It’s time for the kids to go back to school which means it’s time for violin lessons to get started again. Every violin student needs certain supplies for his or her lessons. Read on for the best back to school violin supplies updated for 2016.
Every violin student needs a violin and bow. Duh. How you go about getting that violin is up to you. There are two ways that students get violins; renting and buying. It goes without saying that no student or professional/teacher should ever buy a violin without trying it first. That means that with very few exceptions, you should stay away from ebay for buying an instrument sight unseen. There are dozens of dealers that sell instruments on ebay, most of which are in China. There are one or two reputable Chinese dealers but the rest sell junk. I purchased my current viola from one of the good dealers and I’m very happy with it. This was after extensive research and conversation with other owners of their instruments. Consult your teacher before buying an instrument from an ebay dealer.
There are many excellent online dealers that specialize in student instruments. My two favorite are Shar Music and Southwest Strings. Both have excellent student instruments (and some very nice advanced ones) and both have a generous trial period which allows you to return an instrument if you don’t like it. I’ve been buying from Shar since I was five years old (my mom did most of the buying back then), and they never disappoint. SW Strings is a great source for strings and other accessories as well. Their string prices used to be the best but now everyone else has caught up. Amazon also has many of the most popular accessories and strings available, but I wouldn’t buy an instrument from them unless you know the dealer and they have a liberal return policy.
Buy/Rent Locally If You Can
Buying or renting an instrument locally is the best option for beginner students. You can trade in a half-size violin for a larger one and you get expert advice throughout the process. Do a Google search for violin shops in your area and take your pick. Your teacher will have something to say as well so use him or her as a resource. As a general rule, I recommend renting until the student is ready for a full-size instrument (usually 12-13 years old). By then, the teacher and parents can decide how to proceed with a full-size instrument – whether to buy a good one or just a cheap student one based on the student’s level.
Back To School Violin Accessories
For accessories, I like to order online. Both Shar and SW Strings are excellent for shoulder rests, strings, tuners, music stands, rosin, plus anything else you might need. Ask your teacher what he would like you to use and then make an order. For my students, I recommend the following for violin accessories:
- Rosin – doesn’t need to be expensive, but get something better than the junk that comes with your violin
- Music Stand – you don’t need a folding stand unless you are traveling and need a stand. Buy a sturdy one like a Manhasset or Peak SMS-50. The Peak is an excellent folding stand used by professionals all over the world but sturdy like a studio stand.
- Shoulder Rest – for comfort and to help technique. Your teacher will recommend the best one for you. Every neck and shoulder are different so there is no one rest that is for everyone. I use the Wolf Forte Secondo because I have a long neck and need it to balance my violin properly.
- Violin Case – your rental or purchase of a student instrument will normally come with a case. When you get a more expensive instrument, you can invest in a good case (which can cost over $1000 but doesn’t have to).
Back to School Violin Practice Tools
Way back when, when I was in music school (like, waaaayyyyyy back when), there were many different tools and accessories that were necessary for students to be successful in the practice room. Today, all you need is a smartphone or tablet. Well, that and a few other things that haven’t been replaced digitally.
First, you need pencils. Lots of them. My teacher in music school used a specific pencil, cheap and effective. I started using them as well, and he accused me of stealing his pencils just like all the other students did. It was difficult to explain that I, too, purchase these mechanical pencils in bulk to save money and that PaperMate actually makes enough pencils to serve more than one person. You want a pencil that doesn’t have to be sharpened every five seconds and has a good eraser. These are my favorites.
Assuming you (or Mommy or Daddy) have a smartphone, you already have the next three items for free and at your fingertips. I use an iPhone and iPad but Android has dozens of apps themselves.
- Metronome – I use an app called, simply Metronome (free).
- Digital Tuner – I use Tuner Lite by plusadd. Free and easy to use.
- Digital recorder – I use Wavepad Sound Editor for basic recording. For higher quality, I use a Condenser Microphone and Audacity on my PC.
The metronome is essential for rhythm. The tuner is essential for intonation and tuning your instrument, and the recorder is essential for identifying trouble spots in your music.
No Smartphone/Tablet, No Problem
If you don’t have a smartphone or tablet, these are all available from dozens of retailers but with a higher price tag. A good digital recorder will run you about $100 and the same for the tuner. You can get a metronome for as little as $10-$20 though. You can get by without a tuner but the metronome is mandatory. I have my students use open strings to help ensure their fingers are in the right place. Your instrument probably comes with a pitch pipe which will help you tune your instrument before you play. There are always great back to school violin specials online also.
As for a recorder, you can probably get by without it for a while, but as you get better, you will need it to identify problems in your performance. A recording will show you things that you can’t see/hear with a violin on your shoulder. I use my camera to record both video and sound when I am preparing for auditions or recitals. Having a recording going helps to simulate performance conditions and can eliminate the “it sounded great when I practiced it” excuse.
Back to School Violin Extras
With the advent of the internet (is that thing still around?), finding sheet music is a lot more affordable and convenient. IMSLP is a great resource for sheet music that is in the public domain (published before 1923 as of 2016). Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Bach, and many others are available for free. All you have to do is download and print. If you need music by Stravinsky, Copeland, or any other 20th century master, you’ll need to buy it (or rent it).
Since you can download and print music, I recommend getting a binder and 3-hole punch to keep your music. DO NOT use the sheet protectors. They keep your music nice and pretty, but you can’t write in it and that is essential. If you want clean and slightly larger print music, you can still buy sheet music from Shar or any other online retailer.
You need to keep your violin clean so invest in a micro-fiber cloth or other non-invasive cleaning cloth. NEVER use paper towels or household cleaners on your violin. They will scratch your instrument or worse, ruin the finish. There are dozens of cleaning and maintenance kits available. Get one and take care of your violin.
Lastly, you should have a practice journal. You should write down what you work on each day and how it went. Then, you can use that to guide your practice session the next day. You should take this to your lessons and write down what you need to work on for the week. No teacher wants to hear that you forgot what to practice or how to fix those trouble passages. Write it down, or better yet – record your lessons with your smartphone. Eliminate trouble before it happens.
Don’t Break the Bank
Violins are expensive. Good ones can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Accessories like cases and bows can range into the thousands as well. Student instruments are more reasonable, but like any other activity, Mommy and Daddy have to pay some money to get the necessary stuff. Shop around and definitely ask your teacher to help find the best deals. Every violin teacher has been through this themselves when they were students so they know how to get what you need for as few dollars as possible. Hopefully, you have access to a school violin or school strings program. That gives you another resource for finding the best deals.
Playing an instrument, any instrument, is a wonderful pastime. The problem-solving skills and listening skills alone are worth the price of lessons and equipment. Use the internet and your teachers to find what you need without mortgaging your home. You can learn an instrument without going broke, just like you can play any sport or try any other activity. Most importantly, have fun. If it isn’t fun, why bother?
The Practice Room is Your Laboratory