Complete Sizing Guide for the Violin, Viola, Cello, & Bass
Although having a professional size you, your student, or child on a string instrument is best, we understand that is not always practical. Just like shoes come in different sizes to fit different feet, string instruments come in different sizes to fit the player. The player needs the right size in order to play properly just like you need the correct size shoes to walk and run in.
Below is a two-part guide: “How To Size Without An Instrument” and “How To Size With An Instrument.” If the player cannot be sized in person, we recommend following the first guide and then to go through the second guide with the instrument. At the bottom, you will also find a link to a printable version to use and share.
How To Size Without An Instrument
VIOLIN SIZING WITHOUT AN INSTRUMENT
The best indicator for the correct size instrument for a prospective violin player is the length of their arm. You can measure this with a tape measure or ruler at home to determine the correct size. All you need to do is hold out the left arm straight out to the side of the body, holding at a 90 degree angle while standing up, and with the palm of their hand pointed at the ceiling, like this:
14.5 - 16 1/16
16 - 17.75 1/10
17.75 - 19 1/8
19 - 20.75 1/4
20.75 - 22 1/2
22 - 23.5 3/4
Then, measure the distance between the base of the neck to the center of the palm of the hand (as the line shows in the picture). Finally, consult the table above to determine what size violin is appropriate. Once you get the violin, we recommend going through the final section “How To Size With An Instrument” to make sure it is a proper fit!
VIOLA SIZING WITHOUT AN INSTRUMENT
The best indicator for the correct size instrument for a prospective viola player is the length of their arm, similar to the violin. You can measure this with a tape measure or ruler at home to determine the correct size. All you need to do is hold out the left arm straight out to the side of the body, holding at a 90 degree angle from the body while standing up, and with the palm of the hand pointed at the ceiling (just like the above picture for the violin).
Then, measure the distance between the base of the neck to the center of the palm of the hand. Consult the table to determine what size viola is appropriate.
Once you get the viola, we recommend going through the final section “How To Size With An Instrument” to make sure it is a proper fit!
17.75 - 19 10”
19 - 20.75 11”
20.75 - 22 12”
22 - 23.5 13”
23.5 - 25.5 14”
25.5 - 26.25 15”
26.25 - 27 15.5”
27 - 27.5 16”
CELLO SIZING WITHOUT AN INSTRUMENT
Cello sizing can be a little vague, but you can achieve a fairly close approximation of the correct size by using height as a guide. See the table for measurements.
(Note: If the player either has a long torso or long arms and legs, sometimes the player may need the next size up.)
Once you have a cello, we highly recommend reviewing the section “How To Size With An Instrument” to make sure it properly fits!
3 - 3.5’ 1/8
3.5 - 4’ 1/4
4 - 4.5’ 1/2
4.5 - 5’ 3/4
BASS SIZING WITHOUT AN INSTRUMENT
The bass can be extra tricky to size properly without having one in person because each brand of basses is shaped differently and has a different measurement for each “standard size”. With that being said, the simple table may help get a general idea of what size is necessary for a student. It will not, however, be accurate enough to make a final decision. Preferably, the student ought to try out the basses in person. If this is not an option, we highly recommend you going through the section below “How To Size With An Instrument” once you get the bass and talk to a private bass teacher OR call a violin shop and speak with a bassist or professional on staff. All of this is important, because a bass that is too large will make it difficult to learn and can cause muscular issues in the long term.
HEIGHT (of student) SIZE
4’9” (at least) 1/4
5’1” (at least) 1/2 5’5" (at least) 3/4
How To Size With An Instrument
VIOLIN AND VIOLA SIZING WITH AN INSTRUMENT
You can check if your violin or viola is the correct size by holding out the left arm straight out to the side of the body (at a 90 degree angle), while standing up, and with the palm of the hand pointed at the ceiling.
Then place the instrument on top of their arm while it is still extended, while pushing the base of the instrument to the neck, and putting the scroll towards the hand, and tell the player to grab onto the scroll, like this:
If the scroll rests easily in the center of the palm, and they can easily wrap their fingers around the scroll, then the instrument is a good size and fit! If the scroll does not reach the hand, the instrument is too small and it is time to size up to the next size. If they cannot reach the scroll, then the instrument is too big. (You can also use the chart above in the section “How To Size Without An Instrument” to double check the correct size.)
CELLO SIZING WITH AN INSTRUMENT
If you have a cello at home, sit with the cello in playing position. Make sure to adjust the endpin to the height it normally would be in. When we size cellos on students, there are a few things to consider:
Does the nut of the instrument (which is the wooden line where the scroll and pegbox meet the fingerboard) line up with the nose?
Is the bottom peg closest to the face just behind the left ear? If the instrument is lined up with their face in this way, and you notice that the endpin is extended about a foot or more, then you may want to size up to the next cello size.
Can both arms wrap around the cello “hugging” it while putting both hands on top of the bridge (the wooden piece standing in the center of the cello holding up the strings)? If the arms can be wrapped around the cello as described, then it is a good fit! But, if not, or is awkward or a struggle, it may be good to move to the next cello size. You may also double check with the sizing chart.
BASS SIZING WITH AN INSTRUMENT
The goal of sizing is to ensure that the young bassist has no unnecessary physical obstacles to performing on the instrument. There are a number of approaches to this. It can be helpful to simply use as many of them as possible to ensure that the student’s comfort with the instrument is certain.
Is the nut at or just above eyeline? If you have the pin completely retracted and the nut is much higher than the player’s eyeline, then the bass is too tall. If the nut is at eyeline (whether the pin is retracted or extended), then the bass height is likely where it needs to be. Based on the other considerations below, it is usually more accurate if the end pin has to be extended a little.
Can the bridge be reached while holding the bass in position? This approach requires wrapping the arms around the bass and extending the arms as far as possible. If the nut is at eyeline and the right arm can’t touch the bridge, then this significantly limits the ability to play with the bow. If the left arm isn’t about halfway in between the fingerboard and the bridge, certain positions may require unnatural stretching (it should be noted that many higher positions will likely remain untouched until or unless the student reaches a high level in solo performance. Nonetheless, a longer reach will ensure more ease in all positions).
Can the lowest string be reached? This assumes that the player knows a minimal amount of information about left hand technique. If the player allows their left hand to fall at their side, they get a natural hand curve. If they then position their hand, such that the thumb falls naturally in the middle of the neck and the rest of their fingers can reach the lowest string without much stretching or wrist-bending, unnecessary hurdles to playing the low notes will be removed (it will still take a lifetime of work to build the fine muscles, develop healthy technique into muscle memory, and maintain the ground one has gained!).
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