Now that we're 10% taller than the average Strad customer, should we be building larger violins?

Edited: March 13, 2018, 4:41 AM · Here's a company that builds 5/4 and 6/4 sized violins:

http://www.themusicacademies.com/prodigiomusic.com/Prodigio%20Strings%20Magnum%20Violin.html

As average heights have increased substantially since the size of the modern violin was determined in the 16th century, they argue that taller players find that larger instruments are more comfortable to play.

And they also argue that a larger body volume offers a richer G string and a more mellow E string.

On the face of it, this sounds rather sensible. Are we being too hidebound in sticking to the old dimensions?

Replies (53)

Edited: March 13, 2018, 5:46 AM · The French beat you to it, they've been building larger body violins for years, except no one wants to buy them, its a killer to sales potential.
Edited: March 13, 2018, 5:37 AM · More people may be taller nowadays - but do they have longer arms?

My violin-playing granddaughter is 7" shorter than I was at my peak height, but our arms are just about the same length.

Edited: March 13, 2018, 6:47 AM · Who cares about those stats?

Violin players are tall, small, fat, thin, slim... The, let's suppose, "fact" that we are taller than 300 years before doesn't mean we need 10% bigger instruments.

First, it's "comfortable" on some aspects, like may be people who struggle to hit two contiguous notes up in the E string, people that touch all the strings around with their "fat big" fingers... but also it's much harder in first position to reach notes with the 4th finger, like B#, E#, A#, D#, the violin is heavier, etc... You can't just simply say "larger is better", that's false.

I think every violinist should get used to the standard violin form, shape and size. In extreme cases one could always go to a luthier and ask for a custom violin that matches the very personal dimensions, like some women buying 7/8 violins. But the standard won't change, that's for sure.

Besides all of this, by "10% taller" I don't know what you mean. If it's only height, and that seems to be what the title says, then asking for bigger violins makes no sense. If by "10% taller" you also mean that our arms, hands and fingers are 10% bigger, then it would make more sense.

March 13, 2018, 8:45 AM · It's peculiar they don't list any dimensions.
March 13, 2018, 8:47 AM · Looks like an answer to a problem nobody has... or marketing, or both. I haven't heard complaints about a violin being uncomfortably small, from anyone. At worst, maybe fat-fingered players might need a wider fingerboard, but usually it's the thin-fingered players that need a narrower one.
And I agree that oversized violins will sound different, and the ones that currently exist don't seem to be in much demand.
March 13, 2018, 9:16 AM · The violin is uncomfortable no matter what you do...
March 13, 2018, 9:32 AM · If we take it that evolution has caused modern players to be taller/larger than our predecessors.

And that a larger instrument would be more suitable for such players.

It only stands to reason then, that the larger viola is already more highly evolved than the Neanderthalic violin.

;^)


.

March 13, 2018, 9:45 AM · Hahahaha, Scott pretty much got it, hahahaha. I'd love to pop that answer up in a violin maker convention where the latest comfortable changes and technologies for the violin are shown.

The company that builds 5/4 must be run by politicians: wanting to change things nobody asked for, showing a solution to a problem nobody has and creating problems no one has ever complained about.

March 13, 2018, 10:24 AM · I've had and tried violins of different sizes, including a fairly large pattern Craske, and a pretty big Chanot. I've also tried very small violins.

Here's the thing though: the FEEL of a violin actually doesn't seem to be related to its absolute outer dimensions. The Chanot, for example, barely fit in my case. What seems to matter more are the subtle dimensions of how the neck and fingerboard have been shaped and oriented. Even a tiny increase in neck diameter can make a small violin seem unwieldy and awkward. The arching may play a role, as can the chinrest, the angle of the fingerboard, and the height of the strings.

I remember a Ben Ruth I came close to buying, not so much for the sound, but for the way the shaping of the neck fit my fingers--it just felt perfect.

The same principles apply to bows: they can be the same weight and dimensions, yet one seems to fit the hand perfectly for no apparent reason. It's too subtle to predict.

One would assume that a larger violin would have a deeper sound, but I think the luthiers on the site will agree it's not that simple. A small Guarneri pattern, for example, can have a deeper sound than a larger Strad pattern. It depends on the interplay of arching, pattern, f-holes, wood.....all of it.

Lastly, all we can say about the size of humans these days is that the AVERAGE person of European descent may be taller. But this says nothing about the individual, for which there is a very large range.

I'd assume that the average virtuoso, when looking for a fine concert violin, doesn't look first for the size that fits. They look for sound quality, response, dynamic range, and projection first, and if they find something that delivers all those qualities, they get the violin and just get used to it.

Edited: March 13, 2018, 11:22 AM · @Tim Ripond
"... wanting to change things nobody asked for, showing a solution to a problem nobody has and creating problems no one has ever complained about".

I think all that may have happened before - the advent of the chin rest in the early 19th century, and the shoulder rest within living memory. And let us not even think about synthetic strings and geared pegs!

The tallest Europeans are easily the Dutch. Is there really an overwhelming demand for 6/4 violins in the Netherlands?

March 13, 2018, 2:41 PM · Strad already did that. It was called the Long Pattern. After a decade of using it, he abandoned it for the dimensions that we still use today. The French tried it in the 19th c, and it still didn't work.

If you ever get the opportunity to play a del Gesu you will be shocked at how small it is and how much sound comes out of something that small.

March 13, 2018, 10:56 PM · I'm Dutch (and taller than average) There are much more adults playing cello than violin, perhaps this is the reason ;)
We don't have place for 6/4 violins because we are such a small country with so many tall people already in it. If we are gonna play bigger violins, the orchestra's don't fit into the buildings any more.
LOL
March 13, 2018, 11:47 PM · I think the main reason there are so many adults playing cello is that it requires the least physical stretching of any of the bowed string instruments.

The violin is most likely approximately the optimum size for its range. A 6/4 size violin is almost exactly a 16" viola, so presumably the tone quality would be approximately that of a viola in its upper register.

Edited: March 14, 2018, 12:23 AM · The OP presents an interesting question. In my opinion the violin won’t increase in size, because,
- It makes it harder for the fourth finger to reach its position (currently already a problem for many players with short fourth fingers)
- It makes it harder for any fingers to reach high notes on each string.
- one possible consequence is that many difficult violin pieces would become unplayable with a bigger violin (have you seen anyone playing the Caprices on a viola?)
- at least half of players are female, and I don’t think they have outgrown the size of the ancient male players.
- tonal quality and range may change towards a viola.

P/S I don’t think the cello presents as many challenges in terms of postures and techniques as the violin, and it seems to be more forgiving of late starters.

March 14, 2018, 12:30 AM · Now that we are 70% fatter, should we build concave cellos?
March 14, 2018, 2:27 AM · So basically...they're viola size? ;)

Scott's observations are right on the money. Big instruments are playable provided they have thinner necks and a reasonable string length for one's physique.

March 14, 2018, 3:17 AM · As a viola maker, I've seen the contrary, a trend towards small violas. Toby Appel, one of my viola test drivers for years, urged me to develop a small viola model because a lot of his students are small Asian Girls.

On the other hand, many players seems to like violins on the small side, 35,2, for instance. Many del Gesù's violins are on the small size, I remember one being 34.9, if I am not wrong.

On the other hand, I don't see top makers willing to follow a trend started by a Chinese factory.

What we see in the real world, is that "oversized" violins are very devalued in the market, just notice how many of them you see in auction houses, 36 cms. or more, some of them are very good, but "oversized" and rejected by the market.

March 14, 2018, 4:18 AM · I have a question, if someone wants a bigger violin, why don’t they look at a fractional sized viola? In particular, the 15-inch one?

Simply put, I still think bigger sized violins don’t work. Look how limited and tiny the viola repertoire is compared to that of the violin.

March 14, 2018, 4:39 AM · The viola repertoire is smaller than that of the violin, but I would not call it "limited and tiny".
March 14, 2018, 5:15 AM · Sorry for my words Luis.
March 14, 2018, 8:52 AM · A teacher suggested viola to me, since I am a big guy with very large hands. I 100% would love a 6/4 violin if playing on such a thing were acceptable. I wear a 14 or 15 shoe and XL gloves (sometimes tight)--why should I play a violin the same size as the person a foot shorter? I assume if height has increased, so has "wingspan." Obviously there is some discussion in the other direction, with people here occasionally requesting help finding a good 7/8 or 3/4 (also rarer than full size, but certainly there is a market).

It may be that many people simply resolve the problem by just switching instruments. For non-orchestral types, there are also 5-string violins/violas, which also come up here sometimes, or violas strung as violin (I've at least heard of it, but I don't think I've seen it). It's interesting that viola comes in different sizes, while from what I have heard cellos size is more standard (but apparently not bass?).


I also wonder

March 14, 2018, 9:20 AM · J Seitz, you are lucky because you'll have your pick of the many excellent french violins that are big but slightly cheaper!
March 14, 2018, 3:11 PM · My French violin is a largish model: suitable, tonewise for a violist..

I have setup a 15"viola as a violin,
- to avoid changing string-length between violin lessons and viola rehearsals;
- to show my slender-handed young ladies how to cope with their 4/4 violins.

March 14, 2018, 4:44 PM · In Strad's day, people weren't writing concertos with passages in fingered tenths either.
March 14, 2018, 5:10 PM · @Paul but then the playing level was far lower I suppose, at that time.
March 14, 2018, 5:13 PM · I may be stating the obvious, but according to this site there are fractional violas that are even smaller than a 4/4 violin, with the smallest one starting at the size of a 1/2 violin. Though I don't know how popular they are.

http://www.fiddleheads.ca/shop/violin-sizes-viola-and-violin-size-chart.htm

March 14, 2018, 6:17 PM · @Bud Scott "It's peculiar they don't list any dimensions."

I agree. What exactly are the fractional violin sizes 7/8, 3/4 etc in linear measurements relative to a "standard" 4/4 with a body length of 14"? Until this is explained it is difficult to visualize what is meant by 5/4 and 6/4 in this discussion. However, I may have a solution, at any rate as far as the 5/4 and 6/4 are concerned.

If the fractional size is taken as proportional to the linear dimensions of the violin, a 4/4 is equivalent to 14" body length would imply a 5/4 is equivalent to 17.5" body length, and a 6/4 equivalent to 21" - both ridiculous in practical terms. Few could cope with a 17.5" violin, and as for 21" ... !

If we take the fractional size as being proportional to the volume of the violin's body then we can get sensible results for the 5/4 and 6/4 sizes.

The volume of an object is generally proportional to the cube of its linear dimensions. Inversely, the linear dimensions are proportional to the cube root of the volume.

It follows that if the volume is increased by 5/4 then the corresponding linear dimensions will be increased by the cube root of 5/4, which is 1.077, and the violin's body length will increase to 14 x 1.077, or 15".
Similarly, doing the calculation for a fractional size of 6/4 the body length will increase to 14 x 1.145, or 16".

Now, 15" and 16" look remarkably like standard viola sizes, so are the 5/4 and 6/4 violins being purveyed in fact violas set up as G-D-A-E violins? Or am I talking cabbage water?

Btw, my 18th c violin (a 5-generation family heirloom) has a body length of 14.25", other measurements such as bout sizes and rib depths being proportionally larger than those of a 4/4. Since being fitted with Chorda gut strings during its recent overhaul my violin is now producing a much deeper and richer sonorous tone that is a joy. I have a tentative thought that this violin may be a copy of a long pattern Strad. Stradivarius made a number of bigger violins (the long pattern) during the 1690s but didn't continue their making into the 18th century. Some French luthiers in the 18th century later made copies of these long pattern violins.

March 14, 2018, 6:22 PM · "J Seitz, you are lucky because you'll have your pick of the many excellent french violins that are big but slightly cheaper"

My understanding of French violins is not that they are just longer--they also used the "more is better" philosophy on other aspects of design, especially arching. That's why they don't sound simply larger Strads. The arching tends to make the design too rigid.

March 14, 2018, 6:59 PM · Fractional sizes are by volume. A 16" viola is identical to a 6/4 violin.
March 15, 2018, 4:03 AM · @Andrew "Fractional sizes are by volume"
Thank you for that info! So my understanding of the theory was correct, as were my calculations.
March 15, 2018, 8:01 AM · A 6/4 violin would be for someone about 7 foot tall!!
March 15, 2018, 9:00 AM · I take issue with the statement as suggested that 10% taller is a fact across the board.

Putting growth hormone in meat products is contributing to the problem. Yes I really believe this.Have you looked at some 14 year olds lately?

FFF (fat fingered folk ) is probably not a politically correct term in this day. Skinny challenged maybe?


We are talking more about hand/arm length and size. You could be 7 ft. tall and have small hands.Height doesn't directly matter.Some small people have big hands.I have heard them referred to as "potato farmer hands".

March 15, 2018, 7:11 PM · I have this memory of somewhere seeing someone who'd come up with a shoulder-rest type thing that essentially extended the length of the violin out by several inches.

The problem with bigger violins seems to be that what you *don't* want is more volume and a more viola-like tone. Maybe with computer modeling and carbon fiber in a few years we'll be able to get student violins that are 16 or 17 inches long but have the same volume/sound as a conventional violin (being flatter/skinner/oblong). Alternately, I wonder if anyone over on Maestronet would be willing to make a nice 16" violin with a concave back to maintain the same amount of volume.

Timothy, I just scanned the findings, but my recollection is that people shrank during the Industrial Revolution and then we have been growing since then, probably independent of growth hormones.

It does seem odd to me that there's something magical about 14".

March 16, 2018, 10:25 AM · I also wonder whether 10% taller is correct. Nutrition has improved. But those numbers are averages. I wonder if the same factor (1.1) applies to the segment of the population that can typically afford to engage in serious study of the violin.
Edited: March 16, 2018, 2:10 PM · Not to mention the biggest market now for violins could be from the Asians, most of whom I believe are happy with the current size.

Violas of different sizes already exist for those who prefer bigger instruments.

Anything in between is probably too small a market to make any business sense, for all the R&D, production, and marketing of the new violin size.

But maybe you can spend the $$$ to have it custom made for you.

March 16, 2018, 5:28 PM · What does height have to do with violin playing? If it's the length of limbs, there has always been a huge range of this.
March 16, 2018, 6:00 PM · I see a lot of size stereotyping here. Keep in mind average height rose greatly in Asia during the 20th century with industrialization and better access to nutrition. South Koreans are now taller on average than most countries in Western Europe, and Japan's average male and female heights are now about the same as Italy's.

It's not the size of the people, it's the acoustics. 5/4 and 6/4 violins are essentially violas strung as violins.

March 16, 2018, 7:24 PM · Lots of great info here. Many huge players cope well with 4/4 violins with posture and position tricks. A 6/4 violin seems like insanity with 5/4 being a bit more reasonable. The viola has quite an extensive but unknown-to-the-public repertoire. There are lots of pieces that most violists don't know about, with around 95% of it being contemporary music. The viola sure has way less Baroque/Classical music written for it than violin (excluding Bach Cello Suites).
March 16, 2018, 10:23 PM · "South Koreans are now taller on average than most countries in Western Europe".

I doubt it. That Asian average height is lower than Caucasian's is not a stereotype but a fact. South Koreans and Japanese represent perhaps 4% of the Asian population (though these two countries may represent higher-than-average demand for violins). And I'm not talking about just height but weight and body frame.

Edited: March 16, 2018, 11:44 PM · Your numbers are out of date. The average adult male height in South Korea is now 5'9", compared to 5'8.7" for northern Italy and 5'7" for southern Italy. South Koreans are also taller than the French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The average adult male height for Japan is now 5'8", similar to Italy as a whole and taller than Spain and Portugal.

Nutrition matters. The Dutch went from being the shortest nation in Europe to the tallest in less than 200 years.

March 17, 2018, 12:10 AM · Will Willy and tutti violino: my background is primarily in biology and medicine. I think I know what I'm talking about.
March 17, 2018, 1:22 AM · Andrew, 'most' means the majority of. South Koreans (whose height are highest among Asians) are taller than people in some Western countries, but not the majority of them. But I will be persuaded if you can cite a reliable source.
March 17, 2018, 1:08 PM · www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20120131000667#cb

The most reliable source I've been able to find shows average male height in South Korea was 174 cm in 2010 and continues to rise. I've seen some tables showing over 175 cm, but the source for that is unclear.

Some parts of China are even taller. China is a huge country, and heights vary greatly by region. Northern Chinese are tall by any standard.

http://shanghaiist.com/2015/07/01/average-heights-men-women.php

Generally, human populations have a genetic height that can be reached with adequate nutrition; once that point is reached, additional calories and protein intake will not raise the average height further. Most of Europe reached its genetic height almost a century ago. For most Asian countries, the genetic height is still unknown because of historic poverty that reached into the 1970s even in the wealthiest Asian countries.

March 18, 2018, 7:38 PM · For now, 175cm never makes the Koreans taller than "most" Western countries. (check this)
Asians are shorter, weight less and have smaller body frame than Caucasians. Being an Asian myself I'm not afraid of saying it.

And who knows, this may give Asians some advantage in playing such small instruments as the violin. Even among the Caucasian soloists that I know of, I haven't seen anyone who look huge (or too tall). Maybe someone can help me name some exception? I wonder how tall David Garret (and how long his arm) is.

Maybe a bit politically incorrect to explore this further, but I think in arts and sports, people are disadvantaged because of certain body features all the time (myself included).

March 18, 2018, 8:19 PM · I said Western European; Eastern Europeans are generally taller. An average male height of 175cm is taller than the French, Italians (even Northern Italian), Spanish, and Portuguese, and equal to the Swiss, looking at general adult populations. Asian-Americans tend to be short because such a high percentage are descended from southern Chinese, who are relatively short within Asia; but even then the vast majority of American-born adults of East Asian descent are taller than their parents.

The main physical advantage East Asians may have in playing string instruments is that, on average, they have the largest hands (relative to height) of any ethnic group on Earth.

As for tall violinists: Nicolas Koeckert, Leonidas Kavakos, and Janine Jansen are all over 6'2". Koeckert appears to be 6'5" or 6'6": there are a number of photos in which he is standing on the stage and at or near the same height as a conductor standing on a podium!

Edited: March 19, 2018, 2:45 AM · Andrew, I wonder what Western countries belong to your list. The CIA classification includes 7 countries: Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, and UK. All except for Monaco (which I can't find data) are taller than Koreans. Even the Italians are at least as tall.

That Asians are smaller and shorter than whites is a fact. Facts aren't stereotypes.

But you can keep your own 'fact'.

Edited: March 19, 2018, 2:51 AM · The fact that very tall violin players can be observed playing at a high level provides some evidence that being tall does not effectively prevent the realization of full potential. This observation, to some extent, serves to undermine the argument that taller people need bigger violins.

However, if the proportion of tall players is lower among violinists than among the general population, then maybe height does somehow impact the ability to play, or tall people have some more interesting stuffs to do than to make some weird posture learning the instrument.

*The main physical advantage East Asians may have in playing string instruments is that, on average, they have the largest hands (relative to height) of any ethnic group on Earth.* - this is an interesting hypothesis but I wonder if there are any other reasons that make East Asians play violins better (parenting, musculature, etc).

March 19, 2018, 6:37 AM · Yikes! I'm finding the racial/ethnic comparisons kind of gross. Do people still do this? Sure some ethnic communities prize and excel in certain areas (be it spelling bees or hockey or whatever), but I don't see how we got from height/proportionment onto this topic.

Here's another way to come at the question: how much give is there in other instruments? Obviously there aren't extra wide and extra narrow pianos, and brass instruments tend to have a set size. On the other hand, for brass there's a huge range of mouthpieces sizes, which customize a lot, and I think guitar has some variation in width of fingerboard. Drum height is adjustable. The obvious comparison, which perhaps makes this question more tempting, is the viola. I kind of asked about bass and cello and don't know how much if any variation they have.

Edited: March 19, 2018, 7:29 AM · J Seitz, totally agree! The world has moved on and some people can’t seem to move with it.

The OP has a good point. People should not have to “evolve” to fit instruments. Instruments should be made to fit people. If the market is big enough, instruments will be made (larger or smaller) to fit it.

Edit to add: how the following can get into a discussion of violin playing is amazing!

“In fact I do not consider Eastern Europeans are taller than westerners even Southern Europeans, because according to anthropological and genetical research, Eastern Europeans share more with Asian (mongoloid) genetically, which can be tested from chromosome.”

Edited: March 19, 2018, 3:40 PM · Honestly I don’t know why a race-wise discussion of body features which might be relevant to violin playing would be considered racism.
March 19, 2018, 5:14 PM · It's just kind of a weird tack on the question. A generation ago, you'd have said American girls are terrible at soccer but today we have awesome women's teams. Is it because of femur length and foot arch and US ancestral soccer practices--no, those are ridiculous reasons to posit. It's because there are millions more girls playing, the coaching and leagues have improved, and American parents have money to throw at children's and teen soccer. The whole "Asian" question posed here is similar. But all of these are unrelated to the original question.

Personally, if I could buy a 5/4 or 6/4 that sounded like a violin and not a viola, I'd do it. I also hope the 5 string violins improve (in availability and quality).

March 19, 2018, 7:00 PM · I would be happy coming out of the discussion being persuaded that race posed no influence whatsoever on violin playing. But there shouldn’t be any barriers to such kind of discussion in the first place (though it deviates a bit from the original question).

Discussions on v.com have been greatly respectful, and personally I see no problem if we scientifically approach the matter based on our genuine curiosity and willingness to search for the ultimate answer.

March 19, 2018, 8:04 PM · So far the only comment that's made me cringe a little was "hockey and spelling bees."

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

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