How To Choose A Violin

Congratulations! You are about to buy your first violin...

Looking for the right Violin can be exciting, if not a little daunting. As part of our ‘Beginner’s Guide To Learning Violin’ series, this section will help you start your journey by teaching how to pick the right instrument.

How To Choose A Violin

Things you should know before buying your first violin

  • What sort of budget do you have? Remember, as with most things in life; you get what you pay for – so try to have the largest budget you can afford.
  • Who is playing the violin – if the violin is for a young child you may want a different model from one for an adult learner. There are many different sizes of violin. The most common are ¼, ½, ¾ and full size. 
  • Do I want to rent or buy? Renting can be a good option, especially if you are not sure if the beginner will still want to play in a few months’ time. The violin can be a tricky instrument to begin with, so renting allows for flexibility. Renting is a sensible choice for a growing child, enabling you to swap the violin for a larger size when needed. 
  • How high quality does the violin need to be? If you are an adult learner who might wish to play in amateur orchestras and chamber ensembles you might want a fairly high-quality instrument. If the beginner is a child, while quality is important, it may be of greater importance that the violin is sturdy and can withstand visits to school.
  • As well as the violin, you will also need to purchase a bow, a shoulder rest, rosin and a case in which to carry your violin. Often these are offered as part of a set, but you should check before purchasing. You may also like to purchase a set of spare strings. 
How To Choose A Violin
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Types of Violin

The violin is a member of the string instrument family. It is made out of wood and generally has four strings – G, D, A and E. It is played by drawing a bow across the strings or plucking them with your fingers.

There are three types of violin – the traditional acoustic instrument, the electric violin and the fiddle.

It is almost always a good idea to begin on an acoustic violin. However, we have explained the differences between the three types of instrument below:

Traditional violin

The violin as we know it today is first recorded in northern Italy in the 16th century. It quickly became popular with both the nobility and with street musicians, with instruments becoming available across Europe. Today instruments made by Italian makers, such as Antonio Stradivari, are still seen as the finest instruments in the world.

  • A violin has four strings: G (the lowest), D, A and E (the highest).
  • Violins are made from wood.
  • They are hollow instruments.
  • The strings of a violin were originally made from animal gut. They are now generally made from steel or synthetic materials.
How To Choose A Violin
How To Choose A Violin

Electric violin

Violins have been electrically amplified since the 1920s. To begin with they were traditional instruments which had an electronic sound output. Today there are also purely electrical instruments available to buy. These are known as ‘solid-body’ instruments.

  • The traditional violin is made of a hollow structure that amplifies the vibrations of the strings. The electric violin is generally made of a solid structure and must be connected to an amp to be heard.
  • A traditional violin has 4 strings. It is not unusual for an electric violin to have five or six strings.
  • Traditional violins meet standards of size and design, are made from wood and have a generally similar appearance. Electric violins can be any colour or design and are made from a range of materials.

Fiddle

The violin and the fiddle look the same, it is how they are played and the performances for which they are used which are the main differences between them.

  • Violins are generally used in performances of classical, jazz and country music. In contrast, fiddles are played in performances of folk, Celtic and bluegrass music.
  • A violin has four strings, while a fiddle often has five.
  • Violins generally use synthetic strings while fiddles use steel core strings.
  • Violinists learn from a teacher, while fiddle players are often self-taught.
How To Choose A Violin

The Bow

How To Choose A Violin

As well as a violin, you will also need a bow – a wooden stick with hair attached to it. In order to make a sound, the bow is drawn across the strings of the violin. The hair of the bow can be tightened to different tensions and is coated in rosin.

  • The hair of violin bows is traditionally made of horsehair.
  • Rosin is the hardened sap of the pine tree and comes in yellow or black cakes, which produce a white powder when rubbed. Rosin powder is sticky, which helps the bow to draw sound from the strings.
  • Carbon fibre bows are now also popular. These can be a good option for students due to their hard-wearing properties.

The Shoulder Rest

How To Choose A Violin

As well as the violin and bow you will also need a shoulder rest. These allow the player to feel more comfortable when playing the violin, as it adds height to the violinist’s shoulder and helps keep the violin in place.

  • It may be made of wood, aluminium, carbon fibre or plastic. 
  • It was invented in the twentieth century and is, therefore, a recent invention.

How To Choose A Violin - Summary

Let’s keep things easy…

  • It is almost always a good idea to begin learning the violin on a traditional classical instrument.
  • You will need a bow and shoulder rest as well as a violin. Beginner bows often come as part of a beginner violin package, but not always. You will need to purchase a shoulder rest separately. 
  • Renting a violin, at least to begin with, provides you with flexibility.

Hopefully that helps you make up your mind about what type of instrument to buy.  Now you’ll need to do some research over which exact model to go for. Lucky for you, we do just that!  Just click here to read our violin, bow and electric violin reviews.

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