I think that choosing the correct violin size is one of the most important things on the aspiring violin student’s to-do list. The size of the instrument impacts several key things:
- Intonation: This is the first thing that comes to mind, if the instrument is the wrong size – your fingers will not fall into place correctly.
- Production of sound: With a correctly sized instrument, your right hand will not strain to reach correct placement of the bow.
- Healthy posture: An instrument that is too big or too small may cause strain in your hands, arms, neck and back muscles.
All of these components come together in the act of playing, and if the instrument is chosen correctly, make it easy and straightforward for you to practice in a productive way.
Two Different Approaches
There are two different schools of thought on the process of picking out the correct violin size. The first school of thought does not require any extra tools, simply a few violins in different sizes and your arm acting as a unit of measurement. This method is prevalent in the Russian Federation and in Europe, let’s call this the “European Method”. It is simple, straightforward, and is confidently employed in various settings ranging from music schools to conservatories.
The second method requires measuring tape and it is arguably more mathematically precise. The use of the measuring tape is very common in institutions in the United States, a standard procedure at instrument rental facilities as well as music education centers. We will call this approach the “American Method”. Let us take a more in-depth look at both of these methods.
The European Method
Using just the violin and your own anatomy to find the correct instrument size is convenient and hassle-free. To pick out a violin using this approach you should follow these steps:
- Put the violin on your shoulder, as if ready to start playing.
- Extend your left arm to its full length beneath the violin.
- Grip the scroll with your fingers.
There is some room for debate here; your fingers may not fully grip the scroll, they may grip it too easily, the elbow may be completely extended and locked or may have a considerable bend in it. Ideally, we want the arm to be extended in a relaxed manner and the fingers comfortably gripping the scroll.
The American Method
When using a measuring tape to pick out an instrument, it is very important to take into consideration handmade instruments with non-traditional proportions. While most student-model instruments all use standardized measurements, it is not uncommon to find 3⁄4, 7⁄8 and even 4/4 sized violins at higher price ranges that have unique proportional differences.
If you do decide to use this approach, it is imperative that you ask a friend to assist. A friend who can accurately and confidently take measurements. To figure out the correct violin size using this method, you should follow these steps:
- Stretch out your left arm parallel to the ground with the palm facing up.
- Ask your friend to run the measuring tape from the middle of your left palm all the way to the left side of your neck.
- Sit back and relax while your friend finds the corresponding instrument size using a sizing chart. There are many such charts available online, violin manufacturers typically provide one on their website.
When choosing an instrument for a younger person, specifically one who is around the age of ten or eleven, I believe it is important to choose something that is either just the right size or slightly on the larger side.
Using an instrument that is too small can cause considerable discomfort in the left hand and tension in the left shoulder that may radiate into the neck and the back. Using an instrument that is slightly too large for the student will not cause these negative side effects as long as the student is practicing with proper technique.
I have found that around the ten or eleven year mark, students typically grow into using a full-sized violin. Taking into consideration the spectrum of hand and body anatomy present in violin students, it is safe to say that some may find the 4/4 standard full size too big for them and some will find it too small. At this point it would do well to consider the rare 7⁄8 violins, a so called “lady’s size”, for those with smaller hands and the possibility of switching to viola for those with larger hands.