Choosing the right size violin is just as important as choosing properly sized shoes. Not only does it look and feel better to wear shoes that fit properly, it is also much safer. Haven’t you ever worn shoes that don’t fit, only to find yourself tripping or in excruciating pain at every step? The same goes for violin: choosing a violin that properly suits you is important for preventing injury and building healthy technique. You may be thinking, “What size violin do I need?” Luckily the process is not too difficult; let’s explore together.
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Why is it important to choose the right size violin?
Playing the right violin is going to prevent you from performance injuries. The bigger an instrument gets, the bigger the distance is between notes, causing you to stretch your fingers even further. Playing an instrument that is too big for you will cause tension as you strain to reach those notes.
Conversely, playing an instrument that is too small will cause tension and strain as you try to squish your fingers closer together to accommodate the shorter distance between notes.
An instrument that is too big will also be heavier to hold and cause tension in the shoulders since you’ll be trying to “reach” for the violin. Playing a violin that is too small will cause tension in the shoulders because you are trying to confine your posture to meet the violin.
As stated – the bigger the violin is, the bigger the distance will be between your finger placement on the fingerboard. Playing a violin that is not the proper size for your body will cause intonation problems because your hand simply cannot reach the notes in an accurate way.
Building good technique
Playing a properly sized violin will help you build a great foundation for technique. Coming back to the shoe example – could you imagine joining the track team with shoes that didn’t fit? You would build bad habits to compensate for poorly sized shoes. The same will happen for violin if you choose a violin that is too big or too small.
What size violin do I need?
One important note to keep in mind is that the age of the violinist does not correlate to the size they need. Because, just like shoes, the no two bodies are the same: two fifth-graders can be the same age but be completely different body types and sizes. Those two fifth graders would most likely wear different sized shoes and would probably play differently sized violins.
If you are an adult reading this and are looking for a violin for yourself – you can skip the measuring bit: you’ll need a 4/4 or Full Size violin. This is the biggest violin possible and is most suitable for adults.
If you are getting a violin for a young child or student, there are two simple techniques to help you measure which violin size you need:
How do I measure the exact size?
Measuring the left arm is the most precise way to know the correct violin size for you. Simply extend your left arm and hand straight in front of you as if you were asking someone for candy. Have someone measure your arm from the shoulder to the middle of the palm. Each violin shares a range of arm lengths that match it. See below:
|14 to 15 ⅜ inches
|15 ⅜ to 17 inches
|17.1 to 17.5 inches
|17.6 to 20 inches
|20 to 22 inches
|22 to 23.5 inches
|4/4 (Full Size)
|23.5 inches and up
How do I “eyeball” the right size?
If you don’t have something to measure with, or simply couldn’t be bothered, there is a more traditional and informal way of gauging the proper violin size. However, this technique requires having at least one or more violins of different sizes on hand to try.
- Hold a violin under the chin as you would normally when playing.
- Using your right hand, hold the violin in place as you extend your left hand straight out so it is under the scroll.
- Curl your hand as if about to make a fist and wrap it around the scroll of the violin.
The violin is TOO BIG if you can’t wrap your hand around the scroll or even reach to attempt to try.
The violin is TOO SMALL if your hand can wrap around the scroll further and even touch the fingerboard of the violin.
The violin is JUST RIGHT if your hand can comfortably wrap around the scroll and your fingers slightly touch the top of the pegbox.
How often do I need to change sizes?
It is not necessary to change sizes frequently, and for adults or high school students who have reached the biggest sized violin, they will never need to change sizes because 4/4 (or Full size) is the biggest one available. However, if you are considering violins for a younger student, it’s best to re-evaluate the size about once a year, just as you would a pair of shoes. If a child has just had a growth spurt and needs new shoes, then it’s a good idea to also re-evaluate their violin size.
However, sometimes a student could stay with the same size for a few years before being ready for a new size. It’s good to check about once a year to see if it’s time for an upgrade.
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.
Violin sizing is important
Just as you would take the time to choose the properly sized shoe, it is equally important to choose a properly sized violin. Choosing the violin best suited to your size will not only help in building proper technique, it will also help to avoid unnecessary injury. Whether you choose the “eyeball” approach or choose to measure precisely, make sure to re-evaluate the size a few times a year, especially if the violinist is a young child prone to many growth spurts.