I've been teaching adult beginners a long time now, and have pretty much always done what I considered to be traditional, which is starting them on a full-size instrument.
This works just fine on people with larger hands that can already effectively reach from 1st to 4th finger on a full size instrument, but of course adults with smaller/less strong fingers have significant trouble reaching their 4s without compromising their hand position. And since they lack the fingerboard awareness to be able to jump up to the 4 and back to the 1 with any degree of certainty, they usually spend at least a few months on the violin before feeling OK about their 4s. Even then, I feel sometimes like they compromised the muscular development of the 4s because of starting on such a (relatively) large instrument, whereas people who have played from a young age got to graduate into larger sizes, allowing a more incremental approach.
What I sometimes do with young teenagers who are small for their age is rent them a 1/2 size for a couple of months, then a 3/4 size, then a full size. This seems to work EXTREMELY well compared to how their finger strength would have developed if I'd just started them on a full size. Everyone I've done this with has had surprisingly good results, but perhaps it's just coincidence or some other factor I'm not thinking of.
Even though the traditional advice would seem to recommend a full size for anyone who has an adult-size body, I'm starting to feel like this just isn't useful or relevant for someone starting later in life. Regardless of their arm length or body size, if their 4th finger has to extend improperly to reach its position, I think perhaps they should be on a smaller size violin - even if it's just for a month or two) - until their pinky strengths grows into the ability to validate a larger size.
I tend to think of it like weight training: if you want to lift 300 pounds, you don't start by attempting to lift 300 pounds and repeatedly failing. You start at whatever weight you can utilize with proper form, and only increase the weight as much as you can still use with proper technique. We don't say "well adults should be able to lift 300 pounds so let's start you with 300 pounds." If they're NEW to training, we start the weight low, regardless of their age, gender, height, or whatever. Then we work up as fast as is reasonable.
Do any of you have experience starting adults on fractional sizes so their fingers flexibility/coordination/strength can catch up with their body size?
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