I still remember my first violin; a Chinese-made student violin which came with a bow and a piece of rosin. To this day I remember the smell of the rosin and when I open a new student violin case, the memory is so ingrained that I am catapulted back in time.
If you are a beginner just starting to learn the violin, you are embarking on an amazing journey that will enrich your life and stay with you forever. Let’s try comparing this to any other journey that you might undertake. If you were setting out on a hike, you would want the appropriate footwear and clothing. Setting out to cross the seas you would wish to ensure that your boat is seaworthy.
Many of you that are looking for a starter violin are doing so for your child. Imagine, for example, that you were introducing your child to horse-riding; you would not ask them to start on a big, angry, bad-tempered beast likely to kick and bite. In this respect, the violin is no different; you need the right tools for the right job. If you want to ensure that your learning experience is not hindered by the violin you are playing, you should make sure that your starter violin is set up properly.
A lot of the cheap factory-made violins aimed at the beginner market are often not necessarily badly-made, but they can often be set up so badly as to easily discourage a beginner. Some, unfortunately, are beyond saving even with a good set-up and for this reason it is always better to seek advice unless you know what to look for.
A cheap violin bought on the internet is a huge risk and a false economy as it may be completely un-playable and a great disappointment. If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. That is not to say that you should not look online; these days some very reputable violin retailers now sell professionally set-up student violins online, which can be a great help if you live in a rural area and are not able to shop around.
If you are buying from a shop, you need the assurance that the violin you are buying has been set-up correctly by a professional violin maker, which is something most reputable shops do automatically. Alternatively, a professional violin maker will often be able to order a factory-made violin for you and at a small extra cost, which is worth its weight in gold, set it up for you so that your learning experience is as enjoyable and as successful as possible. Some poorly set-up violins can actually be impossible to play and as equally impossible to tune, even for a seasoned professional. Imagine trying to scale that particular mountain as a total novice.
Living and teaching in Italy for 25 years, specifically in Cremona, I was spoiled for choice as a well set-up beginner violin was usually just around the corner, but there are many talented and dedicated violin makers all over the world and I strongly advise if possible, that you seek one out and ask for their professional advice before throwing away good money on something that will potentially make your learning experience disheartening and frustrating.
You may not know where to start looking for a professional violin maker or a reputable violin retailer, in which case you should ask the advice of a violin teacher who will almost certainly be able to help you. Indeed, if you have already chosen a violin teacher, they may well be willing to accompany you to help you pick out a violin. When I was running my violin practice in Italy, I would often connect a new pupil with a more advanced student who was willing to sell on their own starter violin now that they had progressed. I had one pupil who started aged 6 with a ¼ size. He then progressed to a ½ size passed on from his brother and then, after a quick growth spurt, progressed to a full-size. So his ¼ and ½ size could be sold on. One pupil I had was so attached to the whole process that she didn’t want to sell her old instruments on, preferring instead to keep them as a memento of her progress.
Until you start playing the violin you will not really understand the importance of the correct set-up but it can make the difference between falling in love with the violin and allowing it to become an important part of your life, or alternatively, finding the whole experience too frustrating and giving up before you have had a chance to really connect with it.
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