What’s the best beginner violin?
The beginner violinist’s guide to finding the right instrument, tools, and resources
Purchasing your first violin can be an exciting experience, but it can also be difficult to know where to begin. There are so many different violins and brands to choose from, yet they all seem to look the same. So, what’s the best violin for beginners? The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.
Rachael Miller, Trala’s Student Success Manager, tells students to “view the process of buying a violin like finding a good bottle of wine. It’s a subjective, personal decision.”
With so many variables to consider, many beginner violinists end up with an instrument that does not support their learning. Trala’s mission is to make world-class music education accessible to all. This guide was created to help you navigate what to look for so you can find the best violin that suits your taste and budget and make learning an enjoyable experience.
Things to Consider When Buying Your First Violin
Quality and Price
Set a budget for yourself. While there is no one-size-fits-all best violin brand for beginners, your first instrument will likely cost between $200 and $500. When deciding on a budget, keep in mind that the cheapest violin is often more challenging to play, making learning more difficult and not giving you the best chance.
Unfortunately, many people who decide to learn to play lose interest and motivation because their violin simply doesn't sound good.
As a general rule, you’ll want to avoid instruments that are under $100. These violins are typically made from materials that are not ideal for the violin, like steamed wood or plywood. They are typically covered in a thick and glossy furniture varnish that doesn't allow the wood to breathe, vibrate, or produce a good sound quality.
It’s also highly likely that a cheap violin will fall apart, the wood may shrink or crack, and the violin will become unplayable. Unplayable instruments like these are known as violin-shaped objects, (VSOs) because they resemble violins but do not actually function.
A high-quality string instrument will make your learning experience more enjoyable and less difficult. Good quality instruments are not only easier to play, but you also get a better sound which keeps you motivated and helps you improve faster.
Sound and Playability
When you're first starting, you won't know whether producing a good quality sound is difficult because you're still learning or because the violin isn't right. This is the most common reason beginner violin students give up. They believe they can't play, become frustrated, and stop learning when, in fact, the instrument simply does not work.
It is important that you enjoy the sound of your instrument. Because violins are made of organic materials, each one has a distinct sound.
Several factors can affect an instrument's playability, making it completely unplayable in some cases. Too much space between the strings and the fingerboard, for example, can make playing the instrument painful. Strings of poor quality are prone to breaking, and cheap plastic hair on the bow can make it difficult to produce a sound. Instruments made of cheap wood and/or with poor varnish will produce harsh notes.
A good-quality violin is usually carved from more traditional woods and is made by a luthier or master builder. They have a solid maple back and a spruce top.
The tuning pegs, fingerboard, tailpiece, and chin rest should all be made of real ebony. Most of these fittings are high touch “wear” areas and ebony is a very durable type of wood. A good quality violin will have ebony fittings instead of a cheaper wood simply painted black.
It’s always a good idea to perform a quick visual inspection of the violin you’re considering. Whether you’re buying or renting online or at a local violin shop, there are a few things you can determine just by looking at the violin.
First look at the tuning pegs at the top of the instrument. If the pegs appear to be different lengths, they may be faulty. The pegs are in charge of keeping the strings in tune, so a certain amount of string tension is required. If the pegs won't hold the strings tight, the violin is unplayable.
Next, inspect the bridge, which is a thin piece of wood that sticks from the body of the violin and holds the strings in place. If the bridge is too high, the strings will be too far away from the fingerboard, making pressing down on the strings more difficult and potentially painful. Strings should be curved downward at the top of the bridge, so the D string sits highest, and the A and E strings are a little lower. Bridges without enough of a curve will have strings too close to the same height, making it difficult to bow individual strings.
The Correct Size Violin
Violins are available in a variety of standard sizes. They are usually expressed as fractions, ranging from 1/32 (suitable for young children) to 4/4 (frequently known as full-size), which should fit most adults. If you're smaller in stature or have smaller hands, you might prefer a 3/4 or 7/8 size. If you’re not sure which you need, you may need to have a professional fit you or measure yourself to find the perfect size first violin for you.
Most musical instrument stores employ luthiers, who build and repair stringed instruments as well as fully inspect and tune them before you make your purchase. This means that all parts of the instrument, including the strings, pegs, bridge, and bow, are thoroughly examined, and your violin will be ready to play as soon as you receive it (you'll still need to tune it, of course).
Instruments purchased from big e-commerce sites such as Amazon, on the other hand, are not always inspected. So, you will need to take your new violin to a local music store to be properly set up. When a luthier inspects your violin, they will look for flaws that may impair playability. Repairing a cheap violin can sometimes be more costly than a new instrument itself.
Renting vs Buying
The Advantages of Renting
If you’re just wanting to try to play the violin, but aren’t sure of your commitment yet, or you don’t mind recurring payments, there are some benefits to renting your instrument.
Most rental agreements provide a low monthly rental rate that is a fraction of the cost of the instrument. As you advance in your playing skills, or if you simply want to try a different violin before making a purchasing decision, most rental policies allow you to switch out or upgrade during your rental period.
Be sure your rental agreement covers accidental damage protection. Many dealers provide instrument insurance that covers normal wear and tear and unexpected damages. Without this protection, you could be looking at expensive repairs for things like a collapsed bridge or crack in the bow or instrument body.
Always read the fine print to ensure that you understand exactly what the rental agreement does and doesn't cover and whether insurance or services are additional.
Rent-to-own options are often available at many instrument shops. Most rental agreements allow you to put a portion of your payments (or the entire amount, in some cases) toward the price of the violin, in the event you decide to buy it.
The Advantages of Buying
If you're certain you'll continue to play the violin, purchasing an instrument can be a better overall value. It will also help you avoid recurring payments as you’ll own your violin right away.
Buying can also be a worthwhile investment. If your instrument is dept in good condition, it will be worth the same amount a year later as the day you bought it. In some cases, used violins are even more valuable because they have already been broken in. With a used one, you can save a little money while still getting an excellent violin.
Where to Find a Good Violin
We’ve partnered with two celebrated violin shops to help our students purchase the best violin for beginners. Thanks to our friends at Kennedy Violin and Fiddlershop, you can find your first violin at a price point that makes sense for student violinists of all ages. If you don’t live near a music store these online violin shops have helped countless beginner violinists find their first instrument.
Kennedy Violins shares our mission to put a violin in the hands of anyone who wants to learn. Their staff of string players is committed to finding the perfect violin for beginners, and if you need new strings, rosin, a chin rest, or anything else for your instrument, Kennedy has you covered.
Fiddlershop is a family-run business that caters to beginner violin students, hobbyists, and professional musicians. They carry a wide range of quality violin brands that make some of the best instruments for beginners including Fiddlerman, Holstein, Ming Jiang Zhu, Scott Cao, Yamaha, Cecilio, and more.
Be sure to check the return policy before making a purchase Many violin shops (local or online) offer a trial period, but if not, make sure you are clear on their return policy and return window. If you are unable to return your instrument, that should be a red flag. You’ll be able to evaluate the product for a few days to see if you like the sound, and you can return or exchange it if you don't.
You may be able to apply some or all your purchase price toward the cost of a future upgrade if the store or website you are looking at offers a violin trade-in program. Many advanced students begin with a good quality starter violin, then upgrade as their skills progress.
You’ll also want to be sure the music shop you purchase your violin from offers a warranty.
Finally, good customer service is important! Violins are not static instruments, like a pencil. They change depending on their environment. The temperature and humidity, string tension, how long it’s been sitting around, and how often it is played, are only some of the factors that affect your violin. When you find an instrument shop with great customer service, you have the peace of mind of knowing that you can pick up the phone and talk to a knowledgeable person about your instrument whenever you need help.
All beginner and advanced violinists need a few accessories to make the most out of their playing. Here are a few recommendations to help set you up for success!
When you buy a beginner violin, it almost always comes with steel core strings. They are better for beginners because they stay in tune for longer periods and are easier to tune. Synthetic core strings have a warmer, more pleasant sound and, when tuned properly, can make learning more enjoyable. Whatever type of violin string you choose, it's always a good idea to keep an extra set in your case in the event you need a quick replacement!
The bow is your most valuable tool for producing a good tone from the violin. A good bow improves the tone and playability, making it easier and more enjoyable to play. You don't have to spend a lot of money on a bow, but cheap quality bows can be very soft, heavy, or out of balance, making it difficult to play.
Cheap bows have low-quality plastic hair that will not hold rosin. Good bows will have horsehair and will hold rosin better. The weight of the bow is also important. Beginner bows should have some weight to them so that new students can easily make sounds and balance between strings. When the bow is too light (due to cheap materials), you will have to apply more pressure to get it to sound. This may result in a screechy, unpleasant sound.
Wooden bows are said to have the most pleasant sound. However, carbon fiber bows are better at maintaining their shape and consistency across a wide range of humidity levels, and they typically have great bowing action and response. Carbon fiber bows are also more long-lasting. You can always use the bow that comes with your violin outfit and then decide on the perfect bow for you as you progress to intermediate and advanced bowing techniques.
The sound of your violin is greatly influenced by the rosin you use. It is made primarily from tree resin that has been cooked and molded into a hardened shape. When you rub rosin into the horsehair of your bow, it leaves a sticky residue. This residue is what allows the bow to make a sound when you draw it across your strings. The rosin, not the hair, is what is in contact with the strings. The sound will be abrasive if it is too sticky. Poor-quality rosin can even make it impossible to produce a good quality sound.
Don’t be afraid to try different kinds of rosin to find what works for you! You can always use the type that comes with your violin outfit and experiment later.
In the beginning, playing the violin can feel awkward and uncomfortable. You may find your violin slipping around during your practice, or your neck aching because you must bend it to keep your violin up. A good shoulder rest can help you avoid pain and posture problems! Shoulder rests allow your violin to sit more comfortably on your shoulder and ensure you keep your neck straight. Because each person’s build is unique, it’s important to find a shoulder rest that is comfortable for you.
The violin you rent or buy will come with a chin rest, but you don't have to use it. There are several types, including some that sit higher up over the violin or tailpiece. The chin rest that works best for you fits comfortably against your jaw. It all depends on the shape of your shoulders and neck, and the type of shoulder rest you get. Many beginners use the chin rest that is already attached to their violin at first. You can always work with a violin teacher or shop to figure out what type of chin rest works best for you!
If you live in an apartment building, have roommates, or want to practice while the kids are in bed, purchase a violin practice mute so you can play for as long as you’d like without bothering anyone. A mute works by sitting on or close to the bridge (depending on the type you choose) and lessening the vibration of the strings which in turn dampens the sound your violin produces.
The environment plays a significant role in your violin’s condition. Weather conditions and heat could cause your violin to get too dry. When this happens, the wood can split, or the seam could begin to come apart. It’s a good idea to either purchase a humidifier for the room you keep your violin in, or some humidifiers sit inside your violin case.
Violins are sensitive and go out of tune often. You’ll want to tune your violin every time you get it out of the case to play. A tuner will help you know how far to turn the tuning pegs or fine tuners to tighten the strings. When you download Trala on your iPhone or Android, you’ll have a tuner built right into the app! It will tell you exactly which peg or fine tuner to turn and when each string is in tune.
Fingerboard Tape and Stickers
Because the violin doesn't have frets like a guitar to signal where you place your fingers, it can be difficult to tell if you're putting your fingers in the correct place. Fingerboard tape can be used for beginning violins to help play in tune. These tapes or stickers go on the fingerboard to clearly label all the notes. As you become a more advanced player, you'll want to take all the stickers off your violin.
Although these tools are useful and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the things you think you’ll need, there is no need to purchase them all at once. Many people begin with a violin outfit. A violin outfit includes everything you need to get started. Other than the violin, the outfit should include a carrying case, a bow, rosin, and a polishing cloth.
Additional Tools and Learning Resources for Beginners
If you’d prefer to learn on your own or need more structure in your self-directed practice time, go beyond YouTube videos and look for a tool that will allow you to get feedback on how you sound and the notes you play.
We also highly recommend supplementing any self-directed learning with lessons from a professional violinist. When you take violin lessons with a great teacher, you'll become a more confident, adaptable musician.
When you download Trala from the App Store or Google Play you will get matched with the best private lesson teacher for your unique needs and interests. When you're a beginner, the right violin teacher can help you navigate important milestones like finding the best violin and shoulder rest (reminder: don't order your violin from Amazon), setting achievable goals, and building a strong practice routine.
Trala has a wealth of learning resources that will teach you how to play the violin, how to read sheet music, how to improve your violin skills, and much more to keep you motivated with your practice.
Finally, be patient in your search for the ideal beginner violin. You might fall in love with the sound of the first violin you try, and if so, congratulations! If not, use this article as a guide and keep searching. And as with your journey to learning violin - don’t give up!