Fiddleheads.ca Technique Advice and FAQs
Skipping a Violin Size?
Q: I have a 12-year-old daughter who is in transition from a 1/2 sized violin. I have received vendor suggestions that she can step into a 4/4 violin - based on her long arms. However, her teacher is concerned that she may not be able to handle one and so suggested the move to a 3/4 sized one.
We rented a 3/4 to test the grounds. However, it does appear to me that there may not be a big transition from 3/4 to 4/4; and so why not make only one step to the 4/4 from this point.
Would you suggest that I should go 3/4 or 4/4?
Answer from Rhiannon
If your child has long arms I imagine she will begin to grow very quickly. But I have a few questions which can help me assess what is best for her.
1. How long has she been playing? What pieces, level is she in now?
2. Does she use her 4th finger (pinky)?
3. Does she tend to have good intonation (in tune)?
4. Does she find the 3/4 easy to play? Is it same as before (she has not noticed any difference?) What was that transition like for her to switch from 1/2 to 3/4?
I ask about how long she's been playing and her intonation because the biggest problem to switching too soon to a large violin is that it *can* throw off the player's intonation and proper finger placement. I have assisted many of my own students and countless other players into their first larger violin, skipping a size, and only once did the player struggle with it. She just didn't grow. Now she is nearly 15 and still uses a 3/4. I suspect she always will as she will be a very small woman as an adult.
I find most teachers tend to keep their students in a smaller instrument longer than I would. They are concerned the student will not be able to reach and will be uncomfortable. I have two responses to this:
First, as long as the player can nearly reach 4th finger the violin is the right size. The pinky is something which will open up and stretch with use, stretch with the opportunity to be stretched. It will not develop any more if kept on a small instrument where it is not being challenged. So as long as the player is very close you know the violin will be something they can get used to.
As for comfort, good technique and a good shoulder rest make all the difference. Too many players hold the violin however they like. This can be fine on a small violin and they will feel "normal." But introduce a larger violin and they are complaining it is "too heavy" or "too hard to hold the arm out."
My absolute favourite shoulder rest is the Bon Musica as it allows the player to utilize the shoulder to hold the violin rather than the chest. Read my review of the Bon Musica and you will see that a good rest makes all the difference. The arm is then free to play without the burden of holding the longer violin up.
The absolute best thing to do is to borrow a 4/4 violin from another player, or even her teacher during the lesson. Try it out! Just make sure she knows to place her first (index) finger over 1" from the end of the fingerboard. Too many players keep their base "Metacarpophalangeal joint" (where the index finger meets the hand) too far back.
I always place a small red sticker at the side of the neck near the end of the fingerboard and tell the students it is the "dot of fire" and not to touch it, leaving about 1/2" space between the end of the neck and their metacarpal joint. It's a fun game to keep from "getting burned" and makes them remember to leave that space. If the had is too far back the first finger can still stretch to play in tune, but the hand being that far back will certainly limit the other fingers' ability to reach their notes, particularly 3rd and 4th fingers.
My gut feeling is that a 4/4 will work, but I am always very careful to avoid upsetting the customer's teacher! My customers are usually very easy to serve but teachers have strong opinions in technique, instrument sizing and which instruments they want their students to buy. Sometimes the opinions have good merit, but many teachers only learned these opinions from their teachers, and so on, so very old information is still being used even though times, instruments, and even the sizes of our kids have changed. I leave it up to you and what your heart tells you in making the decision in the end.
Another thing I mention, not to confuse the issue, is that there are some 7/8 size with their size between 3/4 and 4/4. They can use a 4/4 shoulder rest and 4/4 strings, so you are not buying something which is impossible to provide accessories for. A 4/4 case and bow is used. We sell 7/8 sized violins in our VN-100 and VN-102 models.
All the best for your music and we hope our shop will earn your business.