What violin accessories does a student really need? Here is a list of what is necessary, and what is nice as an extra. Read on to learn more!
Start with Necessities
Let’s say you’re just starting out on the violin. What do you really need, besides the violin and the bow? Well, you will need something to keep the violin and bow safe, so a violin case is probably your biggest necessity in terms of violin accessories.
When looking for a violin case, make sure that your instrument does not rattle or clunk inside the case when it is shut. The fit should be snug, but not crush the instrument. If you think extra padding, like another piece of foam rubber is necessary, then that is probably not a good fit. Look for a different case.
If you have a very young violinist, or you are renting the violin from a shop, you may be issued a hard, plastic-shelled case. This is an excellent beginner case, because it is very sturdy and does not scar. Some violinists, even after they have become professionals, still use hard-shell cases!
Another option you may consider is a cloth-covered case. These are more elegant, and can come with velvet interiors and satin ribbons behind the bow holders. The cloth-covered case should have either a bag in which to put your violin before strapping it into its place, or a velveteen and satin cloth to drape over the instrument before you shut the lid.
Between the plastic shell case and the cloth-covered case are a wide variety of wooden cases, some with a black, tar paper like exterior. These are good for everyday school use. The black covering is dignified, but not as prone to picking up stains as a cloth cover.
Every case should have room for shoulder straps. These violin accessories are a lifesaver, especially if you’ll be walking a lot with your violin. Consider the thick, foam-padded twin straps that attach to the case and let you haul it on your back, like a back pack. The cushioning is easier on the body!
Many cases can come with a variety of extra things, like a humidifier, a thermometer, and lots of compartments within the case. Are these all necessary? Sometimes, they are. For example, every case should have at least one interior compartment, so that you have some storage inside the case for your rosin. Rosin shatters very easily, so keeping it inside the violin case is the best way to prevent accidental breakage.
A humidifier inside the case is nice, but you can purchase a separate humidifier for your instrument at any number of string shops. The thermometer is a lovely touch, but be aware that it may come unglued from the case and end up stored in one of the compartments. Chances are that, especially if the case was not very expensive, the thermometer will be incorrect anyway, so it’s not very necessary.
Something that you may find as a useful extra is the zippered music pocket on the back of the violin case. Not every case comes with a music pocket, so if you need one, watch out for the cases that only have half pockets or that have no pockets. A zippered pocket sometimes can cover the entire back of the case, so it will hold a folder and several books of music. This can be very handy – but it can also make the case pretty heavy. Use what you need, and keep an eye on how much you can carry.
If your violin case has a lock: Keep track of the keys. Used violin cases, especially, have a tendency to lock and stay locked, even when the correct key is applied. So use violin case locks very carefully. Always have one key with a person you trust, and keep the other one with you.
Strings, Chinrest Keys, and More
One of the violin accessories it’s good to have is a complete set of spare strings. Check to see if your violin needs ‘ball’ or ‘loop’ ends, and buy a spare set accordingly. With small violins, there are usually fine tuners on each string. But for larger violins, the fine tuner may only be on the “E” string. This is important to know, because fine tuners usually require ‘loop’ ended violin strings. For a violin that has no fine tuners, then ‘ball’ ended strings are used.
What you’ll probably need is a combination of loop and ball strings. A typical mix is to have the “E” string be a loop end while the A, D, and G are all ball-ended. You can purchase sets like this, prepackaged, or you can buy the strings individually.
If you buy strings that do not come in an envelope, then you have to put them into the clear, hollow plastic tube string holder that is in your violin case. There are two plugs on the ends of the tubes, so the strings don’t fall out. If you have no special string tube, stick with getting strings that come in paper envelopes.
Your violin will have a chin rest – the place where your jaw rests as you play the violin. This chinrest sometimes comes loose. So, use a chinrest key to tighten the chinrest. The chinrest key is a small piece of metal, about an inch long, that is straight except for one tiny bend at the end – it looks like a short L with a loop of metal at the top. Simply insert the straight end into the holes in the bars of the chinrest and turn – the metal bars gripping the bottom of the violin rotate, and can be spun longer (looser) or shorter (tighter). In a pinch, a tiny flathead screwdriver, a bent paperclip, or a bobby pin can be used but it is safer for the finish of your violin to use the actual key so it’s one of the violin accessories you should have. (Longer metal wires will scratch the varnish behind the chinrest). Keep the chin rest key in one of the interior compartments of your violin case.
Rosin – yes, rosin is one of those violin accessories that you have to have. Rosin is made out of condensed tree sap. It is rubbed on the bow to make the horsehairs sticky, so that they will grip the string. It’s a lot like the way gymnasts or ballet dancers use chalk – it allows for more friction.
There are many different kinds of rosin to use. If you are a beginner, get rosin that is well-protected, like the kind that comes in a wooden holder. More expensive rosin is wrapped in felt or velvet, like a small round cheese. This is good rosin, but little hands have a harder time unwrapping and holding it. There’s nothing quite like buying a new, perfect rosin, and then dropping it. While the bigger chunks can be rescued and used, the smaller ones turn to powder and are useless. So take the age and experience of the violinist into mind before buying the expensive or hypo-allergenic rosin.
The shoulder rest is one of the violin accessories that is different for every single person. Many students use a hard rest with metal and plastic feet, like a KUN. Other students find that using a sponge that can be cut and shaped is more comfortable. There are corduroy chinrest covers and inflatable cushions that are strapped under the violin. Some professional violinists only use a soft cloth or handkerchief to keep their chin and neck from chaffing against the violin. The choice is chiefly determined by how much space there is between the violin and the musician’s chin and shoulder. Lots of space means that a great deal of cushioning is needed; very little space means that a thinner cushion can be used. Have your teacher gauge how much support your violin needs in order for it to stay up comfortably on the shoulder. Then store the shoulder rest and any spare items – like rubber bands – in your case.
A cleaning cloth can be useful in terms of violin accessories and could protect the monetary value of your instrument. You could also use something like an eyeglass cloth, a small wash cloth, or a clean section of old sock. What you want is something that isn’t oily. As long as the cloth is dry and clean, you can rub the dust and old rosin off of your violin very easily. A cleaning cloth is also useful for wiping sweat from the violin. Giving the violin a good wipe down after playing it – especially after performances – prevents the varnish from being worn away and creating light patches where the hand has gripped the violin shoulder or neck. Violins can be refinished, but it’s easier to simply protect the instrument so it doesn’t need extra work later on.
The last violin accessory you may want to have in your violin case is a metronome. Most metronomes, today, come with a tuning note, which is also very handy. Whether you go for the turn-dial metronome, or an electronic button style, make sure the metronome is secure and won’t get knocked about inside the case. When things rattle inside the case, it can cause the strings to loosen, or even worse, knock the bridge over or chip the varnish. Just make certain that everything is secure and all should be well.
Thinking Beyond the Case
Every musician will eventually need a music stand. There are a number of these on the market; if your school or studio has a recommended brand, then go with it. Usually, the metal type with a tripod base is the easiest to use. Make sure to get the music stand case – a long, canvas envelope – along with the stand, so that you don’t have to have rough metal angles poking you or jabbing your backpack when you take the music stand to practice or class or lessons.
A music stand light can also be one of the nice violin accessories to have, once the violinist has been playing for a while. This is a flashlight that clips onto the music stand and has a moveable arm (or arms) that focus light directly onto the music. It is especially useful for orchestra performances when the lights may be dimmed, like for a holiday show or when a soloist is in the spotlight. Stand lights may come with a bar of LEDs, a single LED bulb, or a pair of adjustable LEDs that look like antennas. If you are a musician that likes plenty of light, the bar of LEDs may be better for you than the single or double LED bulbs. Just make sure to get the kind that is battery operated, as these are easier to use – there is no power cord to plug in or trip other musicians.
In terms of violin accessories needed for lessons, have a notebook for taking notes as your lessons progress. Some teachers like to have sticky tabs for marking pieces or places in the music where practice spots are. And be sure to bring a pencil for making marks in your own music.
Is This Everything?
No, probably not. There may be certain other violin accessories your teacher might want you to buy, perhaps a tiny sand clock for timing mini-practice sessions, a hundred-sided die for figuring out how many times to practice an exercise, or a sheet of moleskin for making your chinrest softer. Some teachers use special rubber bow grippers to help shape young musicians’ bow holds. Small clamping “bow huggers” like little koala bears, may also be used to help children focus on watching the violin instead of looking at the audience as they play. Any number of items may not even be originally made for the violin, but can be used to help build musicianship skills.
Just check to see what your violin teacher wants you to have. If you’re just starting out, you won’t need as many violin accessories as someone who has been playing for several years. Your teacher will let you know when it is the right time to buy a music stand or the bigger case. And remember – you can always ask. That’s one of the best ways to learn.