So, you’ve made the decision that you want to learn to play the violin – that’s great news! It’s an exciting feeling to get stuck into a new instrument, but there are so many variables. What brand should you go for? What’s the budget? Most importantly, what violin size should you get?
That last question often puts people off buying a violin as they think the sizing system is too complicated. Still, I’m here to tell you it isn’t – it’s simple. If you’re interested, read on to find out everything you need to know regarding violin sizes.
The Standard Size
When I was first looking into purchasing a violin as an adult, I was really confused about the sizing system. I wasn’t sure whether sizes were different depending on your body type or skill level, and I had no idea which violin to buy. After doing some research, I found out that there is only one main violin choice for adults, the 4/4.
Almost every violin you have seen being played in an orchestra would be a 4/4 or “standard size” violin, and it is the only size you will generally have to consider as an adult. However, people sometimes need smaller sizes for a variety of reasons; there’s no need to use the 4/4 simply because it’s considered normal size.
The Sizing System Explained
4/4 is the standard violin size that you should consider as an adult violist. Still, if the violin is for a child or teenager, a smaller violin will be necessary. This prevents the violin from being too heavy or large for someone to handle. It doesn’t change anything about how you learn the violin.
There are eight key violin sizes, each represented by a fraction, as shown in the following table:
Size Neck to Wrist Length
- 4/4 54cm
- ¾ 52cm
- ½ 48.5cm
- ¼ 44cm
- 1/8 38.5cm
- 1/10 36cm
- 1/16 33.5cm
It may initially make sense that these fractions represent the size ratio (i.e., a 1/16 violin would be one-sixteenth of the size of a full-sized violin. That really would be the world’s smallest violin, but the fractions are a bit misleading.
The fractions have simply become a convenient sizing system. Still, it refers to a fractional size difference, not an exact ratio. Every quarter represents an inch, so a ¾ violin is roughly an inch smaller than full-sized (or 4/4).
It’s all quite confusing, but you don’t need to worry too much about the numbers. If you’re buying for an adult, you’ll be happy to know that it’s smooth sailing – you will most likely require a full-sized 4/4.
However, if you are buying for a child, you may have to go through the pain of smaller sizes. The violins are fine, but children grow bigger and soon require an upgraded violin size.
It’s not too big of a deal, though – as long as the child can comfortably use and learn violin through the size that they have, that’s all that matters.
Larger Sized ‘Violins’
I’ve often had people ask me about the ‘huge violins’ that are often seen in orchestras, with some being the size of a large human! This is a great thing to bring up, but I’ve got news for you – they’re not violins.
If you’re a seasoned violinist and know all about the key stringed instruments, then you probably don’t need to read this next section. However, if you’re looking into buying your first violin, it’s important to consider whether it’s even the instrument that you are looking for! Let’s take a look at some of the common confusions.
Firstly, let’s consider the viola. The name of this instrument suggests it would be a smaller version of a violin, but it’s the opposite. Violas are larger than full-sized violins by around 3 inches and therefore have a different timbral character.
The frequency range of the instrument is lower due partly to the increase in size. Therefore violas generally represent the mid-frequency sections in an orchestra. Some people prefer to play low and rich tones, whilst others prefer high tones and thus choose between the instruments accordingly.
However, another reason people choose the viola is to access similarly deep tones to a cello or bass whilst remaining relatively small in size like a violin. On that note, let’s take a look at an instrument that produces even deeper tones, the cello.
Violas are only larger than violins by a few inches. If you were looking at an orchestra, it would be difficult to notice the size difference. However, it’s easy to see the difference between violins and cellos; those are some huge instruments.
A full-sized cello will have a back length of over 30 inches, but the full size between the cello base and the scroll will be approximately 48 inches (1.2 meters). This makes them almost twice the size of violins, and, understandably, this makes them impractical to many people.
However, I think that if you have a love for bass instruments of an orchestra and prefer to practice sitting down as opposed to how violinists stand, the cello could be a good option. Much like the violins, cellos come in a variety of sizes, so no one is “too small” to learn.
The Double Bass
If the cello isn’t big and bassy enough for you, there’s one more option – the double bass (also known simply as ‘the bass‘). This is by far the largest stringed instrument commonly found in an orchestra, reaching around 6 feet in length (or 1.82 meters) whilst cellos only reach around four feet.
The double bass’s large size has significant implications on how the instrument can be played. Sitting down as if you were playing the cello is simply not possible, and you must instead stand up.
The instrument once again comes in smaller sizes. It includes a point for the instrument to softly rest upon, but I have to confess that the double bass is simply not for me.
It’s way too big! I can’t think of anything worse than getting the bus to orchestra practice in the rain whilst carrying a double bass nightmare! However, I do see the appeal in it – the rich bassy tones are enough to pique any musician’s interest.
Three Top Tips to Finding the Size for You
We’ve pretty much covered the core variety of violin sizes available, even venturing into the commonly misnamed ‘larger violins.’ So, how exactly do you use this information, and what do you need to find a violin size that is right for you? These are great questions; check out the answers in the following three tips.
Tip 1: Knowing When a Size Fits
It’s all very well having all these violin sizes, but that doesn’t mean much when you test a violin for the first time. You’re learning a new instrument. Therefore, the positioning of your arms will always feel strange whilst you get used to holding the violin.
This is why you must look for signs of a violin being a comfortable fit. The last thing you want is to buy a violin, only to realize a week later that you should have picked several sizes smaller.
The absolute essentials of violin sizes all come down to one thing – comfort. It should be comfortable to press notes with your left hand whilst holding the violin. You should also be able to comfortably move your left hand through the curve of the violin scroll with some additional stretch space.
The violin should also not feel too awkward or heavy to carry. You should be able to hold up a violin whilst touching the top of the fingerboard with your other hand.
If this feels clumsy and uncomfortable, I would recommend taking a look at 7/8 violins, at least. Their smaller size doesn’t have a negative quality on the violin – it simply means that it will be more comfortable and lighter to hold.
Tip 2: Try Violins at Music Stores
You should now know plenty of information regarding how violin sizes work. Still, you need to experience the feeling of holding a violin to get to know it. Online shopping is great for getting bargains on products you already know that you want. Still, when it doesn’t let you test the difference between a 4/4 and a 7/8, it’s not much use for testing violin sizes.
I cannot recommend anything more than visiting your local music retailer. You’ll need to find one that stocks violins, but once you do, I’m sure they’ll have some expert staff who can help you figure out which size you need.
The best thing about this is that you can try out as many different sizes as the violin shop has in stock. Customer service is always great in-store, and most workers will be happy to sit with you whilst you figure out what size you need.
Tip 3: Always Test a Violin Correctly
Throughout my time in the local university orchestra, I’ve seen several new violists who claim their violin does not fit their size. Upon inspecting closer, I’ve noticed that most of these people weren’t even holding the violin correctly, or they were sitting down!
To effectively assess whether a violin is a good size for you, you are going to need to know how to hold them properly. You should be stood up and feel comfortable in your pose, with plenty of space to maneuver the bow. If you already know a lot about violins, you should always make sure they are perfectly tuned with a tuning device before testing.
One of the people I saw had a far too large bow, making it difficult to find a comfortable way to play the instrument. Another student claimed that they learned to play the instrument sitting down, another bad practice!
This is another good reason to head to a local music store to test out the available violins. There will likely be a staff member who is fully aware of how to correctly hold a violin and will help you find the right size.
Violins I Recommend
This is one of the best student model instruments available, especially for the price. This is the upgraded everything version of Cecilio violins featuring aged wood with a highly flamed maple one-piece back and sides and a solid grained spruce top. The varnish is hand-rubbed oil, and the fingerboard and fittings are made from ebony. The violin is strung with D’addario Prelude strings. The outfit comes with an upgraded case, 2 brazilwood bows, rosin, shoulder rest, lesson book, tuner, and an extra bridge. Overall create quality for the price, but you can expect a trip to the luthier for a setup and potential fitting change out. I’d also recommend a bow upgrade.
- Great quality for the price
- Beautiful one-piece back
- Hand rubbed varnish
- Comes with a lot of accessories
- Will need set up by a luthier
- Bow will need to be replaced
This is a beautifully upgraded version of the Concert Violin. This violin features aged spruce and maple tonewoods, ebony fingerboard, and boxwood fittings. You’ll find an upgraded Despiau 3-tree or Holstein 3-star bridge and Kaplan Amo or Thamistik Dominant Strings, along with a Wittner fine tuner. This violin outfit features a lightweight case, Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber bow, shoulder rest, rosin, practice mute, and digital tuner. One of the best student outfits you can find, this violin will allow you to grow with it.
- Great quality for the price
- Aged tonewoods
- Upgraded bridge and strings
- Every accessory you need
- Set up and ready to play
- There really aren’t any downsides for this outfit at this price point
This is a beautiful choice for the growing musician. Featuring an Englemann-aged spruce top with maple back and sides, along with an ebony fingerboard. You will find either ebony to boxwood fittings on this violin, and both are a fine choice. I prefer the ebony fittings just for the contrast on this violin. The violin is strung with dominant strings and features a warm and round tone. The outfit features a case, rosin, bow, and shoulder rest.
- Great quality for the price
- Aged tonewoods
- Great strings
- Quality outfit and accessories
- Will need a bow upgrade
This is a great professional model violin. I typically focus a lot on student violins in my recommendations. Still, I wanted to bring out one of my favorite professional violins. The Holstein Bench Strad 1715 is one of the top violins offered by Fiddlershop. Crafted by a single luthier, this violin features select Russian spruce and select maple tonewoods harvested from high-altitude forests and aged over 20 years. The fingerboard is made from pure ebony, and the fittings are hill-style boxwood. You will find either a hand-carved professional level Despiau 3-tree or Holstein Delux Bridge and custom chosen strings to fit the violin. This is a professional-level violin, so it doesn’t come with any extras except for a case. The bow you choose for this instrument will depend on it; the team at Fiddlershop can help you find the right accessories and build an outfit for you. They will even film the violin being played for you and help you choose between them.
- Highest quality violin
- Aged tonewoods harvest from high altitude forests
- Professional bridge
- Professional set-up
- Doesn’t come with an outfit
- Really Expensive
We’ve covered a lot across this guide to violin sizes, so I thought it was about time I broke things up with an FAQ. These are four questions I hear all the time, so hopefully, my answers will help you.
Answer: Yes, the standard size for a violin is 4/4, and whilst many people prefer smaller violins, it is considered the orchestral standard for adults.
Answer: My number one piece of advice would be to print out this guide and head to your local violin retailer; they will usually let children try various sizes to help them find their right match.
Answer: No – whilst I’ve always thought the name Viola sounds smaller than the violin, violins are several inches smaller than violas.
Answer: Choosing the correct violin size for you is important stuff – your decision will determine whether learning the violin is a comfortable experience, so don’t rush to any conclusions without testing it out first.
I hope that this guide explained violin sizes to you well; it’s actually pretty simple when you look at it in small chunks. If you’re an adult and looking to learn the instrument, you probably don’t have much to worry about as you will likely require a 4/4 violin.
However, if you are buying a violin for a younger or smaller person, it’s definitely worth visiting a violin shop and testing out some sizes. At the end of the day, different people have different bodies. Still, from my experience, there always seems to be a violin that fits.
Personally, I use a 4/4 violin and have done for the majority of my time in the orchestra. It’s been a pleasure to play and is always a comfortable experience; I hope that you will feel this when you find the right violin size for you!
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