What is a Violin?

The violin is a wooden string instrument in the violin family. It is the smallest and highest-pitched instrument in the family in regular use. You may also hear the violin called a fiddle. Both terms refer to a four-stringed instrument, generally played with a bow, strummed, or plucked. While they are identical in their physical appearance, the differences in how they’re played and the style of music played on them is where the differences arise. Violins are used in classical and orchestral music and are played very precisely. Fiddles are used in country, folk, bluegrass and other types of music and are often played in a more interpretive style.

What are Violins Made of?

Violins are wooden instruments and are therefore made almost entirely of … yep, wood! The types of wood, and the age and seasoning of the wood, will depend on the age, quality and price of the instrument. Commonly, you’ll see various parts of violins made from maple, spruce, willow, ebony, rosewood or boxwood.

The violin typically has four strings, usually tuned in perfect fifths with notes G3, D4, A4, E5, and is most commonly played by drawing a bow across its strings, though it can also be played by plucking the strings with the fingers (pizzicato) and by striking the strings with the wooden side of the bow.

How to Choose the Right Violin Size

Did you know that violins come in nine sizes? They are sized from 1/32 to 4/4 (full size), to fit every player from a two-year-old to an adult. Violin sizes and arm length are closely correlated.  For example, a 1/16 size violin is 14.5 inches long and is best suited to a player with 14-inch-long arms. The chart below details the nine sizes:

Violin Size

Violin Length

Arm Length of Violin Player

Age Range for this Violin Size


13.5 inches

13-14 inches

1-3 years


14.5 inches

14 inches

3-5 years


16 inches

15 inches

4-5 years


17 inches

16 to 16.5 inches

4-6 years


18.5 to 19 inches

18-18.5 inches

5-7 years


20.5 inches

20 inches

7-9 years


21 inches

21.5 to 22 inches

9-12 years


22.5 inches

22 inches

Teens or adults with smaller than average hands

4/4 (full size)

23 to 23.5 inches

23 inches or longer

Students who are at least five feet tall


How to Measure Arm Length

You’re probably still asking, “so, what size violin do I need?” As evidenced in the above chart, arm length is the starting point in determining the correct size of violin.

  • Have someone – a teacher or perhaps a music store employee – measure the arm from the neck to the wrist. That measurement will indicate which size to try first.
  • The total length of the violin (including the neck) should allow the wrist to curve up and wrap around the scroll, if it is the right fit.
  • If the arm cannot bend in playing position, then the violin is too large. The arm should always be able to bend comfortably at the elbow as the fingers are placed on the fingerboard next to the scroll.
  • If the student is between sizes, choose the larger of the two.
  • For students playing violins smaller than full size, have their arms measured annually. It is even possible for students to need to go up a size within one year if there is a growth spurt.

How Much Does Age Matter When Selecting a Violin?

Age has much less to do with selecting a violin size than do physical factors such as the length and size of the fingers, the width of the palm, neck length, and jaw shape. Two five year olds or two ten year olds may measure for completely different violin sizes. Also, while evaluating instrument size, look at the student in playing position. Does the violin look in proportion to their height? If not, the violin may be the wrong size.

Another test is to have the student hold the violin under their chin without supporting it with a hand. If they can do so easily, it is a good fit; otherwise, try a smaller size. A final guideline, for students who have been playing for some time, is that if they can comfortably play a violin in tune, it is an acceptable fit. Fourth finger reach and intonation may be the deciding factors.

Violin Accessories Sizes

Don’t just ask what size violin should you get – also consider what accessories you’ll need and make sure they match the violin. When purchasing or renting a violin, it will always come with strings. Many instruments are packaged with a case and bow, but in the event that you are not purchasing a package, it is essential to match these items to the size of the violin. Beginning students often do not use shoulder rests, but be aware that these, too, come in different sizes beginning with 1/16. 

Strings typically last for about six months; when it’s time to buy new strings, you’ll need to make sure you select ones that fit your violin. Make note of whether you need strings that fit a fine tuner, or ones that will be tuned using your pegs.

Choose the Right Violin for You

There is a violin to fit every player – no matter your age, size or playing style. Finding the correct fit will ensure the best results and provide years of playing enjoyment.

Buying a Violin at Woodwind & Brasswind

If you’re looking for advice and assistance shopping for violins, violin accessories or other orchestral string accessories, our music experts are available to understand your needs and your budget. Call us at 800.348.5003.

Educators can take advantage of our best educator pricing by shopping on the Educator Website or calling our school music experts at 800.346.4448.