An article/list my mother made about 10 years ago now is still super relevant today. Call it a kit; you should be prepared for what’s coming and even in the first year of study, most of these things have aided as I’ve seen time and again with my students.
I’ve listed here in order what my mom lists in her original (with visuals) and I include my choices for the best at the best price. Recommendations for Repertoire, Exercises, Pedagogical Learning, etc, eventually will be making their way to this site as well. All of my recommendations are collected conveniently on an Amazon list posted at the bottom. Amazon.com sources from places like Sharmusic and Johnson Strings so I’ve found it the most convenient for shopping. Read the entire list as some items are necessary NOW and some are for more advanced players. This is also meant for as use as a reference so bookmark for a later read.
These are from the views of my Mother when she was a teacher all those many moons ago. Anything in my voice is in bold.
- Rosin. Rule of thumb, if the Rosin is in a wooden block (“U” shaped wood with rosin in between), it’s a poorer quality rosin. Local music stores carry larger nicer rosin, but will break if dropped, yet still useful even when broken; she can keep some in her case and some at home for quick access. The easier it is to practice, the more she will practice. New Rosin needs to be “broken in.” Open the rosin, take a sharp car key or the metal bit on the frog of the bow and scrub/score the rosin across the top. This breaks the outer hard shell of the rosin to let the fine powder loose to be applied directly to the bow. I recommend Jade Rosin. I first got it in 8th grade; it’s proven to be the best bang for the buck for sure.
- Anne Recommends Fingernail Clippers to be kept in the case. In mine, I have a pair that also has a rubber grip that catches the clippings so that you don’t have to stand over a stinky backstage garbage while clipping 🙂
- Pencil(s). ALWAYS have a good sharpened pencil in your violin case, and music bag, and with you note book (see #3). NEVER use anything but a pencil to write in your music books so get used to always having a pencil. Write lightly in case you need to erase. I recommend old fashioned wood pencils like Ticonderoga or Black Warriors as mechanical tend to etch deep into surface of the paper (especially old scores).
- A NOTE taking blank book. I found it so helpful to take notes for lessons. The teacher would say, “Play this thing 50 times every day this week,” etc. I wrote those things down during the lesson and then DID THEM! Huge progress was made at almost every lesson because of this. Also you make notes of questions of things you didn’t understand at the last lesson so you can ask about them at your next lesson. It is always good to do that in ONE book. Some teachers may furnish a “Practice Record” sheet for each lesson, this is also a good place to write notes and questions, just be sure you get to keep these notes (and keep them in a notebook for referencing in the future). I found at Barnes & Noble bookstore at Christmas time some Staff Paper bound into a nice “blank book.” This may come in handy as you advance and start reading music, or if your teacher wants you to play a certain scale or exercise that is not in written form, etc. She can write it on the staff paper for continued use throughout the years. It is a good idea to review all these old notes from time to time. You can print a fast and easy “Practice Record” that I’ve created. Additionally, there are free, printable blank sheet music (manuscript paper) from Blank Sheet Music . Net. Not everyone organizes the same way; I found that taking notes in a blank sketch book (no lines whatsoever) has continued to be my preferred method since High School. Others like binders to keep all the copies in one place.
- A Music Bag to carry music and other accoutrement to and from lessons or classes/orchestra if it will not fit inside the case music zipper section. If your shoulder rest doesn’t fit in the case, the bag helps you from losing it. I generally use a reusable shopping bag. Nothing fancy required, except thinking long term that some music/orchestra folders are up to 14 inches.
- Shoulder Rest. Be it a rubber band and a foamy sponge or a Kun-type product, everyone needs something to keep the violin securely and relaxedly nestled on the shoulder (Cellists/bassists need rock stops) so as to minimize fatigue at the expense of unnecessary neck and back pain. I recommend the sponges for beginners and the Kun for more advanced players. There is nothing wrong with using a sponge; simply depends on body type and what the teacher recommends. Knock-off shoulder rests are fine in the early years, but as the student plays for longer amounts of time you should invest in a durable shoulder rest. Kuns are still the best and I use the Kun Bravo as the wood is much more durable and does not bend like plastic after 4+ hours of play. Just ensure that you’re buying the right size. I do recognize that some necks are smaller and require simple “friction” support like this sponge.
- Violin MUTE and Practice Mute. A regular mute will be needed when she starts playing in an orchestra or classroom situation, but not before then. It’s very tiny and will set you back about $5. A practice mute covers all 4 strings and sits on the bridge (maybe sized according to your violin size). This is so she can practice in a hotel while on vacation and not bother neighbors or if Grandma comes to visit and is napping. While both change the sound of the instrument, the practice mute dampens the sound so it seems nothing more than a minimal hum (think TV volume 15). The orchestra or regular mute changes the sound of the instrument and is a tool for orchestral playing. Orchestral mutes need not be fancy but can go missing really easily. This mute has been with me for 15 years now as it doesn’t flop around. Practice Mutes are invaluable.
- An Electronic Tuner. There is one that simply plays an “A” for you to tune the A and then tune all the other strings from the A (as in orchestra), or the kinds that hears whatever note you play and tells you if it is in tune or not (handy for those who are training their ears). New Strings need lots of tuning as they stretch and become homogenized with the instrument. I recommend the app Cleartune from the Apple Store. Traditional battery tuners are still ok, but $3.99 and right on their device if they have one.
- Metronome – Every musician needs this and needs to use it as part of every practice session. Keep it accessible and you will use it more often. No need to carry it to and from lessons or orchestra rehearsals, though. Keep it on your stand at home. There are many brands of all-in-one tuner/metronomes, but try to find one that can subdivide the beat and you can also turn off the click and just use the light. Even though there are apps, keep in mind the device’s battery life. I use a battery metronome DAILY in my morning scale/arpeggio warmup routine and recommend a Dr. Beat Boss as it has an option of counting, “One, Two, Three, Four…” as well as the subdivisions out loud, clarifying beats and patterns (I use this Korg at home). I haven’t had a chance truly to go through all the metronome and tuning apps, but I use Tempo Adv. when I need a metronome on the go.
- An Extra Set of Strings at all Times. Some cases come with a “string tube” (be sure to leave string labels on the strings) but if your’s doesn’t have this, strings are tiny and will fit in the storage compartment of an oblong case. Always have a spare set (all 4 strings) and maybe 2-3 extra “A” strings on hand as the A tends to break more often (Violists/cellists may experience the D string; Bassists: Consult a Professional Bassist). Sharmusic.com ships strings free if you buy a certain dollar amount. Sometimes I get one set with 2-3 extra “A”s to bump it up over that free shipping mark. Shar generally has the best price on strings I totally recommend Thomastik (brand) Dominant (grade) strings. Never use Super Sensitive strings as they sound awful (and often go “false” simply because they were never true to begin with). When buying strings you’ll need to know what kind of ends to get. Either Ball or Loop: look at the Tail Piece and the fine tuners. Some tuners are just a post that isn’t divided down the middle so you’d need a loop for this type. If you see BB sized ball keeping the string at place in the fine tuners, get ball end. While Shar is still the go-to, I order my strings off Amazon. The Dominants are still where it’s at, but as the student progresses, and certainly if you purchase the full size instrument, consider upgrading to premium strings; though many Professionals still find that Dominant strings are the best. I’ve heard rumored that Hillary Hahn plays on Dominants. I and many of my colleagues use Larsen Strings (they are the perfect strings for MY instrument) and many others and advanced students use Evah Pirazzi’s as they have a beautiful tone and last longer than the Larsen’s.
- Polishing Cloth. A soft, micro-fiber, jersey-type, or similar material cloth to wipe her finger prints and a exerted rosin off the instrument. Wipe it off EVERY day as you finish practicing. Hand oils and rosin dust are not good for the violin finish and deteriorate the strings quicker. You don’t even need to spend money on this. Literally any non-terry cloth hand towel or old t-shirt will do. Ones that come pre-moistened with polishing oils are fine, but don’t touch the strings with them and should only be used after first wiping the excess rosin anyway. Additionally, wash these cleaning cloths every few months or so to keep the violin and hands clean and more sanitary.
- Professional Grade Violin Polish. These are available in better violin shops or you can order them online or through Shar. Don’t use regular furniture polish on the violin as they tend to build up “gook” or wax. As you notice the finish looking dull, or if you have a concert/recital coming up, these are great times to clean the violin really well. I took my mom’s spare bottle. LOL. THANKS MOM ❤
- Chin Rest Key. These aren’t generally needed for beginners, but Intermediate and certainly Advanced players need one from time to time. It is not advisable to use other items like paperclips as it is easy to scratch the violin. I use an SAS chinrest (and may recommend to some of my students who own and are lanky like me) and it uses an old fashioned philips head to tighten. I love the SAS as it comes in differing heights, can be moved to any place on the instrument, and can be angled for the perfect fit of relaxation and comfort in grip. They are also available for viola (and come recommended from Mr. Lenny Schranze and Mr. Tim Shiu).
- Peg Compounds. One is for slipping pegs and the other for sticky pegs. Your teacher will probably have these on hand, but later on, when you are in a class or orchestra, this will be very handy to always have as you are expected to keep your instrument maintained and playable without interruptions during the rehearsal. Depending on the season of the year and the humidity level, you will always need one or the other. I have both solutions in my own case, but a good old-fashioned graphiting (coloring with a regular pencil) of the pegs solves the sticky peg solution if the compound is unavailable. If the strings are wound properly, so called “peg dope” shouldn’t be necessary on better quality instruments but sometimes, duty calls!
- A Folding Stand. The traditional Manhassat is still the best quality stand for home practice and lessons. We have always bought these stands but they are expensive and they don’t fold well for carrying to other places. The “On-Stage” music stand is really incredible and sturdy, lightweight aluminum and won’t fall over like those poke-metal stands you can get for $15-$20, but costs only about $40. It makes it easier to practice if you have a quality stand and can leave your music open and ready to play even if you don’t play outside of your home.
- A Violin Stand or Hanger. If you have a great music stand (Manhassat) there is a violin hanger that affixes to the stand where you hang the violin on a rubber covered forked hanger and there is a place to hold the bow to hang as well (of course with the bow hairs loosened). There is the same thing that hangs on the wall. Both of these cost about $10-$15. As a teacher I kept my violin OPEN on top of my piano, or hung from my music stand using the 1st type so it was easy to grab to play, but wasn’t down on the floor for students to trip on. If there is a dresser, table, or floor space where you can leave the violin case open without fear of it falling or another child or sibling or pet trampling on it this will make practice time easier. You simply pick it up rather than unpacking it each session and repacking it afterward. Making it convenient/easy to practice makes it easier to practice. Saving time unpacking and repacking means one will practice more often and for longer periods of time. I highly recommend leaving the violin unpacked and ready to go where the student practices.
- A back-up Bow. This is not necessary for beginner players, but once you begin to play in class or orchestra, crazy things happen, you drop it and it breaks, someone steps on it, or the hairs malfunction and fall out. A back-up is needed always once you begin to perform with groups or at weddings. This needn’t even be expensive. Many of my colleagues sport a Coda bow, especially for outdoor performances. Relatively speaking, if you play on a $1,000 violin, your back-up bow should cost no more than $40 and can be the “student” quality.
- Good Case. I only mention this, not because most people don’t think of a case, but hte case is there to protect your instrument while transporting and to hold items related to your violin in its pockets. It is surprising how much stuff can fit into a violin case,, but you do not have to spend hundreds of dollars in a case if it doesn’t travel a lot (like airlines, etc). Students need a place for 2 bows. A humidifier in the case but it doesn’t have to be fancy and if you buy a case with a built-in humidifier, you’ll pay a LOT for the case. Most cases come with a protective blanket that is placed over the violin (between the bows and the violin) to avoid accidental damage/scratches on the violin. Most come with a few pockets to store your Kun, rosin, chinrest key, fingernail clippers, metronome, music, etc. Don’t go overboard on a case, they all do the same thing. Lightweight, durable and cool cases are actually affordable and make a difference when it’s personalized. A lot of students like the hard-shell cases because you can put stickers and other fun personalizations on them. I have a Bam case, and these are very popular in all their varieties because they are quite durable and mod and cool. The zippers and latches have had a bad wrap in the past (personal experience times 3) but the company has recognized this and the newer ones are lasting much longer. Shop the Shar Case Mall for ideas.
- Outer Case Cover. If you live in an extreme climate (either hot or cold but especially cold) or if you need to be out in the extreme weather for long periods of time (your commute/drive is long or you rely on subway/bus) then I also recommend an exterior insulated case. This is only needed if you have long periods of time when your violin will be exposed to weather OR if you would rather only one carry item, your violin, but have a few other things to carry as well (a change of clothes, extra shoes, lots of music, school books, lunch, water, etc). These over-cases tend to come pretty roomy and with backpack straps or subway straps so these can turn into a 1-bag trip which includes your violin. They also tend to have extra pockets. Just remember, if YOU are wearing a coat, your violin should also wear a coat. The Cushy variety seem to be the most popular, but others have been coming out. Again, Sharmusic.com has a Case Mall and there are case attachments like the Joey that have backpack like features for students who need to carry many things and you don’t want to buy a whole new case or an outer case.
- Music Stand Light. If your not yet a performer, this cold come way down the list of things to buy, but since I mentioned it, I thought I’d put it on the list as well. I recently purchased one of these stand lights and it is simply wonderful! It costs about $40 and has 2 lights on each wire, enough to light up 4 sheets of music. Some stand lights go up to $65 or more. A good stand light helps even in practice time if the location is not ideal.
- ID. Put some ID inside your case. This can be in the form of a Business Card in one of the interior pockets (just under the other things you’ll have in there). You do not need to put your child’s name on the outside of the case. You can even hand write on a piece of paper, “This Violin belongs to…” Put Phone numbers expecially, possibly not an address or the finder may just show up on your doorstep. You could use a work address possibly. Just like flying, cases look alike. Identify your case in some way. I use a piece of bright pink duct tape on my suitcases. I’m sure when mine comes down around the baggage claim that I have the correct bag. If you are ever in a group class, orchestra, etc., everyone’s cases are jammed in one corner and you’ll find yours easily without having to read a luggage tag. Those are helpful too, but your ID Could be inside and just some identifying thing on the outside. BTW, ribbons come untied and fall off. Key chains also could be used for identifying your case amongst many.
- Bonus Item: MONEY. Use a little baggie and always include a few dollars and some change especially if there is a long rehearsal. For a child, let them know it is for emergency ONLY. If your child rides public transportation, if they lose their pass, they can still get home if they have enough money cash in their case.
- Bonus Item Two: Insurance. You can get very inexpensive insurance for your violin that is a “No Fault Personal Articles Policy.” For a $5,000 instrument, you can expect to pay $50 per year (check with our insurance agent for actual cost), but it covers the instrument if it gets run over by the bus, if you forget it on the subway, if it is stolen from under your chain at a restaurant, etc. Well worth the money if you have a lot invested in an instrument. Your insurance company will either insure the amount you PAID for the violin OR for the APPRAISED value, both require documentation. If your instrument dealer will write up a full appraisal value on letterhead even if you didn’t pay that much, the insurance can use that figure for the insurance replacement value. My violin was stolen in December 2010 from my apartment during a burglary which also got my roommate’s brand new TV, our combined collection of movies and games and many of the Christmas presents we each had purchased for gifts. Though at the the time I did not have renter’s insurance, my violin was insured under my parent’s home owner’s policy as I was still a student in college at the time. Now I’m on my own, my violin is insured with my car and renter’s insurance, but I take great pains in making sure I don’t have to replace my violin due to negligence again. That was one of the worst experiences of my life.
- Anne Recommends: Practice mat. Standing for hours at a time does actually get extremely tiring. When we practice violin or viola, we must stand so that we can feel grounded. In orchestra or chamber rehearsal is the time for sitting. Cellists need remember that proper posture is assumed, even while sitting. But for standing players, getting a small kitchen comfort rug, memory foam or the like, a tri-folded yoga mat, or simply standing on carpet does wonders for ones’ back, even for the 20-30 minutes worth of practicing that we do daily. In homes where you remove your shoes at the door (a practice I also observe) having a rug in the lesson area is very helpful. When we leave our shoes on, make sure they are comfortable for walking and avoid heals, even in rehearsal and concert settings.
That is the list as it is for now. You can find all the recommended THINGS from this list on my Amazon list for Students and Parents: click here! A lot of these items can be personalized or gotten for the student as a reward for playing violin. A personalized music bag with some fun violin accoutrements or music themed supplies is a nice gift for a budding intermediate student. Knowing that my mother was getting the best at what she could afford totally made the difference. I see students get really frustrated with playing simply because they are uncomfortable with their setup (literally their chinrest/shoulder rest situation) or because their strings squeak or won’t stay in tune. A quality instrument makes a difference. If you would like to find out more about quality instruments, send me a direct email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can point you in a good direction.
All the violin love, Anne. 10/1/17