Whether you rent or buy, the most important thing is to have a decent quality instrument. Learning the fiddle is challenging. You don’t need the extra challenge of playing a poor quality instrument that sounds bad, has poor action and does not stay in tune. It may seem cheaper in the short run, but it’s more expensive in the long run. Think of how much time you’ll be investing in playing.
With a cheap fiddle, you will be more likely to get frustrated and quit. If you decide to buy a fiddle (instead of renting) than look to spend at least $350 on an instrument. It’s a good investment, not just financially, but for your peace of mind and well-being. Financially it makes sense, because if you stay with fiddling, you can spend less on other pastimes and forms of entertainment.
In terms of health and happiness, it’s hard to put a number on how much value music adds to your life. Relaxation, joy, fun, and new friends are some of the ways in which music brings well-being to a person’s life. If you start off on the wrong foot with a poor-quality instrument, then there is a greater chance that you’ll give up and miss out on this great joy.
Should I rent or buy?
In short, renting is a good option if you’re not quite ready to buy a fiddle. If you are trying to decide if fiddling is something you want to pursue, then renting one from a good local violin shop for 1-2 months is not a bad idea. Renting is an especially good option for small children who might quickly grow out of an instrument. On the extreme flipside of that, if you are 1000% sure you want to play the fiddle, renting might also be a good option. This is because you can make a better buying decision once you know how to play a little.
Expect to pay $20-40/month to rent a decent instrument. Some shops will allow you to apply part of the rental money towards a purchase.
The downside to renting is that often the quality of instruments is not that great. This is especially the case if you’re renting from generic music shops like Guitar Center where they also sell, keyboards, drums, microphones, tubas, kitchen sinks and whatever else they sell there.
Should I buy an instrument?
Another strike against renting is that rental fees add up quickly. An entry-level instrument can be bought for less than a year’s rental.
A good quality instrument can be re-sold for a substantial part of the purchase price. And some online dealers, like Fiddlershop (more on them below), will offer up to 75% of the value of the instrument on trade.
So the short answer: If there is a good violin shop near you then renting for a few months may be the best option. If not, then buy a decent quality instrument that can be upgraded later if you like.
Should I buy a used violin?
I don’t recommend this option for beginners. That’s because you don’t yet know how to play, and so it will be harder to make a good decision.
Once you get to a more intermediate level, you’ll have a better idea of what a good sound is. When something does not sound good, you’ll be more aware of how much of this stems from your technique and how much from the instrument.
Once you have played a while (let’s say you’ve learned 40 tunes), then you can start visiting violin shops and trying out different used instruments.
One advantage of a used instrument is that it has been broken in. The wood has settled and it has a nicer tone.
But I can’t afford a Stradivarius! How much should I spend?
Neither can I! But you don’t have to break the bank. You need a decent instrument with good tone that stays in tune.
Here are a few outfits I recommend. Though these are made overseas, Fiddlershop sets them up by hand. So you get the best of both world’s; an affordable instrument that’s been adjusted and checked by a master craftsman.
Another nice thing about buying from an online dealer like Fiddlershop, is that they offer a return policy. So if you feel like you got the wrong instrument or that you just don’t want to continue, you can get your money refunded (I think with Fiddlershop you have to return it within 45 days).
What size should I get?
Most adults play full-size violins. If you have short arms and think you might need a smaller violin, then you can do an arm test. Hold the violin at your chin and stretch out your left arm. If the scroll reaches past your wrist, it is too big.
If I’m left-handed, should I get a left-handed violin?
The short answer is no. Playing a regular violin requires a high degree of dexterity with the left hand. The left hand allows you to play melodies. The only time I think it would make sense is if you’ve already mastered another stringed instrument, like guitar with a left-handed instrument. Otherwise, lefties and righties can both enjoy a standard fiddle setup.
Got a question?
Just ask in a comment below.
Here is a quick way for you to access the essential practice tools you need. Under each tab you'll find play-along tracks, tabs and condensed teachings to help you as you practice. This is an evolving idea, so let me know in a comment below if it could be better.
Here's a newer version of the Notefinder which is based on sheet music. If you're interested in learning to read, this will be an invaluable reference. I'll be posting lessons on this in 2020.
Note: the brackets indicate notes that are the same pitch but spelled differently. For example, AH3 (D#) sounds the same as AL4 (Eb). Without going into too much teory detail here, this will be determined by the key of the tune or piece you are playing.
Here's he original table version of the Notefinder. Sometimes people learn in different ways...
Sawmill tuning Notefinder
This is used to find notes in Sawmill tuning (when the G string is tuned up to A and the D string is tuned up to E). If you're a beginner...best to ignore this! Learn more about sawmill tuning in the Appalachian Fiddle course.
Here are some common scales used in fiddle tunes. Each runs through a series of variations: two bows legato, two bows staccato, four bows, tucka (4 shorts, two longs), hoedown (1 long, two shorts), throwaway bow, triplets, tremolo.
G Major, starting on D3
Practice a tune with its scale (Kerry Polka is in G major, so practice a G major scale). Practice scales before, during and after practicing tunes.
Always return to a good sound, even if it means playing quarter notes on the D string. You can do this! You just have to remember to pause on practicing the challenging thing and just get a good sound on single notes.
Why do this? Because it will bring you deep joy. And it will build your confidence which will inspire further practice.