Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are still sheltering in place. I don't see that changing anytime soon, as our local schools will likely still be in full remote-learning mode until January 2021 at the earliest. I have been so grateful to my families, who have given me space and trust to make decisions for my family and business as necessary.
In the beginning of Covid, many, including myself, put a hold on adding anything new to our lives or businesses. There was enough going on, enough to figure out, enough changing rapidly for ourselves, our families, our work, etc. I did not personally feel I had the wherewithal to add another student until we were 3 months in... and it was another 3 months before I accepted another one. That might be it for me for now... we'll see. :)
Now that we know this is not just a blip, but a new way of life, folks are starting to find ways to 'live life' again, including seeking music lessons, and I find that so encouraging! Folks are adapting and making the most of this season. I hope I can keep learning from that.
to my students when they first begin their violin lessons.
Here's the short list, and then I'll follow with some notes on some of the items.
- Instrument: important... rent first, buy later! See why below.
- Music stand
- Cleaning cloth
- Metronome/tuner combo
- Work/play space
- Remote Lesson gear
#1. THE INSTRUMENT
Probably the ➡️ MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE ⬅️ (...can I emphasize that enough?😄) that I give new players and their families is that the quality of the instrument is hugely important to the student's enjoyment and therefore success in musical study. This is where you want to put your money, and to be honest, compared to what you'll spend in lessons, it's fairly inexpensive to do it the right way. I might be saying something controversial here, but honestly I can almost always predict the success of a student's beginnings based on whether my advice in this area is taken. It's my spidey-senses at work.
SOOO... RENT OR BUY?
It's not a question of whether to rent or to buy, it's a question of what step is appropriate for each stage of study.
Rent to Start
You'll want to defer to the expertise of your teacher in this area, because they know the lay of the land in your area best. For my students, I almost universally recommend that a beginning or early intermediate player rent their violin, and from a reputable shop. The cost in the San Francisco Bay Area ranges from $15-30 a month to rent a good to very good violin.
Now, you may say (as some do), "Amazon carries violins with good reviews for $250, so why should I rent when I can buy?" Or (and I totally sympathize), "I want my child to have a nice gift they will keep and remember."
Once, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of a violin ordered over Amazon. ...Once. In other situations, we tried to make do for a while, but the quality of the instrument impacted the usability of the instrument, and therefore the progress of the student, and ultimately parents went out and got a rental.
I'll start with what's great about a rental from a reputable shop.
- Easy to tune, easy to play, right away.
- Everything will be in working order from the beginning. No bridge leveling, sound post adjusting... it will simply work.
- You can get things fixed right away at the shop if anything does go awry.
- Higher level instrument than what you can buy for $250 - these instruments will usually sell for upwards of $750-$1K if you bought it outright.
- It's fitted just for you or your child, and you can upsize easily. (Think about how often kids have growth spurts...)
- Shops usually have some sort of rental credit program that allows you to apply some portion of what you've spent in rentals on a new instrument when it is time to buy.
Pro tip: Call ahead and make an appointment. In normal times, it's a good policy, but is especially important during the pandemic, as different areas and businesses open up at different rates.
Things to consider if you're thinking of buying a beginner instrument:
- Shar.com is the place I'd recommend if you really want to buy an instrument kit for a beginner. It's actually where my first purchased violin came from!
- You might have guessed, but I strongly recommend against ordering from general sites like Amazon, or using the violin you found for a great deal on Craigslist or at your neighbor's garage sale. You just don't know what you'll get, and usually it's not worth your money or time. In my experience, you'll waste more time on setup (if a bridge snaps or a sound post falls during transit) and daily use (tuning) going this direction.
- Time is money, right? Sometimes, I've spent 10-15 minutes of a 30 minute beginner lesson just trying to get the instrument to keep its tuning. Let's calculate how much $$ one might spend of the teacher's time each lesson on instrument maintenance if this happens even for a month. Now imagine being the parent who has to try to solve this problem over Zoom without the physical help from your teacher. That alone will undo any sort of savings you might feel you're getting by purchasing something without the recommendation/setup of an expert.
- The first few weeks are crucial for a musician to feel successful and get a chance to get to know their instrument. Often, this is the thing people don't anticipate. If we don't have a great start, then we loose an opportunity that could change someone's life for the better. That's why I'm ranting so much about this. :)
Buy When They're Serious
Save up for a good violin when the child grows a bit and it is clear that violin is going to be a steady part of their life. Usually (depending on age) this happens when they've been playing a few years, have moved into perhaps a 1/2 or 3/4 size, and are ready for a more advanced instrument that will allow them to take their technique to the next level.
It's such an amazing milestone to reach with a student when they have worked hard and 'earned' their first violin (and bow... just as important!). It gives them a sense of accomplishment and ownership that can spur them on in their music!
#2. MUSIC STAND
A Solid Manhasset is my fave, but a folding stand will be fine, too.
#3. CLEANING CLOTH
A smooth microfiber or cotton handkerchief is essential for daily cleaning. Anytime you play, you wipe the instrument down. It's like brushing your teeth. Every day.
This one is my preference: Korg TM60
Every teacher will have their own recommendations, and I know plenty of teachers who work with apps instead of an old-school physical tuner. You should always use what your teacher recommends. But I love these because they're NOT a phone. Kids can use it with or without help, they can drop it a million times before it breaks (I've seen this tested in my own house), and they don't have to wait for an adult to stop what they are doing or relinquish their device before getting on with their practice. For me, this one is about fostering independent work, and away from a screen. Win-win.
#5. WORK/PLAY SPACE
Other than a good instrument, a well-lit space set aside for music making can have the most impact on a student's enjoyment in playing, as well as reinforcing those habits that will make it long-lived and fruitful.
Find a place for your student's case, books, music stand, and (in this Covid-19 world) virtual music lesson setup to live. Ideally, this would also be where the student practices. You want to make it easy for that beautiful instrument to be whipped out and jammed upon, then safely returned when the fun is done. ;)
Violins are people, too! They like to be where people are... in habitable temperatures, not stuck in the sun for long periods of time, or in super cold places.
Some advice for those in climates with extreme weather: I've found over the years that storing violins against an exterior wall or on the actual floor of the ground floor can wreak havoc on the tuning of an instrument, because temperatures can vary widely. When I lived in Cleveland, my violin would go out of tune every time I left my violin case on the floor by the front door overnight. It was a pain to fix. Even here in Alameda I have this issue in the winter. So, where possible, find an interior wall and/or elevate the instrument case to a bench or shelf, and you'll save yourself a ton of bother.
#6. REMOTE LESSON GEAR
This is totally a bonus depending on budget, but it's really helpful for the lesson if the device used for lessons can be at eye level and aimed downward slightly. The teacher needs to see all of the student's torso, bow and bow arm when extended at either end. Here's a little video about that. Bottom line, if you're using a tablet, then you might consider a mounting arm like this one from AboveTek.