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With wind instruments, young kids with small hands are often advised to start on smaller instruments (e.g. Soprano Sax, Eb Clarinet) before moving to full-size instruments. (Terrible advice IMO, but that's a different thread!)

These instruments sound in a different key to their 'full-size' counterparts, so are often inconvenient for teachers, or in group settings.

My understanding is that many young violinists also start on a 1/4 size, or 1/2 size violin. Are these instruments also in a different key to full-size violins? And if not, how does that work? As surely the strings must be shorter?

  • I agree with what you say about saxes and clarinets. I must confess I don't know any wind teachers who start children on soprano sax or Eb clarinet. My colleagues seem to start them on alto and Bb, but usually after having used recorder to develop a basic wind technique. I'm not a wind player though... – Bob Broadley Nov 8 '14 at 17:38
  • I'd hope no good teacher would, Bob! But it's something I've seen a few times before, and some instruments are marketed as such, e.g. link. (Starting someone on an Eb clarinet is just cruel!) – Chris Nov 8 '14 at 17:41
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Yes, they are tuned at the same pitch. And according to this source the strings are usually the same gauge too. This means that the strings will be looser (i.e. have less tension) when tuned to the same pitches. The source linked to above suggests that this contributes to smaller sized violins being hard to tune. I don't play violin, but I have certainly noticed that half and three-quarter size guitars tend not to stay in tune as well as full size instruments, and the strings do feel more loose, particularly for small electric guitars.

The source above also points out that you should use shorter strings intended for smaller violins, rather than cutting full-size strings, as you can on guitar, because violin strings have thread wound around the peg end of the string.

EDIT: following the discussion with the OP below, I thought it would be worth noting that a half-size violin does not have strings half the length of a full-size violin. It is not in fact half the size of a full-size instrument, despite its name, and certainly its scale-length is not half that of a full-size instrument. This page gives the scale lengths (string lengths) for different sizes of violin, and other stringed instruments. For example, it lists a full-size violin scale length of 330mm and half-size scale length of 285mm (not 165mm!) Again, this makes sense to me as a guitarist: a half-size guitar would be about the size of a ukelele if it had half the scale length!

  • Really? There's that much slack in them to allow that? Cool! (If you don't mind Bob, I'll leave it 24 hrs to see what comes along before accepting, but cheers.) – Chris Nov 8 '14 at 17:12
  • What do you mean about there being slack? – Bob Broadley Nov 8 '14 at 17:14
  • As in, I would have thought a string only had a small range over which it could be in tune, and make a sound i.e. not snap, or be too loose to play. Say, a couple of tones. From your answer, if the same string, made half the length, can be adjusted to play the same note simply by how tight it is - my assumption must be very wrong! – Chris Nov 8 '14 at 17:16
  • @Chris, I think I get what you mean. It might be worth noting that a half-size violin doesn't have strings with half the length. In other words, the scale length is not half that on a full size instrument. See this page for more info on scale lengths: fretlessfingerguides.com/… – Bob Broadley Nov 8 '14 at 17:19
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    Sure, I'll add that last link in! – Bob Broadley Nov 8 '14 at 17:23

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