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Violin & Viola

Violin family of instruments
Chamber groupThe study of string instruments may be seen as an exercise in balance – the position of the body, and the weight of the arms, the hand and even each individual finger is balanced to achieve a quality sound. The quality of sound and pitch achieved through fine control of one's fingers on the finger board while making contact between the bow and strings takes time to develop. 

The smallest instrument of this family, the violin is a melodic instrument that is easily transportable. Because of this, it has a highly social aspect. There is ample opportunity to play alone or in groups of any size, with or without other instruments, and in virtually any location.  
For beginners, more time is spent on achieving correct posture than with certain other instruments. The time spent in studying good posture allow students to play with greater ease throughout their progress.

Violins and cellos come in fractional sizes suited to your child’s stature, making it possible for even two to three year olds to begin playing. The minimum recommended age to start private lessons however, is age four or five, since the study of a musical instrument demands focus and discipline. 

The next largest instrument of the violin family, the viola is similar in shape to a violin and is held in the same manner, but with its size comes a deeper voice. Most beginner viola students use violins restrung with viola strings, for small size violas are uncommon to find, until they are tall enough to play on a full size viola. 

There are more and more fractional sized violas being made today, however, making it easier for younger children to begin directly with viola.  Full size violas come in different lengths allowing smaller player to play on appropriate size.

There is a great demand for violas in orchestra and other ensembles, as the viola is not as well known instrument as the violin. Transferring from the violin to the viola is easy for the technique required to play the violin is the same for the viola.

The third sized instrument of the violin family, the cello is quite a bit larger than the violin or viola and is played sitting down. The cello has a beautifully rich and deep voice, making it a melodic instrument for solo playing. It often plays the bass harmony line in groups - the foundation of the harmonic structure. The cello is a bit more challenging to transport than the violin or viola, but simply takes a bit of getting used to.

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Instrument Care and Purchase 
A violin or cello, if properly cared for, is a good investment.  A second-hand instrument, which is undamaged, with new strings, good bow-hair and a good case, is worth just as much as a new instrument.  With the increasing popularity of the Suzuki method in Ontario, there is a growing market for re-selling the instrument once your child out grows it. 

Violins and cellos are sensitive and delicate instruments, and even the youngest child should be taught to handle them with care.

Make absolutely sure that you are getting the correct size for your child.  This is not like clothing where your child grows into it.  The instrument has to fit the child exactly.  Too large an instrument results in poor posture and playing habits. Do not accept the word of the dealer - get your teacher to size your child for an instrument before finalizing the sale. 

When purchasing an instrument, make sure that your teacher has looked it over carefully.  Dealers will usually allow you to borrow an instrument for a few days for evaluation before purchase.  Avoid cheap mass produced instruments.  They are poorly made and their resale value is very low.

Arrange to have fine tuners on small instruments - one on each string but make sure that the fine tuners are not digging into the body of the instrument   as this will damage the wood and could cause it to split.  Occasionally
the fine tuners must be loosened and the strings tightened by using the pegs.

Do not wait for the next lesson to have your instrument tuned.  Learn to tune it from a piano or purchase an electronic tuner.  The meter on the tuner will tell you if the strings are in tune or not. Pitch pipes are not recommended because they change pitch if you blow into them too hard.

Do not store the instrument in extreme temperatures, neither hot nor cold, and avoid excessively high or low humidity.

Always store violins in their cases; removing sponges or shoulder pads to prevent the bridge from pressing against the roof of the case.  Make sure the bow is securely fastened. Always close the fasteners on the case, so that the violin will not fall out when the case is picked up.

Cellos can suffer damage through frequent removal of the canvas cover with its scratching zippers.  It may be wise to stand it in a corner of the room when not in use, bridge facing the corner.  Always put the endpin in after playing.

Loosen the bow hair enough to take pressure off the bow stick when it is not in use.  Do not over-tighten bow hair at any time - it will stretch the hair and/or deform the bow.  Do not touch the bow hair with your fingers.

Regularly check that the bridge has not been knocked out of its correct position, or that it is not leaning over.  Your teacher will show you how to adjust this if necessary.

Do not use commercial polishes of any kind on the instrument.  Rosin dust should be removed after each playing using a clean soft clot.

Do not attempt any repairs yourself. 

Strings and bow hair do not last forever.  Bows need to be rehaired and strings replaced periodically. Ask your teacher.

If possible, small children should practice on a carpet, just in case of disaster!

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