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Violin for Beginners: Everything you need to know to get started and find success

Violin for beginners part 1

Katie Hone Wiltgen, Chief Education Officer

June 20, 2023

Part 1:  The Stuff

We know it’s complicated and can feel overwhelming when you’re starting a new instrument. There’s so much to figure out, and it can be hard to even know what’s most important: an instrument, teacher, method book, equipment, all of it? How much should everything cost? What do I need to look for in a first violin, and what should I avoid?

Lucky for you, Forte’s music education team members have started literally hundreds of beginning violinists on the path to musical success. Let us break it down and make it totally manageable. You got this!

A Violin Outfit

No, you’re not buying something to wear while you play violin. A violin OUTFIT is a package set consisting of a violin, a case, and a bow. You need all of these things, and purchasing a violin outfit allows you to get (almost) everything you need in one fell swoop. Unless you have strong opinions about what violin, bow, and case you prefer (unlikely as a beginning player), go for the outfit. If you’re purchasing or renting from a reputable music shop, you can be sure that the outfit they’ve put together is a solid buy.

The Violin Itself

Good-quality violins that are suitable for beginners start around US$250, or around US$300 for the outfit. You could easily spend lots more than that on a high-end instrument (the sky’s the limit!), but honestly, you don’t need anything that expensive to start, because even a really high-quality instrument isn’t necessary for a beginner and won’t make you sound more advanced when you’re just starting out.

That being said, you need to make sure that the instrument you’re getting will help and not hinder your playing.

It’s important that your violin:

  • has clean, new strings that aren’t too far away from the fingerboard.

  • has a bridge that’s standing straight (the thin piece of wood near the bottom of the violin that the strings sit on).

  • has pegs and fine tuners in good, working order.

  • most importantly, is the correct size for you (read on for details).

Whether you opt to buy or rent (lots of details on that option in Part 2!), we highly recommend going to a local, reputable music shop where you can feel the violins in your hands, try several to see what you like, and talk to the staff about what would be best for you personally. 

The Extras

Some violin outfits also come with other supplies like rosin, finger tapes, a shoulder rest or sponge, a cleaning cloth, a music stand, and extra strings. Read the outfit details carefully so you know exactly what you’re getting and what’s not included, and you’ll know what to purchase separately.

If you’re not purchasing an outfit that includes all the extras, or if you want to customize your purchase, here are some recommendations:

  • Rosin: Generates friction and allows the bow to grip the strings

    • Inexpensive, student-grade rosin is fine. 

    • For all the rosin info you never knew you needed, check out this article


  • Finger Tapes: Unlike guitar fingerboards that have frets (the little metal, raised strips that divide up the fingerboard), violin fingerboards have no frets, so finger tapes help with finger placement

    • This three-color set is great, as is this six-color set, in case you need more color options. Thinly cut pieces of electrical tape also work well. We love having at least three tapes in three different colors for beginning students.

    • We typically do not recommend the large stickers that go over most of the fingerboard, as they are often confusing, with too much info on the sticker (especially for kids – they can’t figure out what’s what).

  • Shoulder Rest: Makes playing more comfortable

    • The Zaret Shoulder Rest is often much easier to use when starting than the traditional clamp-style shoulder rests, especially for kids. 

    • The clamp-style (not a sponge) Kun Shoulder Rest is a classic.

  • Case: Violins are fragile instruments and need to be protected in a case any time they are being transported or are not being played.

    • At a minimum, the case should have a dedicated spot for the bow that keeps it away from the violin, a hard exterior that feels protective, and a padded and molded interior.

    • Backpack-style straps on cases are super helpful, especially for kids.

    • Stay away from the fabric, poncho-style cases that do little more than keep dust and rain off.

Why Violin Size Matters

Parents: Read carefully! It’s not a good idea to buy or rent a violin that is too large for your child because you assume they’ll grow into it. Playing on an instrument that is too large is not only horribly difficult but can actually cause muscle and tendon injuries. We know that buying or renting several fractional-size violins over the course of a few years may sound daunting, but a child will really struggle if they’re playing on an instrument that is too large. 

Need more convincing? Read this.

Does that mean that a second grader starting out on a ¼-size violin might use three different instruments (¼, ½, and ¾-size) before they’re ready for a full-size violin? Yes, but think of it this way: If your child currently fits in a size 1 shoe, you wouldn’t buy a size 6 for them to wear instead, knowing that they’ll eventually grow into it. That’s not safe or comfortable! Same goes with violins: buy or rent what fits now, understanding that you’ll need to size-up as your child grows.

What NOT to Buy

While purchasing a cheap instrument on Amazon or eBay may be tempting, be wary of “great deals” under $150. Those instruments, often referred to as VSOs – “Violin Shaped Objects,” tend to break very easily and have trouble staying in tune, which makes learning to play a frustrating experience and causes many students to become discouraged and give up. VSOs may be cheap up front, but you’ll likely have to take the violin to a reputable shop to get it up to playable quality, which often costs way more than the cost of the VSO in the first place. Bottom line? They look like violins, sure, but they’re basically toys. Don’t waste your money.  

When to Get a Violin

Many beginning violinists are anxious to jump straight into buying or renting an instrument, and we totally understand why, but resist the temptation. We highly recommend finding a teacher before finding an instrument. A teacher can help you secure an instrument that is a good fit and can likely give you advice about the buying/renting process. With an expert teacher in your corner to steer you in the right direction, you’ll avoid spending a bunch of money on a violin you think is fine, only to later discover that you bought an instrument that isn’t quite right, or, worst of all, is holding you back.

Find your teacher on Forte.