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Various Newbie Questions

Instruments: How does paint type affect a violin? How can one find a good beginner violin on a tight budget? Is there really an optimum age for learning?

From Samantha Grimes
Posted October 19, 2006 at 05:03 AM

I'm admittedly completely new to the world of violin, though I've been dying to learn for ages.
I wanted to learn as a child but we simply didn't have the money for it. I grew up in england where it was compulsory to learn music in school, but found the teachers very unattentive to those who weren't already in the school orchestra.
Despite this, having been boning up on my music theory these last few weeks, I realise I did learn quite a bit which I have retained well enough.
I'm 21 now and want to pick up violin. I'm not very good at piano so I'm nervous that I might just plain suck at it. I'm very determined however and have looked into having one-on-one lessons nearby.

So, here's my barrage of newbie questions. :)

Does the colour of the violin affect it's quality? For example, if one was to buy a blue violin, can they assume the sound quality would be worse than the same violin with a natural wood finish? (I'm awfully fond of the black violins, but am worried it would sound terrible.)
Also, is there a cut off age for really becoming good at the violin, or is it subjective? I've heard people say you have to start at 4 or so if you want to get anywhere, which has added to my apprehension.
Also, are there any suggestions on fair quality violins for a beginner on an extremely tight budget. Is EBAY a no-go zone? How about Amazon? I have considered renting and am not fond of the idea of using a violin that I don't technically own. It just makes me plain nervous. The violins at my local music store run around 300 dollars, which I really don't have. Am I doomed to the world of screechy balsa wood violins because of my budget? What if I buy one and my teacher says I can't use it because it's awful?
I've read some really good and some bad reviews on the Helmke violins supplied by ebay seller Great Tunes Select. I have been eying their full size ebony fitted set.Their pricing is within my range. Some people have said they're excellent and have no complaints about them, and others have said that you must buy a violin that's at least a thousand dollars to really be able to play.
I'm trying to sort fact from fiction basically, before I decide what to do. I think really the most I can currently stretch to is about a hundred dollars. My fingers are crossed as to whether this is do-able or not.

I'll stop talking your ears off now. I appreciate any advice anyone has to give.

Thank you in anticipation.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 05:41 AM
If you live near a college (or if you're in college) take the string class. You can learn to play violin, viola, cello, and bass from a teacher, with instruments supplied, on the cheap. Another possibility might be a friend of a friend who'd teach you at a deep discount and loan you a violin.
From Gene Wie
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 05:51 AM
> Also, is there a cut off age for really
> becoming good at the violin, or is it
> subjective? I've heard people say you have
> to start at 4 or so if you want to get
> anywhere, which has added to my apprehension.

In his book, Ivan Galamian addresses this issue as thus: musical ability can be developed in any person of any age; however, playing technique is best developed when a person is younger.

In my experience, someone who is motivated and focused can play very well, regardless of age. I have a violin student who has been playing for almost 2 1/2 years. She started when she was eighteen (and had some piano experience when she was younger). We started from nothing, and now she is playing Mozart's G Major concerto and the third Bach Partita (along with having a great sound and strong musicianship), and took an audition (and was accepted as a new member this season) for UCLA's Symphony Orchestra. This is her first actual orchestra experience, and apparently she's having a great time.

Perhaps sometime soon I'll convince her to post on here and share her experience as an "adult beginner."

From Samantha Grimes
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 12:54 PM
The lessons I've planned are not surprisingly expensive and I do know that I can afford them
(18 dollars per half hour)
Is there a recommended number of lessons to take per week?
The nearest big universities are probably in DC which is about an hour away, but it's difficult for me to get out there.
I've considered searching for a violin on craigslist too, and might have a look today and see what people have.
From Bechler Sue
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 02:13 PM
I admire adult novices tremendously! At camp, I've seen people between 8yrs and almost 80 try the fiddle for a week- and end up with a recognizable tune. Right now I have 12 students; half 10-12yrs.,half 55-75yrs. Rapport with the teacher is very important for every age student. Not every teacher works well with every age person, so seeking someone who is interested in the issues of being an older learner is really important. Adults often have specific goals, ie "to play five fiddle tunes; to read well enough to keep up in a community orchestra". Kids tend to say "to play the violin." (Although a pile of kids take up cello and bass specifically to play the intro to Jaws.) A good teacher addresses these wishes as an integral part of what students need to know to succeed. Adults often struggle with the various contortions we call playing position and tone production, and need careful attention to avoid pain and injury, extra work fitting chin rests and shoulder rests to accomodate a lifetime of old injury and body use, etc. Some adults over-practice w/limited results, and benefit from individualized, concise, topical exercises. Adults tend to be pretty realistic and aware of what they're doing, but also are easily frustrated and want to go too fast. Dealing with this takes a careful verbal tapdance on the teacher's part. Wishing you lots of luck! Happy playing! Sue
From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 05:48 PM
>I'm nervous that I might just plain suck at it.

I'm here to tell you that one can indeed just plain suck at it and still manage to have some fun and produce some catchy tunes. It helps, though, to not be caught up in the destination, but instead enjoy the journey for what it is.

Those are indeed very inexpensive lessons. Keep in mind, though, that you usually get what you pay for, so if they don't nourish you, don't give up - just find another teacher (who most likely will charge more. Lots more. But the right teacher is well worth the cost).

No one has commented on the paint and buying on E-Bay and Amazon. I'm sure I echo others' opinions in saying no on both. Get out to several music shops and try out as many violins as possible (at least 10 and preferrably much more) and get to know what sounds best at the best cost. There are lots of wonderful, inexpensive violins out there - the Chinese ones are a real bargain. I bought a new Romanian one that I just adore. The sound and the playability just leapt out at me. My teacher was impressed, too. As for rentals, if you can get one now for three months, you're buying time to find the "right" violin for long term. Don't rush it. (As well, the music shop where I got my rental applied the rental cost to the purchase of any violin from there.)

Good luck, and hope you have as much fun as I've had as an adult beginner!

From D Wright
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 06:46 PM
hi samantha. welcome to violinist.com! please do not worry about sucking on the violin! you've come this far already. don't let doubt, fear, indecision, or naysayers talk you out of your dream!
From Allan Speers
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 07:47 PM
"Does the colour of the violin affect it's quality?"

-Well, it's true that no maker of quality violins is going to dye his creation black. There is a black carbon-fiber violin currently being produced, which is supposedly quite decent in quality, but well....
-------------------

"is there a cut off age for really becoming good at the violin, or is it subjective?"

-Define "really good." If you desire to be a world famous soloist, your chances would be diminished as certain brain & muscle changes can only happen when you are younger than 7. However, if your goal is to enjoy playing music, and maybe join a local orchestra or quartet, then you are going to be just fine.
--------------

"Are there any suggestions on fair quality violins for a beginner on an extremely tight budget?"

-Can't help you there. One thing to consider, though: With a limited budget, you are better off getting a decent bow and an absolute clunker violin. A good bow will help you develop skills. you can get a better violin later. Ebay might work for you, but you can also get completely taken. On a limited budget, I'd say it's unwise to take the chance unless you find an auction where the seller lives close by, so you can check it out. BTW: Some retailers have very liberal rental policies. that might be your best bet. Try Frisco Strings in Texas. They specialize in student - to mid-level instruments (meaning $5,000 and under) and have a GREAT rental policy. You could be learning a a really nice instrument instead of some junk, and 90%f the rental applies to any future purchase.
-----------

"The violins at my local music store run around 300 dollars, which I really don't have."

-The hard truth is, you can barely find an acceptable BOW for that much. I'm not being a snob, this is just how it is. I have been looking for a "pro" sounding violin for about six months. I haven't found anything that doesn't make me ill for under $15,000. So, again, accept this reality and re-think the option of renting.
------------

" Am I doomed to the world of screechy balsa wood violins because of my budget?"

-Yes. See above.
------------------

"What if I buy one and my teacher says I can't use it because it's awful?"

-then find a new teacher. An awful bow, on the other hand....
-------------------

" I think really the most I can currently stretch to is about a hundred dollars. My fingers are crossed as to whether this is do-able or not. "

Samantha, the last thing I want to do is discourage you. I learned on an absolutely horrible piece of dreck that I bought on Ebay for $75. However, it was properly set-up, so at least it responded correctly. For about six months, I enjoyed the heck out of it, simply because I enjoy the process of practising. However, once I got my mechanics fairly together, I quickly became massively frustrated with it's squeaky, pinched tone.

I suppose if I were dead-broke, I could continue to enjoy this little VSO (violin-shaped object) The thing is, though, that two weeks after buying this piece of dung, I purchased a $2,000 bow. The bow that came with the violin was a wet noodle. Using it would have been TORTURE.

rent, rent, rent.....

From Samantha Grimes
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 07:40 PM
Thank you everyone for your encouraging sentiments. It is very much appreciated!

Not knowing the usual rates for music lesons of any type, I thought I would be getting a bargain for 18 bucks a half hour. :: laughs :: I sort of equated it to being close to riding lessons, which are actually more expensive, and was assuming lessons for violin would be ridiculously more expensive.
I have yet to go and meet this teacher in person, as I'm trying to sort of sound people out on other options before I rush into buying a bad instrument, or hiring a bad teacher. I do know that the teacher there does teach a lot of adults older than myself, along with a lot of children. Reputedly he teaches bluegrass and classical. ( I'm interested in learning classical) I am admittedly nervous about meeting with a music teacher after my repeated experience with teachers at school who ignore everyone but their star pupil who plays umpteen million different instruments. That being said, that is a reason I'd much rather have a one-on-one teaching session.
There are two places in this town with a few violin teachers. Perhaps I should go and meet with all of them and then decide?
As for trying out a violin before I buy it, not actually being able to play the violin sort of stunts my ability to hear the tone of the violin. I can get a good bow stroke going without the violin sounding like a dying cat, but as far as finger placements go, I don't have the foggiest clue where to start, and am loathe to start self teaching incase I pick up horrible habits that will stunt my learning process in the future.
But again, thank you all for being so encouraging! I have very desperately wanted to learn this instrument for some time, and as the years ticked on I thought it less likely I could. I don't really care what I play, I just want to play, anything. Or rather, learn the ability to play anything.

On another note (no pun intended)Does anyone have any tips for learning your music theory scales. I've seen the Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge thing (which we never learned in england, not sure why, it's so much easier) but even after all this time, I can't look at a stave and instantly know what pitch each note is without going over them and writing the pitch under each note. Any ideas of exresizes to help me learn on sight?

From Vivian Guo
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 10:18 PM
I would also recommend that you start with a rental. Go to a rental place with your teacher. That way you won't need to spend too much money and when you have a little experience with playing the violin, you will know better what you would like to have. Rental agreement doesn't need to be long. I had my rental for about 2 or 3 months max. and bought my own afterwards. It works well for me. As far as eBay is concerned, it is a hit-and-miss place for getting a violin. Too many dishonest sellers and inexperienced sellers, whose violins usually require a lot of work or a lot of money to fix.

I am old enough to be your mother and I have no sense of rhythm. No musical background whatsoever. Never sucked on any instruments because I never played one. BUT I am learning the violin and have a lot of fun with it. :-)

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 10:35 PM
You're not going get far on your $100 unless you get pretty creative or unless the good will of your strangers is better than in the strangers I know:)
From Rachael Hobb
Posted on October 19, 2006 at 11:42 PM
Definately go with renting....I believe http://www.ifshinviolins.com has some student violins for 14$ a month.
From Samantha Grimes
Posted on October 20, 2006 at 01:04 AM
Okay. This is not far from me, I don't know if it's sold yet or not. I have contacted the seller. I just saw it and had a feeling about it and would like to get my hands on it.
Any concerns I should address? Anything I should ask?
http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/mld/msg/219497903.html
What do you think? Is it a bad idea, or a lucky find? Should I bother following up on it if it's not sold?
From Allan Speers
Posted on October 20, 2006 at 02:08 AM
Samantha,

If you can take someone with you who knows violins, sure take a look. At least the seller seems honest, and its old.

A few things to be aware of:

1: This is just some low end German production violin, like the millions of garbage Czech violins out there. Probably early 20th century. It looks a LOT like my $75 piece of dreck. It might still be as good as a "decent" student instrument of today, though, but maybe not.

2: It may need repairs WAAAY in excess of your total budget. Don't look at it without a vioinist friend or your teacher!!!!!!

3: It looks like the bow is shot, because it was stored under high-tension. You might be able to have it re-cambered, but you can't afford to right now, and it probably ins't a good enough bow to even warrant the work.

4: If they treated the bow like that, how did they treat the violin?

From Samantha Grimes
Posted on October 20, 2006 at 02:34 AM
You have made very good points. Yes.
That fact that she says she's fiddled around with it does make me suspicious. She probably has no idea.
Also, if my grandfather gave me his old violin, I wouldn't sell it if it were worth thousands.
But then, that's me.
I don't know. :: ponders ::
I don't have a teacher just yet, and I don't know anyone else who plays violin. Infact, I've not met anyone since I moved to america who plays violin.
Do you think it's likely overpriced for what it is? Is it's age a pro or a con? I did email the seller to ask what if any damage there is as far as cosmetic and fractures, hairline or other.
I expected that a violin I would buy in my price range would need work and a professional setup. I've looked into the prices at nearby luthierss and it's not horrible pricing, depending on what needs to be done.
From Allan Speers
Posted on October 20, 2006 at 02:57 AM
Perhaps one of the luthiers on this forum could give you some pointers as to what to look for, and how much each repair would be. That is not my area of expertise. A few quick ones, though:

The soundpost could be loose, or missing.

Seems could be open.

The neck could be set at the wrong angle.

The bridge could be cut wrong or badly warped, or the wrong height, or have the grooves too deep.

The tuning pegs or holes might be mis-shaped and need work.

There could be a crack in the top where the soundpost sits. This is considered fatal.

The dimensions might be off. This would be rare, but it just happened to me. See my post titled "4/4 neck- how short can it be?"
----------

HOWEVER, this might actually be a very nice little violin. (Well, maybe) It's worth $100 just as a wall hanging.

From Samantha Grimes
Posted on October 20, 2006 at 03:29 AM
At this point I'm tempted almost to get it even for it's history.
I'm fond of antiques as it is because they have so much character and they just -feel- so great. It's hard to explain aside from feeling.
From Michael McEachern
Posted on August 14, 2010 at 08:36 PM

 

At what age is best to start to learn violin? (Or any musical instrument)
Well I started to play the violin at the tender age of 45 and find that it suits me well
You just have to have a love for the style of music you play.
 
As far as the Helmke violin, I got one from e-bay and with a little work over from my local Luther it play well enough, I even had some friends that play with the local Charlotte symphony check it out and said that it was a good fiddle for bluegrass but lacked the depth for Mozart.
 
Also in my recherché I found that Helmke by Germen engineering is a mass produced instrument (Although made by hand) From China.
 
Still I am happy with it till I am good enough for the symphony and can afford a high quality instrument. But alas I am and always a hillbilly at heart.
 
Fallow you dreams work hard for your goal, and the devil with anyone who say it can’t be done.
 
Good Luck and have fun
From Marsha Weaver
Posted on August 15, 2010 at 03:07 PM

I see that this is an old (2006) thread.  I wonder how Samantha did on finding an affordable violin.

Since my search for a violin in January, I've been made aware of a couple of sources that newbie violin shoppers might find helpful.

1)  Check any pawn shops you can find.  A friend of mine bought a nice -- not great -- violin for her daughter at a pawn shop for $100.

2)  Check with local violin teachers to see if they have any students who have recently moved up to a better violin and are interested in selling their old one.

Both of these suggestions come with a couple of caveats -- take a violinist (teacher, advanced student, etc.) with you when you try out the violin, and listen to them play it.  Ask them to critique the instrument.  Also, take the instrument to a good luthier before making a final decision on it.  Sometimes relatively easy set-up adjustments can make a vast difference in the sound quality of an instrument.  One you might have originally considered passing up can really be improved with a couple of quick taps to the soundpost and/or a slight repositioning of the bridge.

You can always move up to a better instrument later as experience and finances allow.  Anyone who tells you that you have to have a $1000 violin to start out with is a snooty elitist (with apologies to any potential snooty elitists out there!).

 

From Marsha Weaver
Posted on August 15, 2010 at 05:25 PM

I just went back and read the older comments.  Someone made a disparaging comment about the old German turn-of-the-century (around 1900) factory-made violins.  You can't lump them all together.  My primary violin is an old German conservatory violin (made for the U.S. student trade around 1900).  It was given to me by a friend who had inherited it, but wasn't interested in learning to play.  It needed repairs/replacement of missing parts when I got it, so I had the work done as cheaply as I could.  It was then playable, but definitely lacked tonal quality.  Since then, I've had parts (pegs, bridge, tailpiece, chin rest) upgraded and the set-up adjusted by an excellent luthier, and of course use better strings (Dominants) on it.   I doubt that most people would recognize it as the same violin!  It has a BEAUTIFUL tone!  My teacher absolutely loves it, and I wouldn't trade it for any other violin I can think of! 

From John Cadd
Posted on August 15, 2010 at 07:36 PM

I can`t help  feeling that this whole topic was a huge windup. Samantha Grimes??  I think she may turn into a fine novellist.  It is a universally accepted truth that a young lady in possesion of a violin shall be in want of a good bow.

From Roland Roberts
Posted on August 15, 2010 at 10:50 PM

 He he, very good John.

Naturally in the violin world the heroines long for beaus not balls!

From Margaret Hopkins
Posted on August 17, 2010 at 01:38 PM

Hi,  I am a recent  (mature) student of the violin and am currently learning staccato.   Basically , I would like to ask,  how do I staccato?  do I stay on the string  and  use the full length of the bow , or just a quick strike and off the string. ?     Thank you for your help on technique.

From Andrew Victor
Posted on August 17, 2010 at 02:38 PM

Margaret,

There are many kinds of staccato ranging from short marcato to long bow strokes with many separated staccato notes within the bow. Spiccato strokes would have the bow coming off the string with some help from the player. Sautillé is a staccato stroke that has the bow coming off the string on its own.

If you don't have a teacher to help you through this (you really should), the DVD "Violin Bow Technique" with Fintan Murphy may be sufficient to help you into it.

Expect it to take quite some time (perhaps years). Also, for the off-string strokes, some bows are inadequate - and having a teacher (or a competent friend) can help avoid battling bad equipment.

Andy

From Margaret Hopkins
Posted on August 17, 2010 at 02:59 PM

Thank you for your kind response Andrew.   I will be seeing a tutor next week.    I think he meant me to practice   marcato  , ( short strokes).      I feel rather defeated when you mentioned  that the staccato technique can take years .   Thanks for the DVD recommendation which I shall certainly look into.  I'll get my local music shop to order it.


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