If you have decided to learn to play the violin, where do you start? Should you buy a violin, or perhaps rent one? What about the internet? It seems that you can buy just about anything online these days. Well, before you log on to Amazon, there are a number of things you have to consider. For example, is the violin for a child or an adult? What size do I need? Is there a violin shop near where you live? What do you need to get started apart from the violin itself?
The most often asked question, usually from a parent inquiring for their child, is should I buy or rent? Usually, I advise the parent to rent. The most obvious reason for this is that the child will continue to grow, perhaps quite quickly, and they will soon outgrow the violin. Also, in the early stages, we don’t know how keen the child is, and will their interest soon diminish? Renting a violin can be the cheaper option, at least in the short run.
If you are able to visit a violin shop, ask them about pricing and what is included. Purchasing a violin, even at the lower end of the scale, will set you back several hundred dollars, whereas renting a violin “kit” may be as little as $25 per month. Some shops even offer a rent to buy option where the violin becomes yours after making a number of monthly payments.
What Do You Really Need to Get Started?
So, what is included and what do you really need? There is a vast array of beginner kits on the market these days, either in shops or online. Of course, if you decide to buy online, then you won’t have the opportunity to test the violin and see if it is the right size and if it makes a nice sound. In my opinion, it is usually best to go to a shop with your teacher if possible. Your teacher will help you choose the right size as well as play it for you, so you can hear the sound.
A Violin That’s Set Up Correctly
There are certain things that need to be in place even for a rental violin in the lower price range. The violin needs to be set up correctly. In other words, the basic elements of the instrument should all be in good working order. The tuning pegs should fit snugly and can be easily turned without slipping. The adjusters in the tailpiece should also work smoothly to allow for fine tuning of the strings.
Correctly Placed Bridge
The bridge should be perpendicular to the belly of the violin and not leaning forward. Make sure also that the bridge is not too high or low. This will have an impact on how the strings react when fingers are placed on them. The strings run over the fingerboard which should be smooth. If not, the sound quality may be distorted.
A Good Bow
A violin kit should also include the bow. Now, we must never overlook the importance of a good bow. The bow must be straight, especially when the wood is tightened. Actually, bows at the lower price range may not be made of wood. Carbon-fiber is quite common and is perfectly good enough at this level. There is a screw at the end to tighten the hair and this must turn smoothly. The hair must also be in good condition with a good even spread across the entire width. With a new bow, the hair will most likely be smooth and shiny. In order to draw a nice sound from the violin, you will need to rosin the bow. It is worth asking if rosin is included in the kit. If not, be sure to buy some. A relatively cheap rosin will suffice for beginners and should cost no more than just a few dollars.
A Safe Case
Of course, the violin and bow need to be kept in a case. The case will certainly be included but make sure it is a hard case of decent quality and waterproof. Some other accessories may or may not be included. I have seen kits that include a spare bridge, spare strings, a dust cover and also a shoulder rest. Some of these accessories may be of poor quality, so be especially wary of the shoulder rest. A shoulder rest may not be needed for every student and its purpose is to help with maintaining good posture and allow easy, free movement of the left arm. A badly fitted, poor quality shoulder rest can be more of a hindrance than a help.
Upgrades Are Always a Possibility
As the student progresses, it will be necessary to upgrade to better quality kits or even think about purchasing a high end violin. However, generally speaking, kits represent great value and can sound perfectly fine as long as they are set up properly.
I am reminded of a story, perhaps apocryphal, about the great violinist Fritz Kreisler. He had suffered some criticism that he only made such a beautiful sound because he had access to some of the finest violins in the world. He did, indeed, own a Guarneri violin, considered to be one of the greatest ever made. He was performing at Carnegie Hall and delighted the audience all night long with wonderful playing and that sweet sound he was famous for. As the thunderous applause began to die down, legend has it that he took the violin and smashed it across his knee. As the audience gasped in horror, he calmly assured them that his Guarneri was still in its case in his dressing room. The violin he had played all night, he had bought in a local store, earlier that day, for only three dollars!