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A beginner's guide to the violin

What is a violin?

The violin is a four-stringed acoustic musical instrument that is played with a bow. It heads up the violin family of instruments that also features the viola, cello and double bass. Sound is usually generated by pulling the bow, which consists of a stick featuring a strip of horse hair, across the strings, although plucking the strings by hand - known as pizzicato - is also a commonly used technique to create a different tone and resonance. Rosin is rubbed on the bow hair to ensure its smooth progression across the strings.

Most often violins are played in a right-handed fashion, with the instrument placed on the left shoulder and the left hand providing the fingering, while the right hand controls the bow. A chin rest, located either to the left or in the middle of the violin depending on the player's preference, allows the instrument to sit comfortably under the chin, while a shoulder rest ensures that the left shoulder does not become sore. Some shoulder rests can be moulded to better fit the shoulder of the player.

Violins on the market

Violins can vary wildly in price, with beginner models available for less than £50 while extremely rare Stradavari and Guarneri instruments are worth millions. The influential designs of these latter violins, created 400 years ago, are often imitated by today's manufacturers in their own models.

One example of a violin designed for learners is the £44.99 Student 4/4 Violin by Gear4music which is made from maple and Canadian spruce. The instrument is hand finished and produces a warm tone with a light and easy response. The bow is made from brazil wood and it is sold ready strung in a lightweight hard case.

For the more ambitious, the £65 Student Plus 4/4 Violin is available. It is of a similar design to the basic Student model but is built using some of the same methods as the very best violins found in concert orchestras.

A step up from this is the £109.99 Deluxe 4/4 Size Violin, which is of a superior quality and has been designed to accommodate players progressing through their grades. It is made from Canadian spruce and features an ebony pattern Guarneri chin rest. The bow is constructed using pernambuco.

Players looking for a better instrument to enhance their sound will find a range of other instruments in the price brackets above this. For would-be virtuosos, there is the Archer 'Custom' Professional for £499, which has a bow made from pernambuco and fiberglass. It is capable of a producing a sound big enough to fit a concert hall and has a sweet, strong and refined tone.

Away from acoustic violins, electric versions are available. These work in a similar way to electric guitars in terms of sound production. Popularised by the likes of Vanessa Mae, these instruments are typically used for pop music due to their electronic sound. Such violins can be purchased for as little as £99.99 for the 4/4 Size Electric Violin at Gear4music.

Choosing the right size violin

When purchasing a violin, particularly for children, one of the most important aspects to bear in mind is size. Using a violin or bow that is too big or small can make playing difficult and as such different sizes are available to suit the proportions of the player.

  • Half sizes: typically for children aged between six and ten, with an arm length of around 20 to 22 inches.

  • Three-quarter sizes: geared towards the nine to 11 age bracket for arm lengths of about 22 to 23.5 inches

  • Full / adult size: for those with arms of 23.5 inches or longer.

Getting started with the violin

Beginners looking to get started playing straight away can purchase everything they need for £119 with the Deluxe 4/4 Violin + Accessory Pack. As well as the violin, bow and case, the package features a music stand, rosin, a spare set of strings, violin polish and a shoulder rest.

Posted on 20 Mar 2009 09:00 to category : Tips and advice

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