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Considering fiddle
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Advanced member
August 29, 2017 - 7:10 pm
Member Since: August 29, 2017
Forum Posts: 84
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 Greetings. I'm in my 30s and I'm from Northern New England.

I've played around on the electric bass on and off but recently switched to a cheap sub $100 mandolin. I've really enjoyed the tuning(especially fifths, makes so much sense!) and being in the higher octaves for once but I've definitely hit the limitations of this cheap mandolin(and it's my only instrument now). It's eating e strings like crazy too.

Looking around at the pricing of mandolins, I couldn't help but notice the shockingly better value a student violin is. The instrument has also always interested me and I've been playing my fair share of fiddle tunes lately.

Decided to check out the violins at the local music stire, having never bowed in my life and found I was able to bow squeal free in under 10 minutes and with my only instruction being from fiddlerman's vids the night prior, which surprised me. Also got to try out a viola which I really liked the tone and proportions of.

My question is, I'm quite a bit taller than average with a wide wingspan, would I be better off with a viola? This shop services violins for the local school programs and these are student level violins. Are these a good start for someone on a budget? I don't want to end up with a barely playable instrument again, I'll accept the compromise on tone and finish with cost but not playability.

Violin appears to have it's own obvious challenges but is it as frustrating as some make it out to be? As my name implies, music is my hobby, I don't intend to be a serious performer. I enjoy figuring out pieces and honing technique as much as I do playing a clean tune.

August 29, 2017 - 9:22 pm
Member Since: July 24, 2017
Forum Posts: 43
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Okay, I'm a beginner at all this, so that's my disclaimer.  And right now, I'm self-taught.  I realize that I would benefit from lessons, but not right now.

I started with violin for 1 month, and was frustrated, and then switched to viola for the next 6 months.  I really wanted to learn violin, but had sensitive ears, and on a future trip to the music store discovered something called the viola, and it was more gentle on my ears.

My main issue with the viola was that it was bigger (I had a 16 inch, so it was 2 inches bigger in the body and 1 inch longer in the neck, making it heavier, longer, and more difficult to hold even though I'm a tall guy--although maybe a teacher could have helped me with that).  I also thought after 6 months, that I wanted to focus on folk music, where violin might be a better choice.

So I took up violin again and sold the viola.  I now have almost 10 months on violin.  And just 10 days ago, I bought a mandolin to try that too.  After only 10 days with mandolin, I feel like a lot transferred over from violin, and I really like that it's gentle on my ears.  With the violin, I need to use at least one earplug in my left ear (and sometimes one in my right ear), and also a tourte mute to make it bearable.  With mandolin, the only problem so far, is that I think I can benefit from ultra light strings (to ease some initial fingertip pain until calluses build up).  I have the ultra light strings on order, so they'll be here soon.

Right now, with nearly a year on violin, and only 10 days on mandolin, I think I'm a better mandolin player than fiddler.  The bow is a challenge, but I'm going to stick with both mandolin and the violin, and perhaps get violin lessons one day.  There's certainly no harm in trying everything for a year or so, to see what you really like (and while I'm not taking lessons, I do think they are a good idea). 

Also, regarding which instrument to buy, I went through buying and selling multiple instruments to find the ones I like.  Right now, I have one mandolin and two violins (and just listed the extra violin on Craigslist so I can get down to one).  If you buy used, you should be able to get your money back.  You can also rent for a few months.  Actually, I like the idea of learning different instruments simultaneously, rather than building up a collection of several violins (after all, you can only play one violin at a time, and don't you really want to just play the best one).

Regular advisor

August 29, 2017 - 9:23 pm
Member Since: August 13, 2017
Forum Posts: 143
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Well, I am an old gal, but I have played a number of instruments! Mostly string, but I do have a flute. I had a grandfather who played violin and a grandmother who played mandolin. I started with violin. Later took up acoustic guitar and played that for years. I then got myself a psalter (which I still have) and then bought a flute and finally inherited my grandfather's violin. Wish I had also gotten my grandmothers mandolin but they had two daughters and each got an instrument. My mother got the violin and left it to me which is a good thing! I am enjoying taking it up again! As for how hard it is? No harder than any other instrument, in my opinion! Yes, you do have to develop control of your bow! It takes regular practice and the ability to not expect instant results! Fiddlerman tutorials and tips are really good and if you follow what he teaches and don't take shortcuts you will do fine! You can also spring for a teacher if you want to. Your size has nothing to do with whether you chose the violin or the viola! The violin is suprano where the viola is alto. You were a bass player and the Mandolin is suprano. So, figure a step down but not as far as bass. There is also the Cello which is even deeper than the viola, then there is the big bass. I love the sound of violins and violas. I even like cello but have never been attracted to bass though they are an essential instrument! Go with the sound that touches your heart and moves you. You need to love it if you expect to pursue it and succeed!

"Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one".- Albert Einstein 


August 29, 2017 - 9:36 pm
Member Since: September 30, 2014
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Welcome to the forum, is playing the violin verses viola personal choice all depends on what you like, maybe a 5 string fiddle best of both worlds Bobby Hicks played one and sounded great. Violin frustrating well it's a 10 year apprenticeship I've been told and it looks like there right just so much going on at once. But it is the King of the melody instruments just hang on and pay your dues and it greatly rewarding.


Master the Frog and you have mastered the bow.

Albert Sammons

Advanced member
August 29, 2017 - 10:02 pm
Member Since: August 29, 2017
Forum Posts: 84
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Ron, you'll build up your callouses, especially for the barre chords. I have mine, my fingertips are like stone. Improperly setup mandolins have high actions, requiring even more force on this how tension strings. This was something I learned to compensate for. Honestly, the thinner strings can be rougher in tender fingers with the double courses. The e pair feel cheese graters until the tips toughen up.

Mandolins and violins seem to make great crossover instruments with shared repertoire. Like I said, I need to upgrade as a new nut and tailpiece cost more than the instrument.

I liked the deeper tone of the viola better but violin would be more practical for me as it's the same tuning in used to and all the music I've been playing translates directly over.

Not to say that I won't get a better mandolin again someday but given my druthers, I really like the challenge of the fiddle and what learning it could do for me musically.


August 29, 2017 - 11:55 pm
Member Since: September 21, 2013
Forum Posts: 492
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@Amateur  Why don't you look in the fiddlershop? I will say you will get the bang for your buck if you decide to invest in a violin or viola. They also have a fabulous trial program where you can try an instrument for 2 weeks with just the cost of shipping. 

I'd say try both or compromise with a 5 string violin and see what you like the best.  It's really a personal choice but if the viola sounds better to you, you will probably be more likely to stick with it even though the violin may be easier to switch over to from the mandolin.

However if you are interested in fiddle music then a violin is where it's at. Good luck!

Edit: also if your worried about violin size you can look into body styles that are a bit bigger such as the Maggini instead of the stradivarius style bodies. The maggini violins tend to be a bit wider so have a deeper tone and a bit longer as well so it may feel more comfortable instead of the strad for you. Not sure how many of those are in student or lower priced violins but it's an option if you choose to stick with fiddle! 

Lead me, Follow me, or get out of my way!

             ~General George S. Patton


August 31, 2017 - 10:30 am
Member Since: June 7, 2016
Forum Posts: 373
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Amateur said
My question is, I'm quite a bit taller than average with a wide wingspan, would I be better off with a viola?

A viola will probably fit you better physically, but there are lots of people who are larger than the optimum size for a 4/4 violin and still manage to play one without too much trouble. Large hands (especially fingertips) will probably be more of a challenge than long arms.  (And people with small hands have their own set of challenges - violins are not ergonomic. :) )

Violas are (mostly) what I call oom-pah instruments. They play the background/harmonizing part, which sounds quite good in an orchestra, rather less so when you're playing by yourself.

There are several options:

  • Go with a violin. This will give you the widest range of options for playing both by yourself and with others, and playing the parts of songs that are recognizable.
  • Go with a straight viola, and play it as one. I, personally, don't care for oompah instruments (played one in band many, many years ago, and I've had my fill), but that doesn't in any way make them wrong.  The tonal register is more pleasant to some people (including me, actually), and there are a few pieces where the viola gets the lead.
  • Get a viola and string it as a violin - I did this with a viola I got on an auction site. Once my teacher found out I had one, he suggested it, because I also am a little larger than average. I think the one I had (a 15.5") was a bit too large for me. The tone was also not the best, partly because it wasn't an especially good instrument to begin with, partly because I was asking it to play outside the range it was designed for.  This combo does give the sound of violin with the physical size of a viola, though.
  • Get a viola, string it as a viola, but play it as if it were a violin. You won't be able to play with others much (you'll be a fifth low), but if you're only playing for your own pleasure, it will work fine.  This will also give you the physical size of the viola, while letting you play the melodic line. If you have no intention of every playing with anyone else, and trying a few violas makes them feel much more comfortable than a violin, this might be the way to go.
  • Get a 5-string viola.  These aren't common, and the tone won't be as good as either a good viola or a good violin (the more strings you add in, the more compromises you have to make to the design), but it will probably sound better than a stock viola restrung as a violin. The other main disadvantage to a 5-string is that even though the neck is a little wider, the strings end up a little closer together. Especially if you have big fingertips, that can get tricky.

Amateur said
  This shop services violins for the local school programs and these are student level violins. Are these a good start for someone on a budget? I don't want to end up with a barely playable instrument again, I'll accept the compromise on tone and finish with cost but not playability.

If the shop has reworked them from how they came from the factory, then they may be decent starter instruments.  Unfortunately, an awful lot of places tend to consider student instruments to be things that deserve nothing good. The wood is cheap, the quality of the build is mediocre to poor, and how things are put together has a lot more to do with making sure it doesn't come back to the factory than it does the instrument being easy to play.

As an example, for my first instrument (bought before I found this site), I got a Stentor off of Amazon. I'd done a fair amount of research, and thought I was getting a fairly good instrument for the money.  Compared to most of the stuff out there, I probably was, but it had quite a few problems.  The instrument cost me $250. After $350 worth of luthier work, doing things like flattening out the fingerboard, lowering the action (drastically - I was building up calluses, which you shouldn't need to play violin), and a few other odds and ends, it was a much better instrument. It sounded better, and was massively more playable.

Many places will not do $350 worth of work to a student instrument, figuring it's not worth it.  Wherever you get one, make sure a good setup is included in the price. (A lot of what was done to mine goes beyond "setup", but a lot of places don't even do the $125-$150 worth of stuff to do a good setup.)

So wherever you get one, make sure a decent setup is included in the price. You're going to need it pretty soon if it comes without it, and it's generally cheaper if it's built into the price of the instrument.


Amateur said

Violin appears to have it's own obvious challenges but is it as frustrating as some make it out to be? As my name implies, music is my hobby, I don't intend to be a serious performer. I enjoy figuring out pieces and honing technique as much as I do playing a clean tune.  

There are very few techniques in violin that are hard to learn (vibrato is about the only one that comes to mind as a possibility, and that's more because you're making a motion that your muscles aren't used to, so you're clumsy at the start - the idea is straightforward enough).

There are two problems that make it challenging:

First, everything is approximate. You don't have frets with which to pick the note, and you don't have keys to sound the note. Both the left-hand fingering and the bowing (assuming you're using a right-handed instrument) are almost the same each time.  This extends the learning time dramatically, and can mean you don't get as good as you'd like to be for much longer that you thought it would take.

The answer to that is to do anything new (or anything you're having problems with) very slowly and carefully, working on getting it right, and letting things like speed come along as they will.  That takes a peculiar form of self-discipline that most people (me included) find very challenging.

Second, remember the old line about walking and chewing gum at the same time?  Playing a violin can seem like riding a unicyle across a tightrope, while watching an instructional video you'll be tested on later, while carrying on a moderately intense conversation.  In other words, you have to multitask a lot.

It is as common as dirt to learn a new technique, try to use it in a song, and have the last 3 or 4 techniques you've learned (and thought you'd mastered) completely come apart on you. I don't know how many thousands of times you have to practice various things before they become so ingrained that you do them right no matter what else you're doing. (I'm not sure I've practiced anything that many times yet.) But it's enough times that I can pretty much guarantee you'll run into this problem.

If you're expecting it to happen and don't get too fussed about it, it's not that bad. A few days practicing the new technique while trying to hold on to all the old ones, and things start integrating, and it starts sounding halfway decent again.  If you think that once you've learned something well enough to do it in isolation, while you're concentrating on it, then you've "learned" it and should perform it perfectly from then on... expect much emotional pain.


There's a good side to both of those. The violin (and the viola is capable of just as much, even if there's not much music like that written for it) can be one of the most expressive instruments there is.  The fact that you can hit the note a little bit sharp or flat is bad when you don't want to do that, but it's great when that's the effect you want.

As an example, I'm currently learning Schindler's List.  There's a middle section which is completely unlike the rest of it, and it sounded rather bad to me, in particular this one G#.  It just didn't fit with the rest of the piece at all.  My teacher told me that it was supposed to be played in something of a Gypsy style, and that G# was actually played more as a G## (not an A, about a quarter tone between the G# and the A).  It sounded immensely better.  You can't do that with most instruments. Even something like a guitar, where you could bend the note to get that effect, what if you needed to make it go a quarter tone flat?  Good luck bending a string THAT direction. :)

All of the forms of flexibility that make it as difficult as pushing cooked spaghetti when you're learning it gives you superb expressiveness when you've mastered it. I'm made the claim before, and I have seen nothing to convince me otherwise, that there has never been anyone who has completely mastered the violin - they know every technique possible, and can use any of them in conjunction with anything else and do so flawlessly.  It's a "deep" instrument. The basics aren't too hard to master (as you found when trying one in the store), but there will be new techniques to learn and new nuances to those techniques for a long, long, time.

Fort Lauderdale
September 6, 2017 - 12:49 pm
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 15826

Great answers above. I agree with the fact that the violin could be fine for you but it's more a question of personal preference.
In any case, welcome to the forum. Nice to have you here. Keep us posted.

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

Bragg Creek, Alberta

September 7, 2017 - 1:05 am
Member Since: March 8, 2015
Forum Posts: 290
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I agree with the comments above. I have bashed away at violin for about 2 years now, with a clarinet and guitar background. 5ths make so  much sense and I have found satisfaction in even the early successes. What is really rewarding is to put a challenging piece away for 6 months, and bring it back out, and I realize as a beginner it is easier/I have improved in skills substantially. Not an impossible instrument, and very lovely sound, very emotional. 


I also recommed checking out Fiddlerman instruments. I hwve two, and they offer really good support and service, and good quality, no surprises.

Fort Lauderdale
September 13, 2017 - 9:59 am
Member Since: September 26, 2010
Forum Posts: 15826
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intrepidgirl said .......I also recommed checking out Fiddlerman instruments. I hwve two, and they offer really good support and service, and good quality, no surprises.  


"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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