For years, many violin teachers consider that sizing their students is a form of art. With their experience, highly skilled perception, and deep understanding of technique on strings, they can find the right violin size for their students.
However, the process of looking for the correct size involves a lot of factors that can cause confusion and stress to students, teachers hand parents. At times they would fall on choosing an incorrect size due to a simple process. It’s way too complicated than using a yardstick to measure the arm of the child is not good enough.
So let’s address this particular issue with hopes that it can help parents, students and teachers.
All Brands are not the same: The size of your 1/16 size violin is different from another 1/16 size violin
We know that violins have different sizes. So when you go to a violin shop, you base your choice on fractional sizes (4/4, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, etc.) and pick one that suits you. However, when you begin to compare different brands with the same size category, you will see that the other one is smaller or bigger than the other. For example, Scherl & Roth brand of instruments tend to be bigger than Suzuki and Eastman brand. That is because the upper bout of the Scherl & Roth is broader than the Suzuki and Eastman and their bodies are at times ½ to 1 inch longer. What is even more surprising is that you can also find variances between two similar brands. But can we say that something is wrong? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that! It’s a fact that indeed violins come in different sizes and shapes even within the instruments of students. Standardization is less (a violin is classified for a specific size using traditional measurements in violin) in those that are lower than ½ sizes.
The Different Sizes of Violin
Here are the different sizes of violins from the largest to the smallest: 4/4 (Full Size), 7/8, 3/4, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/10, 1/16, 1/32, and 1/64. Yes, 7/8 size do exist although many people do not know they do. 7/8 seems to look just as large as the full size, but it’s slightly smaller which is usually played by adults with a smaller frame. It is sometimes called “a lady’s violin.” They are difficult to find because their size is not standard.
There is no such thing as “one size fits all” in violins
Just like the violins, violin players also have different features physically. For instance, violinists whose height is 5’2 would ideally use a full size 4/4 violin. However, those who have child-sized hand and are struggling with short a short pinky would use the 7/8 violin. Not all 5’2 violinists have child-sized hand and have a shorter pinky that is why most of them would usually use the 4/4 size violin. Measuring the length of their arm would lead to conclude that the 4/4 size is ideal for them. However, those who have small hands and shorter pinky will surely struggle to play with the 4/4 size that is why it is not enough to measure the arm. Because the 7/8 size violin has a tight upper bout, players with small hands and short pinky can get around with the fingerboard and be able to play the higher positions easily. This connotes the fact that choosing an instrument size involves a lot of factors to consider.
How to Spot the Right Size
When you are looking for an instrument for the child, it has to look at the right proportion just like the full-size violin on an adult. If you say that you are not an expert on this or you don’t play the violin, that’s not a problem. We have lots of music stores that offer instrument petting zoos especially before the school year starts. Not only that it’s an opportunity for prospective students to listen, look, touch and play instruments but it is also an opportunity for them to ask help from professional teachers to help them find an instrument that suits their size. You can also contact a reputable violin teacher in your local area, and they will be happy to help you.
Persons that can help in choosing the right size
To get the most accurate detail about picking the instrument with the correct size, we can contact or go to some people that can help. Your private teacher, professional strings teachers, string specialists, professional music teachers or knowledgeable staff at the music store in your local area can help a lot.
Steps for Violin Sizing
Step 1: To get the best estimate of you can choose either one of the methods listed below. It’s just a matter of preference so don’t be afraid to pick anything you want because both are acceptable.
- Testing your Fingers in the Peg Box: Can you place your fingers in the peg box while your hand wraps around the scroll?
- The violin is considered too large if you have a hard time reaching the peg box to make your fingers sit in it. Or you need to extend and straighten your arm so the fingers can reach. If the student who is trying to reach the scroll has to push his or her shoulder out, then the violin is too large.
- The violin is considered too small if the arm has to make a huge bend as the fingers sit in the peg box.
- The violin can be regarded as just at the right size if the arm slightly bends and the fingers sit perfectly in the peg box.
Step 2: Try the violin yourself in your playing position (avoid letting your student do it because they might hold it incorrectly). When it’s time for your student to try the instrument, try looking from behind. If the instrument is too big and broader for the child’s left shoulder, try a smaller violin that fits just right within their shoulder. If the instrument is a bit smaller and is coming to the edge of the shoulder of the child, you can proceed to the next step.
Step 3: Check the size of their hand and the length of their fingers. Ask your student to put their first finger on the E string and hit the F# note. Then have them reach the G string with their pinky as their first finger is pressing down the F#. They should contact the D on the G string with their fourth finger comfortably without stretching. If there is tension, you can clearly see that on the child’s face, and their hand hardens or become stiff.
Step 4: Allow the child to hold the instrument up without using their hand and see if they can sustain it with only the weight from the head.
You can say that you have found the right instrument for the child if they can hold the violin correctly when you place it on the right spot for them, and they have passed all the steps above.
Another problem that might occur is the length of their neck. Students who have longer neck length will surely struggle to hold the violin up with no hands. The solution for that is the use of a shoulder rest or a sponge. If they can hold the instrument up in a relaxing manner after you let them use a sponge or a shoulder rest, then you have found the right instrument for them.
If things don’t work for the student after using the sponge or shoulder rest, trying a smaller size is the best option. If it works for your student, then you have found the right size. If it still doesn’t work, change the chin rest to a different one. Do this on both smaller and large size violin. Find a different violin brand with a similar size label, but they measure a bit smaller than the standard size.
What about the Viola?
12 inch is the standard, smallest size of the viola which is similar to a 1/2 size violin. A ¼ size violin is required for an average fourth grader. Therefore most fourth grade students are small enough to hold and begin studying viola. Is there a way for them to start the study? Yes! They can use a small size violin, and with the help of the luthier, he can make some adjustments, and your small violin can be used as Viola. However, it was not recommended on beginner students by most teachers because you need to buy the instrument. It was only recommended if a fourth grader can reasonably play the viola with a 12-inch size and they’re going to play at school. However, the idea that those students who are not big enough should not play instruments that are too large will be discussed later. It is highly recommended that students should begin on violin and then they can switch to viola (just like other famous violists). If the students are big enough to start a viola and have acquired a decent amount of fluency in playing the violin, they can switch, but most teachers would not recommend them to go directly to viola.
The Sizing Method That Does Not Work
Most string teachers find these two sizing methods as inaccurate: the yardstick method, and the sizing method on the bases of height or age.
Height and Age Method: On this method, the students are measured based on their specific height and age to find their average size instrument. For example, all 3-year-old children should have a 1/32 violin. This actually happens in the studios of many string teachers where students ages 3 to 5 years old use 1/32 violin. However, children grow differently. Some are taller while others are smaller for their age. They also grow unevenly at certain stages of their growth. Some have arms longer than others of their same age. So if you want to determine the violin size for your student, age, and height are not the answer.
Yardstick Method: The yardstick method focuses on measuring the student’s arm. The measurement starts from the collar bone of the student up to the left wrist. However, the completion of this method is generally incorrect because it results in selecting an instrument that is larger in a few sizes because of the measurement from the shoulder of the student to the palm of the hand or towards the finger’s middle tip. Once again, this is not a very effective method because other essential aspects in the student’s body should be considered and not only focusing on one point.
So aside from looking at the length of the arm, there are other things that you should look for and consider when sizing and instrument.
- The finger’s size and length
- The neck’s range
- The chest’s slope
- The width of the palm
- The shape of the Jaw
- Shoulder’s width
- Build: tall, short, stocky, medium, thin
- The violin is in the right proportion on the student as to how the full-size violin would look on an adult.
- Using their head alone, the student should be able to hold up the weight of their violin.
- The child should be able to command the instrument and not the other way around.
Other things you need to consider when sizing for a violin
One of the disadvantages of larger instruments is their weight. Because they are heavier, the student will be wearied and sored after 30 minutes of practicing with it. It will surely discourage them from practicing and playing in general.
So why it’s not good for students to use violins that are too large for them when eventually, they would grow into it?
Suzuki teachers would size their student’s violin a bit smaller compared to teachers that are traditional (non-Suzuki). This is probably one of the biggest reasons why students coming from Suzuki are more fluid at their early stage. Most string teachers believe that they should not burden their students with instruments that are too large for them. They want their students to have more command in the instrument they play and become more flexible. Yes, children will grow with their large violin, but their progress is not very fast. Essential techniques cannot be adequately executed because of the massive size of the instrument. There is also a huge possibility that your child will be injured. It has been proven by most string teachers that students transferred from a larger to smaller size instrument suddenly increased their improvement and be able to play with ease. They are more in tune when they play, and their tone is better than before. The most important thing is that students will not be in a situation that would cause them injury and hinder them from developing a proper technique.
Violins that are too Big are Injurious
Students or those who are starting out to play violin would spend most of their time practicing and playing with their instruments. Therefore the teacher should find an instrument that will give them much comfort and ease as possible. An injury is possible if there is tension because of the enormous size of the instrument. Very large violins will put the child’s body in stress, forcing it to form odd angles and poor alignments. Aside from physical injuries, students can suffer emotional side effects when using larger instruments. The pain and fatigue caused by bigger instruments can strip down the student’s motivation. Execution of techniques would be very difficult for them making their progress slower than their classmates who use properly sized instruments.
Playing too large Instruments can cause the following type of physical injuries:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- The tension in the Jaw
- Poor alignment in shoulders and spine
- Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) – Disorders affecting facial muscles, the jaw and the Temporomandibular joint.
Why some students wanted a bigger Size instrument so badly even though they’re not ready for it yet?
- Students seek instruments that have a larger and warmer tone, and one way to have that is by having a larger size instrument. Yes, larger instruments produce such quality but teachers should educate their students with tone production which is one of their responsibilities. Teachers should be able to point out which instruments have a terrible sound due to poor quality.
- Many students will consider it their mark of achievement when they are using a larger violin. Probably because they see professionals playing full-size violins or 7/8. However, they need to understand that their skill won’t increase if they move to a larger size violin nor make them look professional. The shifting of violin size for students should be as natural as how they grow physically and by age. Also, students would tend to assume that the student’s proficiency and experience in the instrument are determined by the number of years they are playing. But that is not true. Students who have more practice can advance faster even if they have only been playing for one year. Some students connect experience with bigger instruments and not their needs physically. String teachers believe that the progress of their students does not depend on the size of their instrument but of their achievements.
- In the past, some students wanted to have limited editions of cool bows, violin cases and other accessories for instruments in fractional sizes. However, they need to have bigger violins to avail these products. But they are no longer available today.
If it is Dangerous to use a Violin that is too large, then why do some teachers allow their students to use them?
- The teacher may not be aware of the severe injuries that might occur when using violins that are too large.
- Some teachers have no idea how to get the right violin size for their students
- It could be that the teacher is trying to help the family lessen their financial burden of the family by not purchasing another instrument later when the child grows up bigger.
- Some teachers don’t pay much attention to the problem in the child’s posture caused by large instruments. It could be that this particular issue is not of their foremost priority or they are just not aware of it. Other teachers may have been very busy and fatigued from too much work that they don’t have much time with their students.
- Some teachers had their own orchestra and wanted to have a bigger sound, so they encourage their students to use bigger instruments. Bigger instruments can produce a huge sound. Therefore, the sound can be fuller if everyone in the orchestra uses bigger violins. The teacher must understand that it’s not in the size of their instrument, but it’s in the technique that they teach. They should teach their students how to produce a good tone so that they can sound excellent even when they are playing with small instruments. Some teachers may not have any knowledge of how to make their student sound good on small instruments so they would instead go for a bigger instrument. For the future health and success of their students, teachers should choose smaller instruments and put them all in one group.
Why some music stores encourage the use of bigger instruments?
- You must be talking to a salesperson that is untrained in proper instrument sizing. It is also possible that their knowledge of stringed instruments is limited.
- The music store does not have smaller fractional size instruments (1/10 and below) available for your child. Some would just tell you that the smallest size they have is just fine instead of telling you that they can order for a smaller size instrument that would suit your child. If this happens, don’t walk away but run away from any store that tells you such things. It only shows that they don’t value the health, the education and the overall happiness of your child.
- The sales person in the shop is not knowledgeable about children or trained how to teach them. They just don’t know the demands needed for these little fingers.
If a larger violin can cause injury to a small child, is it also possible for the small one?
There are a couple of professional violinists who have violins smaller than them. Joshua Bell, for example, is a tall guy. Even though he uses a full size, it was smaller for him because of his size, but it was not a problem for him. He had played with it on many of his tours around the world and recorded many albums with it. Itzack Perlman was not hindered by playing with his large finger on his full-size violin. Yes, it hurts when you play bigger size instruments, and it doesn’t hurt if you play a smaller one. Students should go for a smaller size even though they are in between sizes. They may feel a bit uncomfortable with it when they grow a bit bigger, but at least there is no risk of injury.
So how can you make bigger sound with your small violin?
You can start by seeking professional help. Find an expert to help you choose a great sounding violin. Using strings that are in the best quality can also help a lot. However, you should consider changing your strings every six months. Purchasing a “step up” bow for your violin and should also be re-haired every six months. Avoid excessive use of rosin and make sure you clean your strings and violin with a soft cloth before putting it back in its case. If your teacher provided you with a tone exercise, make sure to practice it every day and make it as your top priority. Have your violin set up properly by bringing it to a violin shop near you.
When exactly is the right time to move up to a full size or larger violin?
The child’s body will tell you that it’s the right time to move to a bigger size violin. If the child’s left elbow bends largely and they look cramped while playing, then you should start looking for a larger size violin. You will also notice that their intonation is slightly off. Other things that were not an issue before becomes an issue in the present such as the position of the arm is on an odd angle causing the bow to hug the fingerboard. It can also be helpful if you go back to the sizing procedure on bigger instruments. If you see that the child is not yet ready for the large one, it is much better to keep their current violin with them instead of changing it. You can also try a violin brand that labels on a larger size but its slightly smaller than the standard.
Violin Sizes and Hermit Crabs
Violin sizes are like the shells of hermit crabs. Hermit crabs don’t create their own shell; they just transfer to a shell that fits just right for them if they feel cramped leaving the smaller one behind. Since hermit crabs hold their shells with their abdominal muscles, they would avoid moving to a shell that is too large so they can hold the shell and move freely around with it. Another interesting fact about hermit crabs is that they won’t transfer to a shell that has holes or crack on it. It was similar to violinists who will not buy a broken or damaged violin. There are also instances where hermit crabs would line up from the smallest to the largest trading up for the next shell size that would fit for them. They call this vacancy chains which is similar to violin students who would change their instrument sizes. Interestingly most hermit crabs would love to use snail shells which happen to have a logarithmic spiral that is similar to the scroll of a string instrument.