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As the holidays approach it may be time to take advantage of seasonal sales and surprise the budding string player in your life (maybe even yourself) with a new instrument. First things first though. What size? A string teacher can size students best, taking into consideration their arm and finger lengths, and the breadth of their left hand knuckles. However, if you don’t have a teacher handy you can use the following charts to get a good idea about what size violin or viola you need, whether the instrument is for a child or an adult.

Violin Sizing: To determine the correct size violin, first have the student extend his or her left arm out at shoulder height, palm up, about 45 degrees out to the side, as if playing a violin. Measure the arm length from the base of the neck to the center of the palm, and consult the following chart to determine the suggested size. Though most adults will need a 4/4 size violin, shorter adults, who might also have shorter arms and small hands, should measure to make sure a 4/4 size won’t be too big. Besides 3/4 size, there is also the possibility of finding a 7/8 size violin that is between a 3/4 and 4/4 size. They are harder to find, but something to consider for the smaller adult. A 4/4 size bow should be used in this case, though the student may not be able to actually reach the upper limits of the tip.

Measurement (inches) Student Age Violin Size Needed
13"-14" 2-4 years 1/32
14"-15" 3-5 years 1/16
15"-16.5" 4-5 years 1/10
16.5"-18.5" 4-6 years 1/8
18.5"-20" 5-7 years 1/4
20"-22" 7-9 years 1/2
22"-23.5" 9-12 years 3/4
23.5" + 11+ years 4/4 (full sized)

In general, if the student is between violin sizes, unless he or she is in a growth spurt, go with the smaller size.

The next two considerations - finger length and knuckle breadth, are entirely subjective. Check the student’s finger length and determine if they seem short, average, or long for the student’s hand and body type, and others of a similar age. If they seem short or average and the student is bordering between two sizes, go with the smaller size. It will make playing much easier! To be even more accurate, consider if the student has a narrow or a broad hand across the knuckles. A student with a narrow hand and short fingers should definitely consider a smaller size, while a narrow hand with long fingers might be fine on a larger violin. A broad hand with long fingers will likely be better off on a larger instrument or even a viola.

Viola Sizing: Viola sizes aren’t as standard as violin sizes. Rather than the fractional sizes we find with violins, violas are sized by measuring body length. Acoustics-wise, the viola is a more temperamental beast then the violin - it needs to have a big enough sound chamber to provide good resonance for its lower voice, but also needs to be playable. Children often play violins strung as violas. In general, to get a good tone, the student should get the biggest viola he or she can comfortably play, and besides the arm lengths detailed in the chart below, take finger length, knuckle breadth, and also how heavy the instrument feels on the shoulder into consideration.

For viola sizing please use the following chart and the guidelines described in the violin sizing section above.

Measurement (inches) Student Age Violin Size Needed
20"-21.5" 6-7 years 12" or 1/2 size violin
21.5"-22" 7-9 years 13" or 3/4 size violin
22"-23" 9-12 years 14" or 4/4 size violin
23"-24.5 10-12 years or small adult 15"
24.5"-25" average adult 15.5" - 16"
25.5" + tall adult 16"-17"

Please email Laurel at laurel@laurelthomsen.com if you have a violin, viola, fiddle, music biz, or practice related question you’d like answered in the blog or on a podcast, have a story or insight to share, or if you’d like to inquire about violin, viola, or fiddle lessons with Laurel, in-person or via Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom.

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Laurel Thomsen

Violin, Viola, Vocals
Performance, Instruction, Recording

Based in Santa Cruz, California

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