Q. How difficult an instrument is the violin?
A. The violin is a relatively difficult instrument. There are many challenging techniques to learn to be able to consistently produce a good sound and be on key. Students should have a strong desire to learn the instrument or they may be daunted by its technical difficulty. (This is why renting an instrument in the beginning is a wise idea.) However, if one is willing to put in the effort, violin is a very rewarding experience!
Q. Is the violin a good first instrument for a child?
A. I recommend that students take 6-12 months of piano lessons before beginning violin. (I also teach piano lessons.) The piano is easy to play and easy to understand. The technical skill needed for piano is much less demanding than many other instruments. Thus, the student can concentrate more on learning the basics of music itself, such as sight-reading notes and counting rhythms. This familiarity with music will make it easier to learn the violin.
Q. How long does it take to learn violin?
A. That depends on how much the student practices. Students who practice regularly can expect to be playing easy tunes right away. They will be playing more complicated melodies with reasonably good pitch and tone within 6-12 months.
Q. How old should my child be before they start violin lessons?
A. I recommend that students be at least 9 years old. By this age the child usually has enough physical dexterity to play the instrument, plus enough developmental preparation to be able to understand certain abstract concepts that one finds in music. A 9-year-old will usually progress much faster than students who start at age 5 or 6, because they are more developmentally ready.
Q. What size violin does my child need?
A. Violins come in many sizes. It is important for the child to have an instrument that fits them or they may have significant technique struggles. Violins are measured in fractional sizes (1/8, 1/4, etc.), with 4/4 being considered full size. To determine what size your child needs, have your child hold his left arm out and measure his arm, starting at the neck and extending to the left wrist at the base of the hand. Then use the following chart as a guideline:
13.25 inches or less: 1/16 size violin
14.25 inches: 1/10 size violin
15.25 inches: 1/8 size violin
17.25 inches: 1/4 size violin
19 inches: 1/2 size violin
20.5 inches: 3/4 size violin
21.25 inches or more: Full size (4/4) violin
If your child is in between sizes, it is better to err on the side of the smaller violin. If your child is very close to the next size up, you can consider getting the larger size, since the child may quickly grow into it.
Q. Should I rent a violin or buy one?
A. There are several good reasons to consider renting a violin. First, you may want to let your child try the violin for a few months before purchasing an instrument, to assess how strong their interest level is. Second, if your child is too small for a full-size violin, renting may save you money. Rather than having to buy another larger instrument, you can just trade up a size in your rental program. Third, renting lets you and your child become experienced and familiar with the instrument, so that you can make a more informed purchase decision. However, if A) you know that your child is committed to learning the instrument, B) your child is ready for a full size violin and C) you feel reasonably confident that you could sell your intro-level model later if you want to upgrade, purchasing an instrument can definitely be more cost-effective in the long run.
Q. Where can I rent or purchase instruments?
A. Please see my Violin Sources page for information.
Q. I found a great violin on eBay! Should I buy it?
A. Purchasing a violin on eBay can be risky. Many sellers simply do not know enough about the instrument to properly assess its condition. My personal preference when purchasing an instrument online is to buy from a reputable music company. However, if the eBay instrument appears to be something you can't pass up, I suggest asking an experienced violinist to look at the listing first to see if they detect any problems.
Q. I want to buy a violin. How much does a good one cost?
A. Violins can start as low as $100 and run into the tens of thousands. Many people prefer to buy a good student model ($200-$300) to begin with and upgrade later after they can play well enough to make a more informed decision. If you wish to purchase a better quality one right away, plan to spend something at least in the $500-$1000 range. After several years of playing you may even want to upgrade from there. Ideally, try to buy the higher quality instrument from a local dealer so that you have a chance to play and hear the violin before buying it. Many buyers bring a violinist friend to the shop to try out the instruments as well and provide feedback.
Q. I have a violin but it needs repair. Who should I call?
A. Local repair services are available from:
Jim Clinton Violins
3400 Rutherford Road Extension
Taylors, SC 29687
Pecknel Music Store
1312 N Pleasantburg Dr
Greenville, SC 29607
Q. What are the main accessories I will need for the violin?
A. You will need rosin and probably a shoulder rest. Rosin is a tree-based resin that is rubbed onto the bow hairs to make them "sticky" enough to grab the strings. Most violin outfits come with rosin, although you may want to upgrade to a higher quality rosin if you buy a student violin. A shoulder rest is a device that slides onto the underside of the violin to allow you to support the violin completely with your jaw and shoulder, rather than your hand. Shoulder rests come in a variety of styles. You will probably want to talk to your teacher before purchasing one to determine which style you need.
Q. Do I need any other accessories?
A. One handy item is a "Damp-It," a small perforated rubber tube with a sponge inside it. This is a humidifier for dry weather. Simply wet the tube, dry it off, and insert it in one of the violin's f holes (the s-shaped openings on the top of the violin). Damp-Its are available at local music stores or online. Several squares of soft flannel are also a useful accessory. Use one to wipe the strings when too much rosin has built up on them and the other to gently wipe dust and fingerprints off the wood. You may also wish to purchase an electronic tuner to help you tune your violin and to help you practice playing on key. This device will give you an electronic readout of the pitch to tell you if the strings are in tune. There are many tuners available online. Alternately, if you have a smart phone, there are a number of free tuning apps available. A music stand is also very helpful!
Q. How should I take care of my violin?
A. The violin should be tuned regularly. It should not be exposed to temperature extremes, so avoiding storing it in a damp basement or warm attic. NEVER leave the violin in your car unless you are in it and controlling the temperature. Use a Damp-It to mitigate dry conditions (see above) and wipe the violin gently with soft cloths after practicing (see above).
Q. What books should I buy for my child?
A. There are a variety of string method books available, depending on the student's age, ability level, and area of interest. Your teacher can make a helpful recommendation after assessing these factors.
Q. How important is it for my child to participate in a recital?
A. While performing skills are useful, there are many ways to acquire them without participating in formal recitals. Recitals can be a fun outlet for performance-minded students, but they are definitely not a requirement, especially for beginners. Performing experience can be gained by playing for family gatherings, church services, nursing homes, or other venues, not just recitals.
Q. What qualities should I look for in a teacher?
A. The three most important qualities in a music teacher are how well they understand music, how well they explain it, and how well they relate to and inspire your child. Professional credentials are less important than finding someone who teaches well and gives your child a love for music.
Q. How much should my child practice?
A. I recommend 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Beginner students who have very short songs can aim for 15-20 minutes a day. I recommend that students play each assigned song a minimum of three times a day.
Q. How involved should I plan to be as a parent?
A. Parents have two primary roles: encouragement and accountability. Your child needs to know that you are excited that they are learning music. You should praise their progress and make a point of listening to your child regularly. Make it clear that you enjoy listening to them. (Do not say, "Take the violin to your bedroom to practice your assignments, I don't want to hear that racket anymore!" even though you will probably be tempted to.)
You also need to check with your child frequently to make sure they are practicing all of their assignments. Ideally, you should look at their assignment notebook yourself and ask to hear specific pieces during the week. Children have a habit of playing their favorite pieces and neglecting the others and then saying, "Yeah Mom, I practiced!"
Parents of younger violin students should also familiarize themselves with how to tune their child's violin. Most children need assistance. It is better that you learn how to tune it than that they play on an off-key instrument all week between lessons. Tuning a violin is not very difficult and, as mentioned previously, there are a variety of electronic tuners or tuning apps to choose from that can assist you. If you take lessons from me, I will be glad to spend part of the first lesson showing you how to tune it.
Enjoy your musical journey!