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Choosing the right-sized violin is actually more important than most people realize. It affects your posture, your left hand technique, and your bowing technique.
In other words, it affects pretty much everything. A violin that is too big is probably worse than a violin that is too small.
Too large a violin will tend to make you slump over. You will also feel the need to grasp the large instrument with your left hand, creating the bad habit of squeezing…a hard habit to break once it starts! (Almost as bad as a bird who starts plucking its feathers! Does anyone want a bald Macaw?)
Also, with a violin that is too big, the bow will be terribly crooked as you approach the tip, because your arm won’t be long enough to keep it straight. (This is another topic for another blog post for another day! 🙂 )
If the violin is too small, it’s almost as bad. The left had doesn’t have anywhere to go on a violin that is too small. The fingers tend to roll over onto the fingernails, the wrist tends to either boink out or capsize in, both of which are bad habits. Your bow will be crooked at the frog, because there’s nowhere else for it to go but crooked.
Enough said? I hope so. It’s simple to get the correct size. You can either take a measurement and then get the corresponding instrument size, or if instruments in various sizes are available for the student to hold, you can measure from the instrument itself.
Taking a Measurement
Have the student hold his left arm out front at a 45 degree angle, not out front, and not to the side, but somewhere between, with the arm perfectly straight, palm facing up. (At the angle at which you would hold a violin, but the arm must be STRAIGHT, not bent.) Stand like Eric, here.
Make sure he isn’t straining or stretching from his shoulder. Then, with a measuring tape or yard stick, simply measure from the jugular vein area out to the middle of the palm of the hand. This measurement corresponds to the violin size as listed below:
14″ to 15 3/8————-1/16 violin
15 3/8″ to 17″————1/10 violin
17.1″ to 17.5″————1/8 violin
17.6″ to 20″————–1/4 violin
20″ to 22″—————-1/2 violin
22″ to 23.5″————–3/4 violin
23.5 and up————-4/4 (known as “full size”)
Measuring by Holding the Violin
If the student can be there in person to hold the violin, place the violin firmly up to the student’s jugular vein, on the left side. With her left arm completely straight, but NOT STRAINING TO STRETCH, the scroll should come to about the middle of her palm. In other words, she should be able to cup the entire scroll in her hand, with her fingers curled up around the scroll most of the way.
If the student is RIGHT on the cusp between 2 measurements, go with the smaller instrument, but be prepared to switch to the larger size in a matter of months.
Final word: the 7/8 size violin
Most of you won’t have to deal with a 7/8 size violin, because it is so close to a full size instrument that the size difference is negligible. However, to a professional violinist, it is a WORLD of difference! I am 5’2″, and I’m right on the cusp between needing a 7/8 and a 4/4 violin. I sort of wish I had purchased a 7/8 violin, but I fell in love with my full size instrument, so I bought it. But believe me, I have no room to spare! In fact, I cannot play in turtleneck shirts, because the extra bit of distance it adds from my neck to my hand makes the violin just barely too big and difficult to manage! That’s easy to solve: No turtlenecks unless the program is VERY easy!