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I've played on a full size violin for years, but is it really too big for me, and do I have a any other options as a professional violinist?

Katie  Benyo

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Published: February 19, 2014 at 9:01 PM [UTC]

I'm a professional violinist and teacher with a violin performance degree, but I've always struggled to reach the pinkie without excess tension and moving my hand *out of position*. I've also had wrist problems over and over again. I've always known I have extremely small hands/arms and I'm about 5' tall.

I work for a violin shop and had an opportunity to play on a 7/8 violin a few months back and it just seemed easy. Today I looked at several websites explaining arm length (from neck to palm) and what size violin should be used based on that measurement. I measured just under 22" which according to these sites puts me in a 3/4. I also can't reach to the scroll on my full size without completely straightening my arm.

I've read many downsides to 7/8 violins, but it's something I'm starting to wonder if I should consider? I've also heard it's possible to shorten the string length putting the notes slightly closer together.

Has anyone ever been through this or know anything about my options? Obviously as a professional playing in a symphony and teaching, I can't just get a 3/4 violin, but it'd be nice to not have to worry so much about injuries as I did through college and anytime I want to practice longer than an hour at a time.

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 11:09 PM
The length of the soundbox in "normal" violin is 35.5 cms.

But some violins are a bit smaller and still considered a full size violin, there are del Gesùs that are 35.2 or even 34.9 cms.

Other things like weight, neck thickness, width and shape, model (mainly the upper bouts width) and rib depth in the neck root may have also a great influence in playing confort.

Perhaps you could comission a violin to fit your needs.

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 11:18 PM
I'm a concert violinist and teacher. When I was shopping I stumbled across an old, unlabeled allegedly itallian violin that just happened to be around 7/8 the size. It's amazing....can hold its own against stuff in the $100,000 range...but since unlabeled I paid like a 1/4 of that. Wherever I go everyone is always impressed with the sound and asks what it is...many people even offer me money on the spot. If you look diligently and have a little bit of luck, you can find a 7/8 violin that's awesome.
From Krista Moyer
Posted on February 19, 2014 at 11:19 PM
I'm 5 feet tall and play a 3/4. It takes a while to find one that can compete with a full size, but it can be done. Don't rule it out entirely.
Posted on February 19, 2014 at 11:19 PM
Hi Katie!
A friend of mine recently commissioned a copy of del Gesu to a luthier here in Buenos Aires.
You will know that many of del Gesu are smaller than 35.5, which is the standard measure for a violin 4/4. This violin is 34.8, and despite being small, sounds great, and is not 3/4, is still a 4/4 violin. The strig lenght is also shorter, which can be good for you.
I tried it and I felt very comfortable
Maybe this can be a solution?

From Gene Wie
Posted on February 19, 2014 at 11:21 PM
My wife (who is in your neck of the woods height wise) and I both play on "small" full size instruments, with slimmer proportions, thin necks, and reduced weight. They're great. :)
Posted on February 20, 2014 at 12:00 AM
I played on a full sized violin from age 14 to 37. Then I realized I had long enough arms but shorter fingers. So I bought a 7/8 size and love it. It's just a little easier to use my fourth finger and now I can do an extended fourth finger.
Posted on February 20, 2014 at 12:29 AM
I am by no means a professional violinist, but I don't understand why a 3/4 size is not adequate. I am barely 5' tall, and initially had a full size, but like you had some difficulty and finally switched to 3/4 size. My very petite 11 year old daughter, who plays in the youth symphony, has a 1/2 size. Both of us have better than "student grade" violins, and they sound beautiful. I realize that you have less to choose from in looking for a quality 3/4 or 7/8 violin, but I know there are some good ones out there.
From Lydia Leong
Posted on February 20, 2014 at 12:30 AM
I much prefer a 7/8ths but I did not manage to find one that I thought had good enough sound. I've had a teacher who owned a 7/8ths Guadagnini, though, which was a beautiful instrument.

I ended up buying an instrument that's fairly large but has a thinner neck. It's not ideal but the suggestion of smaller full-sizes is good.

From Katie Benyo
Posted on February 20, 2014 at 1:48 AM
Thanks everyone, it's good to know there's hope. I'm just concerned that when I go to audition for a master's program at a conservatory, I might be looked down upon for having a smaller instrument.
Posted on February 20, 2014 at 3:37 AM
Hi Katie,

It is interesting that even pros can have beginner problems! :-)
I have played over 200 violins (some violas and two cello) in the past two years, and I have come across about two or three violins which are "sub-sized" violins:-
two were about 5mm shorter on the body than the normal 4/4 size violins, and one was the same length but slightly thinner (the ribs are narrower or the top and bottom are closer together), but all three have the same standard 4/4 main vibrating string lengths. The amazing thing is that all three of them sounded absolutely beautiful!!!!! The owner kept on asking me to play them over and over again (despite my limited abilities!
I have also recent purchased two new Chinese violins (reasons another time :-)), one 3/4, one 7/8, and they sounded so amazing and it is just unbelievable, in fact recently, I went for an informal audition (just for fun, I did not join, no time), I brought my old German violin, a $700 Chinese violin, and the 7/8, and I told conductor who was auditioning me that I had to check my phone every 5mins because there is a deal going on, so evert time I turned around, I switch violins for an except of each movement of a Mozart Concerto, well, he did not notice, except that he was impressed how I could vary much expressions and colors on each movement (despite my limited abilities! :-) And it made no difference that the violins were over x20 in price and almost 200 years apart! :-)
If You play great music, it's not important that you are technically slightly imperfect and made some mistakes, and certainly how big your instrument is!
I am not sure if you have seen a Guarneri, but the first time I saw one, I was thrown back at how small it is, and the sound is huge!!!!
I strongly advice against commissioning a new one because you don't know what you are getting and you are asking a luthier, who is by definition an Italian master pattern copy artist to do something that is not copying, but custom engineer one!
There are violins out there already made and played for years, and why reinvent the wheel?
There are others things you can do to fit your size to the violins, but sadly not even some of the pro know the solutions. I am over 6 ft, and I have tricks to compensate, and Vladim Rupin is even taller (hear how he played)!!!! Ironically, my last teacher said that I cannot play the violin because I am tool tall, well I gave up for a while, but soon fired him and kept playing! :-)
I know a couple of very short violinists who have to other non standard things to deal with a full size, and all three of them are some of the vert best in history!!!
If You are a pro and I am sure You are, and I cannot wait to hear you play!!!!!
There is no standard for a violin, only requirement for a certain pitch in the music, and if You play well, nobody will dare or care to say anything about the size of your violin, how much you paid for it, what you wear, your hair, man, woman, transexual or a conjoined twin! :-)
So you can have a shorter reach violin with shorter body and keep the string length, or shorter violin with shorter string length, or learn the tricks to play a 4/4 violin.
I can go ask the people who own those "ladies" violins if they still have them….

From martin swan
Posted on February 20, 2014 at 10:45 AM
Hi Katie,
If you go for an audition for a masters programme, it's inevitable that someone will find a way of looking down on you!
Unlike many of the wolves in sheep's clothing who have contributed to this thread, I don't have anything to sell you. However, I just wanted to re-iterate that there are some fantastic smaller violins out there, and in fact good antique instruments with back lengths under 35cm tend to be a lot cheaper than their more conventionally proportioned equivalents. For example about 12 months ago a beautiful Baldantoni sold at auction for £14,000 - it had a back length of about 34.5cm if I remember correctly. The sound was excellent. I've played many other Italian instruments even older than that which were affordable purely because they were small.
My own experience is that 3/4 violins (let's say 34cm or smaller) almost never sound completely grown up, and that it will be tricky (not impossible) to find a 3/4 that would pass muster as a professional instrument. However, between 34.5 and 35cm is very fertile ground, and a great maker would not be limited by this size.
In a way the vibrating string length is more critical to you than the back length. I had a customer two days ago who had exactly your problem - very small hands and major problems with pinkie extension in first position. She had a lovely fullsize instrument with a vibrating string length of 327cm - pretty standard but impossible for her. We tried a "ladies' violin" with a string length of about 320 and there wasn't a significant improvement, but on a 7/8 with a string length of 315 suddenly she was completely at home and all the problems disappeared. We did try a 3/4 (string length 303cm) but this was very restrictive.
So although there are lots of great violins with slightly short stops, and it might be worth looking at these, I don't think this will do the trick unless both the neck stop and the body stop are short. If you look for an antique instrument that's undersized, you will surely be able to find a serious professional instrument, and at a keen price.
From Paul Deck
Posted on February 20, 2014 at 5:44 PM
There is a solution -- there are many wonderful violin makers today, in fact we are in kind of a golden age of violin making I believe. Commission a smaller instrument! Maybe one of the makers will give you a good deal since you're kind of a guinea pig for them in terms of trying to make something smaller that still has a great sound. I also saw in Potter's catalog a year ago maybe that they had a 3/4 Vuillaume for sale at around $12k, don't quote me, that's based on my feeble memory.
From Philip Voll
Posted on February 21, 2014 at 3:22 AM
To Martin Swan, while it may be true thatbthere are some snobs out there, expecting someone at an audition will be looking down on you, especially beaded on the size of the instrument is a poor attitude, and certainly any judge who does that is unprofessional. We have come a long way from the slace trade and racial discrimination especially in the field of music and esp classical music.
I encourage any violinist to just focus on their performance and let the judges worry about the size of your instrument!

And for those experts who stated that smaller instruments are handicapped acoustically merely because ofd size, that is simply not a fact. There are plenty of examples where young violinists on sub size violins made huge sounds in halls and competion, and there are no shortages of examples, and some are on yountube.

The girl can play (and so she claims) so let her make up her own mind:- string length (fingering spacing) or body length (reach) or both.

No one I see here is Wolve in sheep skin (and I object to wolves portrait that way, nor do they dawn sheep skin or disguise or camp themselves in any way, they just run like hell and catch their lunch, an honest living!), because in the end, our violinist here is going to buy something, and someone is going to sell! :-) Besides, the solve howl is one of the most beautiful singings in nature, along with whale songs!

From Brent Hudson
Posted on February 23, 2014 at 7:16 PM
If you go to the website, you can search luthiers by name and use the "small violin" search limiter. You will find that many of the old master luthiers made them and that many are registered there. The measurements are frequently given on the description page for the particular fiddle, as well as its ownership, provenance, etc. As an experiment, I randomly selected Giuseppe and Antonio Gagliano, to find that in 1794 they made a violin with a body length of 34.3 cm., and that in 1955 the instrument was owned by William Lewis and Sons, Chicago. With some investigation, you can track down specific instruments. All of the well-known dealer/luthiers will have them for sale or assist you in finding one -- if you purchase they might ask a commission from the sale. Or they might copy an old one for you on commission; generally, you can specify a right of refusal if you don't like what the maker makes you. We're probably talking over $10K here, but, as has been mentioned, you might get a better deal. It will be an interesting search project that others will like to hear about.
Posted on February 24, 2014 at 4:08 AM
Hi. If you do find a nice 7/8 size violin put stark strings on it for added power and tone. We learned that from a wonderful violin dealer/restorer in LA. I sold last year a wonderful, 1871 American, Boston School violin with stark strings because if was just a bit too small for me, it went to a gal who is just 5 feet! They are out there you just have to look and try it out. Email shops and ask to try one on trial.
Good luck and keep us posted.

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