Instrument sizes demystified 2. Strings

String instruments are very popular. They make up a large percentage of an orchestra so there is always lots of opportunities to join in.

In order of size: violin, viola, cello and double bass. And they all come in mini sizes suitable for very small children.

The two instruments that are most suited to very small children (from around age 5) are the violin and cello. These come in eighth size, quarter size, half size, three-quarter size and full size. (Violins can go even smaller; tenth, sixteenth and I’ve even seen a thirty-second, but it’s a bit unusual to need these.) Small children will be ‘sized’ by the teacher, who will look at physical factors such as the length of their arm and the stretch between their fingers in order to fit them to the correct instrument.

As a general rule, go for smaller rather than larger: it’s much easier for a child to cope with a violin that is too small for them rather than struggle with a bigger heavier instrument that makes their arm tired.

When you do get sized by a teacher, stick to that size. Don’t be seduced by a music shop salesman into getting a bigger instrument because it will last longer – in reality it will sit in a cupboard for a few years until your child gets big enough to use it!

At EJMS we have a Tardis of a cupboard that houses over 100 violins and cellos of varying sizes. We try to have all sizes available so we can have exactly the right size to hire to you for your child. It’s important to get this right. They all have the correct sized bow to match each instrument as well – we have several lengths of wide plastic drainage pipe holding all the different sizes of bows.

On to the viola. This instrument tends to be started a little later than the violin (at around age 7), simply because it is a little bit bigger (even in the small sizes) than a violin. But, if you have a very young child that wants to have a go, then we’ll find a viola small enough! The major factor for children choosing the viola rather than the violin is that they like the sound of it better – much lower and richer.

And then there is the Big Daddy, the double bass. These are big, REALLY big. Very few professional players use a full size double bass, most play on some form of three-quarters, unless they happen to be 6 feet 4 with enormous hands! (Transport can be an issue too, but check out the @EJMS_Ealing Twitter feed for a photo of Polly fitting one into a Mini!)

But, we do have a double basses in a range of sizes available for hire at EJMS, including an eighth size which is suitable to start at the age of 8-or-so, as long as you’ve grown a bit by then!

I hope this has been a useful start. On to the world of woodwind next…


Instrument sizes demystified 1. Introduction

How old does my child need to be to play the french horn? (Or bassoon, oboe, double bass, drum kit – substitute any instrument you like.)

I get asked this question a lot. And I mean A LOT! And no wonder, because it’s a really important question. You don’t want to start a child on an instrument that is going to be too big and cumbersome. Nothing worse than a child who won’t practise because it’s too uncomfortable to play!

So, over the next few posts I’ll give you a quick guide. Just remember that children as well as instruments come in different sizes, so any age ranges are very approximate. And you will be the best person to know when your child is old enough for their concentration to survive to the end if a 15 or 30 minute instrumental lesson…

Ensembles away…

Walking around EJMS this morning I was really struck by the huge variety of music-making that takes place. Standing in the foyer of the Performance Centre I could hear the Adult Chorale from the Chapel, the Elementary Strings from the Main Hall, the Junior Percussion from Old Drama, a singing lesson from somewhere in the RE block, 2 drum kit lessons and a guitar lesson from A corridor and some random glimpses of bassoon, trumpet and clarinet lessons wafting from somewhere above my head. Whilst all this was going on I looked through the window of A03 to see 20-or-so 8-year-olds diligently writing G major treble clef scales on their music whiteboards, apparently oblivious to all going on around them. (Thanks, Twyford School – good soundproofing on the doors!)
And it was still only 9am!

It makes it clear to me what it’s all about. Playing music isn’t just one thing that you do in your life, it’s loads of different things. The experiences of playing in an orchestra, or singing in a choir, or playing chamber music, or jamming in a rock guitar group, or improvising in a big band are all so different that it’s like having 15 hobbies instead of just one.

Roll on more ensembles, that’s what I say. Anyone up for a Bagpipe and Fife Band?