Whether you’re completely new to music lessons or you’re simply looking to fully commit to your musical education by purchasing a violin of your very own, the process of looking for a suitable violin can quickly become complicated.
When it comes to choosing a violin to suit you as a player, music teachers can be incredibly helpful in providing advice around violin makers, suppliers in your local area and the prices you can expect to pay for a range of violins.
However, heading in the right direction can be difficult if you haven’t yet met with your violin instructor but you’re looking to buy an instrument before your first lesson.
Getting to grips with the world of violins can help you feel a bit more confident on your visits to music shops.
Having a good idea about the things to consider when looking for your ideal violin will give you a far better chance of a successful purchase.
Whether you want to know more about the various types of violin, the history of string instruments, violin sizes, playing the violin, how to tune and look after your violin or the pricing for different types of violin, this article will guide you through the wonderful world of the smallest member of the string family!
What Are the Different Types of Violin?
Usually, when people talk about ‘violins’, they mean acoustic kind.
However, getting to know more about each different type of violin on the market might inspire you to take your musicianship in an interesting direction once your violin playing is underway.
Firstly, let’s talk about violins for beginners.
Beginner violinists usually start learning to play the violin on an acoustic starter violin.
Acoustic violins are the most traditional variety of violin. The fact that they are 'acoustic' means that no part of their sound is produced by an electronic source; all of the sound comes from the vibrations of the violin bow on the violin string itself.
Given that most violin lessons for beginners are taught to youngsters, naturally their first instruments are of a smaller size than those played by adults.
Hiring or buying a violin of the correct size is absolutely essential for any violinist as playing a violin of the wrong size can lead to discomfort and even hinder progress – so don’t be tempted to buy a larger violin for a young musician to grow into!
Whether you're renting or buying, the student should be able to comfortably hold the scroll of a violin in the palm of their left hand for the instrument to be a good fit.
So, what other types of violin are out there?
The electric violin is a popular choice for those who perform regularly in front of large crowds, as their make-up enables their sound to be amplified and played through electronic sound systems.
Electric violins are the same size and have the same number of strings are acoustic violins, so switching between the two is not difficult for violinists.
Another alternative to the acoustic violin is the electro-acoustic type (also known as semi-electric or acoustic-electric).
Electro-acoustic violins are all about flexibility, as they provide the player with the sound of an acoustic violin whilst giving them the option to transmit this sound through an amplifier.
Most violinists are happy to keep playing their acoustic instruments, while more advanced players and those who are working towards a career on-stage tend to opt for more advanced violins.
Violin Tuning: Where to Begin
For those who are encountering stringed instruments for the very first time, tuning up can be daunting.
How to tune a violin properly? How do I know when each string is in-tune? What happens if I snap a string?
Violins have four strings which are tuned in perfect fifths.
This means that the pitch of each string is from lowest to highest is the fifth note of the scale of the one before it. So, the strings are tuned to the notes G, D, A and E (where G is the lowest note and E is the highest).
So, what is the correct way to tune a violin?
The way you tune a violin will depend on how out-of-tune it is in the first place.
For example, if your violin has just had new strings put on it and you’re tuning them for the first time, use the tuning pegs (located beyond the fingerboard).
Turning the tuning pegs tightens and loosens the strings. It’s important to remember to be gentle with your violin’s strings – even if they are horrendously out-of-tune!
Turn each peg slowly as you pluck the string to listen to the pitch. Once it has reached the right pitch, move onto the next string.
The other way to tune-up is to use the fine-tuners which are located on the violin tailpiece.
It is recommended that you use the fine tuners (rather than the tuning pegs) as much as possible to prevent string breakages.
Your violin teacher will be able to show you how to properly tune your violin, however, there are also plenty of online tutorials to help you too.
What is the Cost of Violins?
When the time comes for you to begin your search for a violin of your own, you’ll notice that the asking prices of violins can vary a lot depending on the make and model of the violin, as well as the level of player each violin is intended for.
So, if you’re a beginner looking to purchase your very first violin, how much money should you be prepared to part with?
There are many ways to find out which are the best student violins for beginners, such as approaching violin specialists at your local music shop or looking for advice online.
As a general rule, you should expect to pay £50-£100 for your very first good violin outfit, however, if you’re looking for a musical instrument which will suit you in the long run, it can be worth investing up to £300 in a good-quality violin which is suitable for both beginner and intermediate players.
For instance, most violin shops sell brands of student violin such as Windsor and Antoni, which are reputable yet affordable and inexpensive options with a heightened level of playability to suit any beginner violinist.
As you progress in your musical career, you may want to invest in a high-specification instrument which will help you to produce a richer tone and to showcase your technical skills.
Stentor and Forenza are among some of the violin makers which develop violins for intermediate players.
But remember, don’t just make decisions based on brand names.
Remember that within every brand are various models of violin which are developed with the needs of specific types of student in mind, so make sure that you do your research on specific models before you make a final decision!
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Caring for Your Violin
Learning how to play the violin involves much more than learning how to play the right notes in the right places.
As a musician, it’s your responsibility to take care of the instrument that you play to ensure that it is in the best possible condition when you play it.
Proper maintenance of your violin will ensure that it produces a high-quality sound as well as reducing the risk of damage.
For violinists, good maintenance means taking steps to care for your instrument on both a regular and long-term basis.
So, how do you take care of a violin?
Most of your violin maintenance takes place after you’ve finished playing your violin.
Once you’ve finished practicing your pieces or rehearsing with your orchestra, you should wipe down your violin with a dry cloth. Doing this will remove any dust or residue which may build up and affect the violin’s overall tone if not removed.
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Another essential care tip concerns the violin bow. Violin bows are made of horsehair and, like the violin itself, they are quite delicate and therefore require a level of care.
Just as you tighten the bow hair before playing your violin, you should also loosen it before putting the violin and bow away in a violin case.
Violin cases also play a mian role in looking after your violin, as they provide a tailor-made cushion for the instrument. Violins should always be stored in a hard case when not being used - and remember to remove your violin shoulder rest and practice mute before you put your violin away!
Cleaning the dust off your violin, keeping it in a case and loosening the horsehair on the bow are just two things you can do to care for your instrument on a daily basis – but what about in the longer term?
Changing a violin’s strings is must for any violinist. It is recommended that players change their strings once every 12 months (less-experienced violinists should visit an expert at a violin shop who can lend a hand before they learn to do it themselves).
With time, violin strings can become worn as the rosin builds up on them. This can eventually affect the violin’s sound and put the strings at risk of breaking, so re-stringing is an essential part of keeping string instruments sounding bright.
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One of the famous names that constantly crops up in discussions about violins is ‘Stradivarius’.
But what makes Stradivarius violins so special? And can you still buy them today?
Stradivarius string instruments get their name from their makers, the family of Antonio Stradivari, an Italian family who crafted violins, violas, and cellos during the 1600s and 1700s.
Though only around 600 of the original Stradivarius violins still exist, many manufacturers have attempted to copy the classic Stradivarius design in tribute to the famous makers.
Most original handmade Stradivarius instruments are owned privately or by museums, and if you’re looking to buy a strad of your own, you’ll need to have at least £2 million in your back pocket!
Nevertheless, the Stradivari legacy is an important part of the rich and interesting history of stringed instruments which lives on in the violin crafting of today.
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