning app to help. With very small violins, it’s often useful to tune all the strings to ‘nearly there’ and then repeat the process to get it perfect.