Choosing Your First Violin: A Beginner’s Guide

This guide will take you through some of the need-to-know bits and pieces to get you set up with the works, ready to play!

With an extensive history and a wide repertoire, the violin is certainly an attractive option! There are lots of benefits to playing a stringed instrument – improved dexterity, posture and listening skills can all be inherited from consistent practice. The violin itself is an instrument that can either be played as a soloist or socially, as a member of a small ensemble or even an orchestra! This makes it a very popular instrument for those looking to embark on their musical journey.

Choosing your first violin can be hard. With so many different variations, so many brands, sizings and bows, for the newcomer, things can seem a little overwhelming. Don’t fret though, if you are looking to purchase your first violin for yourself or your child, our first time buyers guide is a great place to start!

At Millers, we have been selling pianos, violins and all kinds of orchestral instruments since 1856, so we’ve had more than a few years to learn a thing or two about instruments! We’ll gladly tell you first hand that there are a lot of benefits to playing a stringed instrument. Not only do they help improve dexterity, but due to their subtle nature, stringed players typically have improved posture and listening skills from consistent practice. 

The violin itself is one such instrument that can be enjoyed both as a soloist or socially, as a member of a small ensemble or even a full orchestra! This makes it a very popular instrument for those looking to embark on their musical journey.

So what are the main things to consider when choosing your first violin? We’re here to help break it down for you and will be answering your questions such as:

  • What brand should I get?

  • What size do I need? 

  • What accessories do I need to have an enjoyable playing experience?  


This guide will take you through some of the need-to-know bits and pieces to get you set up with the works, ready to play!

What size violin do I need?

The most common question when buying, especially for children, is what size violin do I need? Sizing a violin is quite easy – and getting the right size instrument is a must. Our experts are able to help with this so if you would like to, but if this isn’t an option for you, it’s definitely something you can do at home. We’ve even written up a handy guide to help you!


Smaller sizes are usually limited to young children. Whilst a full size is often reserved to as 4/4, sizes can go down to 1/16 or sometimes even smaller!


In order to size an instrument, the main idea is that you are able to hold the violin between your shoulder and chin using the rest, and then stretch your arm out to the very tip of the instrument, otherwise known as the scroll, and hold it there. If there’s a natural curve or arc in your arm, then you’ve got the right size! If you feel like you’re stretching, try a smaller size instrument. It’s usually more efficient to start with a large size and work your way down.


How do I check the quality of a violin?


The violin is a wooden instrument, most often constructed from maple and spruce woods. When buying second hand there’s a chance some minor dents or scratches will be on the instrument, but these are usually purely aesthetic. The main thing to look for on a brand new violin is called the flame. This is a natural pattern on the wood and dictates the quality of the wood used in manufacturing, and is on the back of the instrument but be careful, on some cheaper instruments this is simply a sticker. A nice flame is shown in the photo below.


As well as being aesthetically much more impressive, this shows that the cut of wood used in manufacturing was taken from the centre of the tree – which will result in a more durable instrument!


It’s also worth plucking the instrument to hear the sound quality of the strings. Most brand new instruments will come with what are known as “factory strings”, and whilst they will make a sound, the quality is low as they’re used effectively as placeholders. For a warmer, richer tone and more durable strings, it’s usually worth upgrading to a set of brand new strings. Depending on your standard, you’d probably be looking at a set of D’addario Prelude or Ascente. Fitting strings is actually very easy, especially if you’ve learnt to tune an instrument already. The vast majority of violin strings are ball end, so it’s quite intuitive to slot them into place. If you’d like a little further help though, we’ve written a guide on how to fit your violin strings perfectly here!

Which brands should I be looking at?

There are certainly a few flagship brands to look at regarding the world of student violins. If you have a teacher already, they’ll likely recommend one to you – but it’s worth considering your options even then. Let’s go through some of the most well known names in the business!

Primavera

The student violin was popularised as a concept by Stentor, a company founded in 1895, as a violin that would be manufactured with beginners in mind on a budget in the far east, as a means of saving manufacturing costs. Over the years, this has become a regular practice, and a high flyer in that school of thought right now is Primavera.

With affordable prices, Primavera boast full outfits with great quality instruments, perfect for a starting player. Their range focuses on the true beginner – providing instruments such as the Primavera 200 model that is highly recommended by teachers as a highly durable, reliable instrument. Check out the 200 and other Primavera instruments here!

Hidersine

For years, Hidersine has been the primary manufacturer of violin accessories in the UK. More recently (relatively speaking), however, the company has decided to venture into the instrument market, and has produced a fine range of instruments that take a player on their complete musical journey – all the way from starting fresh to handcrafted luthier instruments that would last a lifetime.

Being a UK manufacturer comes with its benefits too – all Hidersine instruments are checked over in the UK workshop before being dispatched over to us, guaranteeing a level of quality that’s hard to come by elsewhere. With regards to a beginner model, I would certainly check out the Vivente and Piacenza instruments – these can be found on our website here.

Stentor

As mentioned before, Stentor are the originals when it comes to student violins. They’ve kept predominantly the same designs over the years, and many teachers still recommend them highly today as renowned, reliable instruments.

The Stentor Student series is probably the most well known budget violin outfit on the market, with the Graduate and Conservatoire models being suitable once you’ve played a little bit. Check the Graduate out here!


What else do I need?

Simply having a violin and a bow might not be quite enough to start you off, but here at Millers we have all the accessories you’d need to both look and play the part . You’ll need a case for transit, and rosin, which is a sticky substance applied to the bow before playing, which creates friction on the string, and therefore sound! The great news is that all of this actually comes with our outfits – you don’t need to pay a penny extra! When you purchase a violin outfit with us, the instrument is serviced and checked over fully, meaning you can play straight out of the box.

Having said this though, there’s definitely a few accessories that are commonly used as quality of life features. A clip-on tuner is pretty useful as an extra, meaning you don’t need to rely on a piano to tune – you’ll be able to tune any time, anywhere!

A mute can be useful if you’re looking to practice late at night. These also come in handy in performance sometimes as there are several composers who deliberately ask for the warm, soft tone that it generates in their music.


The most useful thing that you’d definitely want is a shoulder-rest, though. These do come in different sizes, but most are adjustable, meaning that they’ll be good for the long haul. These increase the comfort of playing dramatically by acting as a padded support for your instrument, helping you to keep posture.

How do I tune my instrument? What should I do if it breaks?

Many young players will not initially need to tune their instrument, as teachers would prefer to do it themselves, in order to prevent frequent string breaking. However, adult students will need to learn how to do this – it’s a useful technique that also can make restringing an instrument quite a bit easier.

Maintenance is important with a violin – being able to restring one’s own instrument can save many costs on technicians as well as save you time. Lemon oil can be used to condition the fingerboard, which is useful to get the inevitable grime off and make moving up and down easier, and varnish polish is a must for getting rid of minor scuffs on the body of the instrument, as well as keeping it nice and shiny!

So now you’re all set to go! 

We hope this guide has helped you make your decision and gives you some great insight into the wonderful world of violins! If you have further questions, our team are on hand and keen to help! Get in touch today!

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