Preparing for your Violin Exam

Preparing for your Violin Exam

Taking a graded exam can be a nervous time for a musician but it need not be if you know how to prepare well and take action to make sure you do so. It is also worth pointing out that you don’t need to take a graded exam to prove how good you are at the violin. At the end of the day, by taking a graded exam all you will be getting from it is a piece of paper stating what grade you are.

Many people just take the Grade 5 and Grade 8 exams as these are the grades that serve as benchmarks. Many people take graded exams in order to get on to higher education music courses also. The point I am making here is, you do not need to take graded exams to enjoy playing an instrument, but this page is here if you have decided to take a graded exam.

Practise makes perfect…

You may not believe it but there have been cases when people have turned up to music exams having only played the pieces they are to be examined in once or twice. They think that their music skills and perfect sightreading will carry them through safely. There might be a few lucky people who can do this but the majority of people who will be taking exams will need to practise months before the exam. For example, it can take a year or more to prepare and pass a Grade 8 exam.

In order to work up to an exam steadily you will ideally need to practise 5 times a week leading up to the exam.

But perfect isn’t always the key to success…

Even though they say ‘practise makes perfect’ you don’t need to be perfect in order to do well in a graded exam. The result you get in a graded music exam is only a record of how you played on the day. So don’t get too stressed if you can’t get your playing perfect on the day.

The week before the exam

The week before the exam you should know everything you need to know for the exam. If there are any difficult areas that you need to work on, you should work on them specifically in this last week.

Preparing your violin

In the fortnight before the exam you should make sure that your violin is fully prepared for the exam and that there are no problems with your instrument.

On the day

Arrive at least 20 minutes before the exam is due to start so that you have time to prepare yourself and your instrument for the exam.

Carry on playing…

If anything goes wrong the key to success is to carry on playing and not let on that you have had a slip in confidence. Carry on going and show the examiner how professional you are.

After the exam

After the exam take some time out, maybe relax your practising for a week or so and wait for the results!

Professional Violins

The professional violinist often has more than one instrument in case of breakages. Violins of professional standard are not mass produced which makes it difficult to find a violin of professional standard on the internet. When choosing a professional standard violin it is best to go directly to a Luthier or violin dealer. They will advise you on the type of violin you should be looking for and let you try out the violin before making a purchase. It is very important to play the violin before making a purchase. Most Luthiers or violin dealers let you have the violin on loan for at least a week so you can practise on it and take it to rehearsals. The bow is also an important factor when it comes to professional violins. Typically a bow should cost half the price of the violin itself.
Even though professional violins are not made in batches there are violins from well known violin manufacturers of professional standard.




The Stentor Messina violin is all handcrafted and made from figured hardwoods and an ebony fingerboard. The pegs are also made from the finest ebony wood. The Stenor Messina is perfect for the young professional and comes in a stylish oblong case with space for four bows and a spare string tube. The Stentor Messina comes set up with Dominant strings but these can of course be changed to more professional standard strings.




Concertante violins are not a well known make but they have been proving popular in the past few years. Made from solid maple and spruce and varnished with a high quality natural varnish. This violin comes with a bow. It also comes in an oblong case complete with flat pockets for sheet music and back straps.







Paganini are a European violin maker whose instruments are widely respected throughout the world. Their professional standard violin is the Paganini European S3370. This violin has a flamed maple back and a graduated solid spruce body. The Paganini European S3370 is fitted with Dominant strings although these can be changed to better strings that more suit a professional sound.

Student Violins

Student Violins

Once a person has been playing for a year or so and they’ve kept at it that is a sure sign that they enjoy playing the violin. A beginner violin may suffice for a while and up to grade three or four but if a person is wanting to take grade five then they should look at updating their violin from a beginner violin to one that has a better sound quality so that they can learn techniques that help a better sound production. Some violinists like to move on to second hand violins when they get to this grade as it is well known that a second hand violin gives a better sound production as it has been ‘worn in’.

However here are some of the best student violins:


Stentor make two student violins, the Stentor Student I and the Stentor Student II. The Stentor Student II is considered to be the better of the two and has been described as ‘the optimum teaching instrument’.
The violin is made from selected tonewoods and has ebony pegs and an ebony fingerboard. A strong fingerboard is important as it is the part of the violin that is put under the most pressure. The Stentor Student II also comes with a bow made from heavy wood with ebony parts. The violin comes in a lightweight case with straps and pockets for sheet music.


Yamaha also make student violins and their student violins are considered to be the best on the market. Made with an impeccable style of craftsmanship the Yamaha is well worth its heft price tag. All Yamaha Student violins are made from spruce wood. The backing of the Yamaha Student violins is made of the hard wearing maple wood which is highly resistant to any knocks and scratches. The violin is highly varnished and looks very natural. All Yamaha student violins are set up by professional Luthiers. The Yamaha Student violin also comes with a lightweight case complete with pockets for sheet music and back straps.


Andreas Zeller violins are a brand that not many people have heard of but they have been given very good reviews. A standard Andreas Zeller Violin costs £270 and is suitable within a few grades reach of grade five. The violin is made from spruce with a maple wood back and comes with Dominant strings. Dominant are a very reliable string make and their strings last for a long time as well as producing a very good tone.

Beginner Violins

Beginner Violins

The violin is an instrument that many children want to learn and the good news is that it is fairly inexpensive to buy a beginner instrument. However beware of the very cheap violins as they are usually complete rubbish and no good for learning on due to them being very hard to tune. I knew a man who bought a violin, case and bow for £15. He asked me to put it together, the bridge was wonky and the strings bendy, it was virtually impossible to put the strings and bridge on properly and everytime I tried to tune it for him the pegs slipped and the strings became very loose. So the lesson there is to buy a violin from a reputable brand. I’ve picked out some popular and more importantly, reliable violin makers that are suitable for beginner violinists.


This Antoni violin costs £44 and is ideal for a beginner and many schools buy Antoni violins in bulk and rent them out to their students.

The Antoni beginner violin is made from solid spruce with maple wood sides and neck. The back is made from carved maple wood. The violin is heavily varnished also. The bow that comes with the Antoni beginner violin is made of brazilwood. The Antoni beginner violin also comes in its own case complete with shoulder straps and a rosin.


Stentor are a very respected violin makers and make violins from beginner standard right up to violins that can be used for people in conservatoires. Their beginner violin is called the ‘Stentor Standard Violin Outfit 4/4’, 4/4 of course shows that it is a full size violin. Stentor makes its standard violin in ¼, ¾ and ½ sizes too.

The Stentor Standard violin is priced at £49.99 and comes with a case and bow. The violin itself is made from solid tonewoods. The fingerboard is made from black hardwood and the pegs are also made from black hardwood. The tail piece is made from metal alloys and has adjusters on each string. The hair on the bow is natural horsehair which makes a change from cheaper violins which come with bows that have synthetic hair.


The Yamaha V5SA is advertised by Yamaha as a good violin for beginners. In my opinion it is a good violin for people with lots of money as their half size V5SA comes with a £150 price tag. However if you are determined to use the violin for a long time and want a really good quality one then the Yamaha V5SA is the instrument to go for. The violin is made from solid spruce with a maple wood neck and back. The Yamaha V5SA is crafted using the same techniques that the highest end Yamaha violins are made by.

Unusual Violin Sizes

Unusual Sized Violins

The three most common sizes of Violin are: full size, three quarter size and half size. But there are other sizes available.

 7/8 Size Violins

A 7/8 violin is sized between a three quarter size and a full sized violin and suitable for teenagers and small adults with small hands. The body is a 7/8 violin measures 13.5 inches from the base of the neck to the base of the body. The whole violin measures 22.5 inches from the top of the scroll to the base of the body. A 7/8 violin should be used with a bow that is at least 27 inches and no longer than 28 inches long. The arm length that most suits a 7/8 violin is 22 inches.

7/8 violins aren’t very common but most violin makers still stock them. Stentor for example make 7/8 violins in all their major designs right up to their Conservatoire standard violins.

¼ Size Violins

A quarter size violin is a quarter of the size of a full size violin. It is suitable for very young children, typically aged between five and seven years of age. The measurements of a quarter size violin are as follows: The body length is 11 inches from the base of the neck to the base of the violin. The full length is 19 inches from the top of the scroll to the base of the violin. The bow used with a quarter size violin should be no bigger than 22.5 inches. The arm length that most suits a quarter size violin is between 18 and 19 inches.

1/16 Size Violins

The smallest violin that is playable and still makes a decent sound is the 1/16 violin. These violins are definatley for very small children, usually aged between three and five. The ideal arm length for the 1/16 violin is 14 inches. The body of a 1/16 violin measures 8 inches from the base of the neck to the base of the violin. The full length of the violin measures at a tiny 14.5 inches. This picture shows the 1/16 size violin net to a can of coke. 1/16 violins really are tiny!

Half Size Violins

Half Size Violins

A half size violin is suitable for children and not teenagers. A half size violin is, obviously, half the size of a full size violin. If a child starts to learn the violin at a young age they will often be started on a half size violin. Children grow quickly so it is not advisable to spend a large amount of money on a half size violin as they will quickly grow out of it and need to move onto a three quarter size violin. Half size violins can be bought fairly inexpensively and sold on to parents of children who also want to learn the violin.
The measurements of half size violins are:
Body: 12.5 inches
Full Length: 20.5 inches
Bow Length: 24.5 inches
NB: The ‘body’ measures from the base of the neck to the base of the body. The full length is from the top of the scroll to the base of the body.

To use a half size violin your arm needs to be 20 inches long. This is from the top of your shoulder to your wrist. The age that most suits half size violins is 7 to 9 years old. Half size violins are for children who start learning the violin fairly on in life. In my opinion, 7 years old is a good age to start learning the violin or any instrument.

Half size violins can cost anything from £20 or £30. It isn’t the norm to spend large amounts of money on half size violins as children usually grow out of them very quickly. However if you are looking for a good standard half size violin to start on then it worth looking at the violin manufacturer Stentor. Stentor make half size violins in all their best selling violin makes ranging from their basic student violins to their Stentor Graduate violins.

Three Quarter Size Violins

Three Quarter Size Violins

Three quarter sized Violins are usually sold to be played by children. There are some adults who play three quarter violins but they are usually very small. I once met a violinist who, although she was an adult, preferred to play a three quarter size because it suited her left arm more.
The sizing of a three quarter size violin are as follows:
Body: 13 inches
Total Length: 21 inches
Bow Length: 27 inches
NB: Body length is from the base of the neck to the base of the violin. Total length is from the top of the scroll to the base of the violin. The bow length is always slightly longer than the entire body of the violin. As a general rule for more expensive violins, the bow you buy to accompany the violin should be half the price of the violin to ensure you have the right quality of bow. It is also important to test the bow on the violin before purchase.

 A three quarter violin is the right violin for you if your arm measures between 21 and 22 inches. Typically these measurements apply to children aged between 9 and 12 years old. The pricings of three quarter sized violins range from £30 to several thousands. It is hard to definite an exact upper limit for the price if a three quarter sized violin as A) it is up to the Luthier and B) it depends how old the violin is, who made it and what the dealer  has done in terms of restoration and reconstruction work. You also have to take into account the strings that have been put on the violin and whether or not it comes with a bow and a case.

Many three quarter size violins come in rather creative colours. Children often start out on a three quarter size violin and it has been found, unsurprisingly, that children are more likely to want to learn if the instrument looks appealing. Big instruments like the tuba and the double bass are often popular choices because they look impressive. Whilst the violin is a beautiful instrument, it doesn’t look too appealing to young children so by selling three quarter sized violins in bright colours, this makes them look more appealing.

A bright pink coloured three quarter size violin.

A blue three quarter size violin

Three quarter sized violins generally have a slightly diminished sound quality when compared to a  full sized violin, this is because of the size of the instrument and its body. If the body is smaller then there will be less space for the sound to resonate in and therefore the violin will produce a sound different to one produced by a full size violin.

Full Size Violins

Full Size Violins

A full size Violin is the most common Violin that is sold around the world today. It is the biggest common Violin, of course bigger Violins have been made but what is known as a ‘full size’ is the biggest standard Violin.  The measurements for a full size violin are as follows:

Body Length: 14 inches.

Full Length: 23.5 inches.

(A full size violin needs a bow that is at least 29.5 inches long)

How do I know if a full size Violin is the right size for me?

Full size Violins are typically used by teenagers and adults. The arm length that is required to play a full size Violin is 23 inches from shoulder to wrist. Sometimes it is hard to know when to make the move from a ¾ size violin to a full size violin. There is a simple test to find out if a violin is the right size for you.

The Size Test

Hold the Violin as you would normally, make sure the instrument is secure under your chin.

Next, extend your arm underneath the body of the Violin.

Cup the scroll of the Violin with your hand. If your arm extends past the scroll of the Violin then the Violin is too small and you should choose a bigger size, stopping with a full size Violin.

NB: Pictures shot with a full size violin. With a full size it does not matter if the hand extends longer than the Violin, this rule applies when deciding if you need to move from a smaller size to a full size Violin.

Price ranges of full size Violins can be anything from £40 to £4 million depending on the make.  A good starting point to pay for a first Violin will be around £40/£50 and then if you find you like the instrument then you should look at getting a more expensive instrument, perhaps between £100 and £500 before going onto professional prices and professional Violins.