Magazine article Strings

How to Suggest the Proper Violin or Viola Size to Your Student

Magazine article Strings

How to Suggest the Proper Violin or Viola Size to Your Student

Article excerpt

An instrument that is too large can lead to devastating injuries

JOE TANEN FEELS VIOLIN PLAYERS' PAIN. The New York City-based instrument dealer and maker sees young violinists of all stripes - from beginning Suzuki students to Juilliard-bound prodigies - come through the doors of Tanen Violins in Manhattan, and they all want one thing: not style, not comfort, but sound. "They want a high-quality sound," Tanen says. "Especially the ones who are competing and auditioning for the prestigious ensembles.

"They want to make the big sound, so they can win these things."

For most, getting a big sound means getting a fullsize violin. But most teenage students aren't ready for a full-size violin - in fact, some petite professionals aren't physically capable of playing a full-size violin, either. While seasoned musicians know not to put themselves on a violin that doesn't fit their body, many students have difficulty in determining what instrument is right for them.

Here are several things to consider when helping your students find the right sized equipment they need to succeed.


With many fractional sizes available, students and parents can be tempted to skip a size, especially if a student is growing quickly. Don't cave into pressure. These parents might not fully understand the consequences for a child graduating to the next size too quickly. Advancing too fast can be counterintuitive or even physically dangerous. If an instrument is too large, for example, proper intonation with the fourth digit can be difficult to accomplish and scales can become arduous. Worse still is injury - struggling with an oversize instrument can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, and a host of other muscle and tendon issues.

Conversely, playing on a smaller instrument does not pose nearly as many threats. "I've never heard of a health risk with a player playing something that's too small," says Elizabeth Guerriero, a violinist and adjunct assistant professor of music education at Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey. "That's another case for why we'd want to wait until we're really, really ready."

How do you know if a student is ready to step up to the next size? If an instrument is truly too small, both the left arm and fingers will be cramped, argues Barbara Greenberg, director of the West WindsorPlainsboro New Jersey Community Education Suzuki Program. The left arm will be squished against the body, bowing will be awkward, and the student will be visibly uncomfortable. In this case, a bigger size is certainly appropriate.

And, in some cases, a full-size fiddle just isn't a good option - more and more professionals are adopting 7/8-size instruments as their violins or violas of choice, Tanen says, something not every parent or student realizes.

"I try to convince people that 7/8 is a viable size," Tanen says. "Sometimes I have to call it a 'small full-size.'"


Greenberg says teachers must consider three aspects of a student's body when determining what violin or viola fits best: the shape and size of the student's chest, collarbone, and shoulders; the length of the arms; and the size of the hands and fingers.

The shape and size of a student's chest, left collarbone, and left shoulder determines if she is able to comfortably balance the instrument. "The collarbone, shoulder, and chest wall have to able to support the size and shape of the instrument, even with the help of a shoulder pad," Greenberg says. …

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