Size of instruments

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The instruments of the violin family are made in different sizes to fit the musicians as they grow up. That’s why I decided to create this guide to help you find the right size of violin, viola, cello or double bass for you or your kid. Obviously, the final choice must be made with a teacher who will know which size is best for the musician according to their needs, capacities and morphology.

Finding the right instrument size for you is really important - not only will it significantly impact your comfort, but also the sound.
Finding the right size for you is really important – not only will it significantly impact your comfort, but also the sound.

 

Measuring the size of instruments

First of all, it is good to know that the size of instruments is not based on the whole length. Indeed, most of the time, it is the length of the soundboard that is measured on the back of the violin, viola, cello, or double bass. Usually, it is in centimetres and milimetres.

Because of the inconsistency in viola sizes, it is sometimes given in inches or centimetres. Then, the length of the body is also measured. However, it isn’t rare to see the size of a viola based on the vibrating strength length (VSL) of its strings.

Size of violins

How to measure the size of instruments

Here is how to do it: with the musician’s arm fully extended and parallel to the floor, measure in centimetres, from the neck to the middle of the palm of the hand.

 

Reference size Size of the soundboard Length of arm Approximative age of the musician
1/16 22.5 cm 35-38 cm 3-4 years old
1/10 24 cm 39-42 cm 4-5 years old
1/8 25.5 cm 43-46 cm 5-6 years old
1/4 27.5 cm 47-51 cm 6-7 years old
1/2 30.5 cm 52-56 cm 7-8 years old
3/4 33.5 cm 57-60 cm 9-11 years old
4/4 35.5 cm 60 cm and more 11-13 years old and more

 

One size could be added to this chart although it is rarer yet used – 7/8 size instruments. Often referred to as “ladies’ violins” they would have been designed for smaller adults, a more comfortable option for some musicians. They can also be used by children half-way between 3/4 and 4/4 sizes.

 

No measure methods

All these numbers and charts do not necessarily fit everyone as we are all different. We cannot really match each size and age to a specific measurement. These following methods can also be used to get an idea. In fact, it is about finding the instrument that is most comfortable for the musician, a bit like trying on trousers.

  • With the violin ready to be played, the first phalanx of the index finger, of the left hand, near the top nut(first position). The left arm should make a right angle. If it is an acute angle, the instrument is too small. If it is an obtuseangle, the instrument is too big.
  • Still in position, chin resting on the chin rest in order to wrap the volute up in the palm of your hand. If the volute is well placed in the palm with the arm extended, then the instrument has the right size. If the arm isn’t extended, then the instrument is too small. If the palm of your hand cannot wrap up the volute, the instrument is too big.

 

Size of violas

How to measure the size of instruments

Same as for a violin: with the musician’s arm fully extended and parallel to the floor, measure in centimetres, from the neck to the middle of the palm of the hand. Note that viola sizes can be written in inches.

 

Reference size Viola size (in cm and inches) Length of arm
1/8 28 cm (11″) 50-53 cm
1/4 30.5 cm (12″) 53-55 cm
1/2 33 cm (13″) 55-59 cm
3/4 35.5 cm (14″) 59-63 cm
small 4/4 38 cm (15″) 63-65 cm
medium 4/4 39.5 cm (15 1/2″) 65-67 cm
big 4/4 40.5 cm (16″) 67 cm and more

 

Small violas are sometimes violins tuned differently. The strings are then replaced to support a tuning a fifth lower: C, G, D, A. We can therefore refer to the violin chart for the youngest violists.

 

No measure methods

The methods for the violin can also be used.

 

 

Size of cellos

No measure methods

Determining the right size for your cello is a little trickier. The musician should sit on a chair so that the knees are at right angles. The upper edge of the instrument should rest on the centre of the chest (on the sternum). The C peg should be slightly behind the left ear. The knees should lightly grip the lower sides of the instrument, ensuring that the corners do not dig into the side of the legs. Indeed, the corners should be slightly above the inside of the knees.

The musician should be able to reach both ends of the fingerboard with ease.

The chart below shows the approximative size by age. Please note that there are two sizing systems for cellos. The Suzuki system is almost equivalent to the traditional European system below.

 

Summary of sizes by age

Cello size (European) Cello size (Suzuki) Approximative age of the musician
1/10 3-4 years old
1/10 1/8 4-5 years old
1/8 1/4 5-6 years old
1/4 1/2 6-8 years old
1/2 8-10 years old
3/4 10-12 years old
4/4 12-13 years old and more

Sometimes, 7/8 cellos are available. Which can be a convenient medium size for children. It is also a more comfortable option for adults who prefer a smaller instrument.

 

 

Double-basses size

How to measure the size of instruments

There is no real method for choosing the right double bass for a musician. Most professional cellists play on 3/4double bass, which correspond to the standard adult size. There are 7/8 and 4/4 double basses but they are rarely chosen. Smaller sizes also exist for younger musicians. Sometimes, cellos are even used to teach to younger students. Details should be discussed with a teacher who will be the best to guide you to pick an instrument.

However, to find the right approximative size, please read the chart below:

Double bass size Approximative age of the musician
1/8 5/7 years old
1/4 7-9 years old
1/2 9-13 years old
3/4 13 years old and more
4/4 adult

 

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