Simply Violin

Violin Sizing Guide
Choosing the correct size violin is essential to comfortable playing. Your child's violin teacher, school orchestra director, or local violin shop are usually experts in assessing fit.

The picture below shows how the violin increases in size, from smallest (1/16th) to largest (4/4, or full size). Some violin shops also carry 1/32 size instruments for their youngest students.
There are several ways to estimate fit. One method is to measure the length of your child's left arm from the neck to the middle of the palm with the arm extended. Then, you may follow the violin sizing guide pictured below.
violin sizing guide
Another way to assess fit is to have your child extend his left arm and grasp the scroll of the instrument. Usually, if a student can comfortably grasp the scroll as pictured below (left), then the violin should be the right size.

Teachers also look at other factors such as finger and hand size and the age of the student, or may check the angle of the left arm, which should be approximately 90 degrees ( as pictured below right in a photo of violin soloist Hilary Hahn). This especially important since violins vary in length, even within the same size.
violin sizing test, 90 degree test
Students usually stay in each size for a year or two. Because children grow so quickly and unpredictably, it is important to re-assess fit frequently. Using a violin that is too small can cramp both the left hand and the bow arm. However, a violin that is too large can cause strain and injury to muscles and joints as the student may be forced to extend the reach of the left hand beyond its appropriate limit.

I like to tell students that "the violin is an acoustically perfect instrument." What this means is that a full size violin, at fourteen inches in length, is ideally configured to offer maximal projection and body of tone. Unfortunately, violins that are either smaller or larger than a full size instrument usually will not sound as good. In general, the smaller the violin, the smaller and thinner the sound. This puts the young beginner at a disadvantage: no matter how well she plays, her 1/2 size fiddle will never sound quite as good as a full size instrument of similar quality. However, as the instrument gets larger, the sound improves markedly. In my experience, the jump from 1/8th to 1/4 and from 1/2 to 3/4 are the two size changes that tend to make the most difference both in sound and playability of the instrument.

In addition, violins vary widely in quality. A low quality instrument can make violin very difficult to learn, especially if it suffers from poor set-up. Signs of poor set-up that affect learning include: the violin goes out of tune constantly or the pegs slip in the box, the instrument buzzes or rattles, the student cannot isolate individual strings while bowing, or the sound is extremely scratchy or thin. Some of these problems can be the result of insufficient humidity, which can be fixed with a case humidifier, or the student may be applying too little or too much rosin to the bow.

The key is to rent or purchase an instrument from a reputable violin shop that carries hand-carved small instruments. In the last few years, affordable hand-carved instruments have become available in violin shops across the United States. Thus, factory-made violins, along with their inferior sound and set-up, should be relegated to the past. Parents often wait to buy a hand-carved violin until their child shows sufficient interest and accomplishment. However you can give your child a (much) better experience by renting or purchasing a high quality small instrument that is properly set-up right from the beginning.

Finally, once you know what size she needs, your child ideally should test several different instruments before making a final decision. A shop may offer several violins of the same size and "model." But even these are not identical. Every instrument sounds different. Not even two instruments by the same maker sound alike. As a teacher, I like to assist in selecting an instrument, or at least give a final thumbs up before a student rents or (especially) buys an instrument. However, sound is subjective and all of us have different preferences. Therefore, the right violin for your child is the one that fits both his size and his preferences for a particular sound.