When starting private instrumental instruction on violin or viola, most parents and students expect to have to invest (either by purchasing or renting) in an instrument, a bow and a case. Most understand that a purchase of sheet music and repertoire books are probably also necessary. However, there are additional expenses, both up front and on a continual basis, of which students and parents may not be aware.
This post was inspired and adapted from an instrument expense list compiled by my friend, colleague, and fellow violin and viola teacher, Heather Hennessey.
I hope that this expository list of common violin and viola expenses will help you prepare financially and mentally for some of the things required to adequately prepare you or your child for a lifetime enjoyment of learning!
Expected purchases from the start:
- Instrument Outfit – (Rented or Purchased)
Students and parents will obviously be expected to plan on the up front, and continued expense for lessons. Students and parents should also expect that as progress takes place, a longer lesson time will eventually be necessary. More advanced music requires more instructional time and more advanced students will have a larger amount of repertoire, etudes and scales that they are learning. Lesson expenses vary by region and teacher. Usually teachers with more experience/training cost more. A good teacher is a must at any age or ability level. Expect that as lesson length increases, cost will increase, but not usually at a 1:1 ratio. (Hour lessons are usually not twice as much as 1/2 hour lessons).
Students will be expected to either rent or purchase an instrument, bow and case before the first lesson. The combination of all three of these is called an instrument outfit. The quality of the instrument outfit is important, even for young beginners. Poor instruments and bows will require the student to work harder than necessary and students will form bad habits to compensate for the unresponsiveness of their instrument. They will also have trouble executing what their teacher is asking them to do, which will result in frustration. The violin and viola are hard enough without the added frustration of a poor instrument or bow!
An adequate quality student instrument outfit will usually cost between $300-500 (for a full size). As a student advances, you will want to plan on purchasing a higher quality instrument and bow. The progressing student’s technique will outgrow a student instrument and they will require a higher quality instrument and bow to accommodate their playing and continued training. Better quality instruments and bows are usually sold separately, so plan on spending at least $1,000 for an instrument and $500 for a bow as a preliminary upgrade.
For any instrument purchase be wary of Craigslist/Ebay instruments. While you can find deals on these sites you need to know what you are looking for. Never buy an instrument without first looking at it and playing on it. To insure that you are getting something worthwhile always involve your teacher in instrument purchases. Sometimes the repairs on poorly made or neglected instruments are costly and may not be worth the end result. Remember: a quality instrument is an investment, can last a lifetime, and will appreciate in value when cared for properly. A poor quality instrument is wasted money.
Instrument outfits can also be rented, which is what I recommend for children. Renting gives you flexibility. Should your child decide they don’t want to take lessons anymore, you have not invested in an expensive instrument. If your child wants to switch instruments the same applies. It is also a convenient way to deal with the fact that as children grow they will need bigger instruments. Renting also takes some of the expense of repairs off of you as many stores will take care of general maintenance and common repairs for free. Renting until you know your child is committed to lessons, or until they grow into a full size instrument may be better for your budget.
There are several different types of rental programs offered by local music stores. Rent-to-own programs offer you the option of a pay-as-you-go plan, and many stores will keep track of the money you pay in rental fees and offer you trade in value when you need a bigger instrument, or want to purchase a higher quality instrument. Usually you will pay higher rental fees for rent-to-own or trade in programs. In addition to rental costs some stores also charge a one time up-front fee. This may be refundable or non-refundable depending on the store. A general price range for rental instruments is $15 – 40/month with an up-front fee of $0 – 50.
Students will usually be expected to purchase several items of music before the first lesson, or shortly thereafter, unless the student already has adequate repertoire. While this is an upfront expense, it is also an ongoing one. As students progress they will need additional method books, individual pieces, scale books and etude collections. The more advanced student should expect to be asked to play, and therefore purchase, a larger amount of repertoire. Usually these pieces are more expensive than the music purchased at the beginning and intermediate levels. Prices on music, scale books, method books and repertoire vary greatly and can range anywhere from $5–50.
Purchases that may or may not be included in an instrument outfit, but are necessary:
- Shoulder rest
- Fine Tuners
The bow will not produce sound unless there is rosin. The rosin allows the barbs of the horsehair to “grab” the string to make it vibrate. Rosin needs to be reapplied every so often to keep the bow playing smoothly and easily. For younger/beginner students rosin only costs a few dollars and is often included in instrument outfits. As students advance and better quality instruments and bows are purchased, a higher quality rosin ($15-30) makes a difference in sound quality and play-ability. Rosin lasts many years unless broken by being dropped.
Shoulder rests are helpful for comfort, ease of holding the violin, and for promoting good posture and technique. Young students often do not need an expensive should rest. Molded sponges can be purchased very inexpensively ($5) and can be cut to fit the neck height of the student. Sometimes these sponges can be slippery, so even young beginners may need to invest in a shoulder rest. Kun and Wolf are good brands for shoulder rests. They retail for almost $50, but I have had good success finding them below $30 online. When students become physically mature, other shoulder rests may be appropriate to accommodate their individual body type. Shoulder rests are made to fit the various sizes of instruments, so they will need to be replaced when a student changes instrument sizes. A good shoulder rest should last for several years, and will only occasionally need parts replaced if they wear out.
All students should plan on purchasing a music stand for home use if they do not already have one. Music stands are essential for promoting good posture and technique. Students should never be reading music that is placed on a table or propped up on their instrument case or a chair. This is bad training, can cause physical pain, promotes poor technique, and fosters the lifetime habit of slouching. Music stands can also be conduits of bad posture and poor technique if the stand is not high enough for the student, so make sure the music stand can be raised to a height where the middle of the stand is at eye level.
The cheapest music stands available are wire. These are usually fine for the beginning student and cost around $15. However, as a student grows and progresses you will most likely want to invest in a hard-back stand. While more expensive (usually starting at around $30), these stands are more sturdy (so they will support heavier music volumes) and they are generally taller. “Tall” stands are also available for students that find regular sized hard-back stands still too short. I also like hard-back stands because you can easily mark music, and light does not shine through single pages of music making it hard to read. If a student needs a portable stand, wire stands are the most convenient, but there are quite a few hard-back stands that fold and come with carrying bags. I have one for gigging and love it! They are no more expensive than their non-folding hard-back stand counterparts. Whatever hard-back stand you choose, these are generally a one time purchase, and when taken care of well will last a lifetime!
I require all my students to own a metronome. They are essential for developing good rhythm and are helpful in a variety of practicing techniques. Students in my studio will most likely use them every lesson!
Most metronomes also include a tuner option. While any metronome that clicks is fine (providing the click is loud enough for the student to hear) not all tuners are equal. Some tuners only play an A. This is fine for more advanced students who are comfortable with tuning their instrument. However, for students that are learning how to tune their instruments I like to have a metronome that plays the four pitches of the open strings as well as has a pitch recognition option that tells the student if their string is in tune or not. I have my students tune by ear first, and then check themselves to see if they are right, using the pitch recognition option. It is important that a student does not tune only using a pitch recognition tuner as this does not train their ear, and it is also important that a student has something to check themselves against after they finish tuning by ear so that they make sure they are practicing on an in-tune instrument. Out of tune instruments will be detrimental in training the ear.
Metronome/tuners will start at around $15. Usually you can find a fairly inexpensive metronome that also includes a tuner. These are generally a one time purchase and will only require occasional battery changes.
It is important to have good quality strings for intonation and sound production. A nice set of strings can make an average violin sound better and a good violin sound amazing! For smaller instruments and beginners, I recommend Dominant strings. They are relatively inexpensive but have a decent sound. You will also want to consider purchasing a back up set of strings. Sometimes a string will break. If this happens you don’t want a student to miss out on valuable practice time or lesson time because they don’t have a replacement string. Strings do have a shelf life and they do wear out. For beginners and intermediate students, I let them play on their strings until they sound bad or will not hold a tune, and/or they start to show visible signs of wear. As students progress, it is standard to change strings at least once a year. String cost varies depending on the brand and quality of the strings. String sets start at around $40 and will go up from there. Advanced students should expect to pay around $70 – 90 for a set of strings.
While some teachers may not think of these as an accessory, I do. While it is common for violins to have one fine tuner (on the E string), students will most likely want to get fine tuners on all four strings. Usually (and especially on student instruments) the pegs are difficult to use. Since I like to have my students learn how to tune their instruments from the first lesson, fine tuners are essential. Fine tuners are not expensive, and you can easily have your local instrument shop add these to any instrument.
In addition to the cost of lessons most teachers also encourage and expect students to perform. While not all performances will require a fee you will want to be prepared for this possibility. Performance is an intricate part of learning an instrument at all ages and levels of playing. Here are some of the performance opportunities a studio teacher may offer:
- Studio Recitals
- Master Classes
The Studio Recital is a concert where all the students of a particular teacher perform. It’s purpose is two-fold; To provide students the opportunity to perform, and to provide students the opportunity to hear others play. Studio Recitals vary greatly in form and context from one teacher to the next. Some teachers may choose to host a Studio Recital in their home, while others may choose a nursing home, church or school as the venue. Studio Recitals can be formal or informal depending on the desire of the teacher. Usually teachers host 1-3 Studio Recitals a year for their students.
Studio Recitals may or may not require a fee from parents and participating students. Some teachers choose to provide this as a service included in a student’s lesson fees. Other teachers may choose to enact a separate fee for each Studio Recital from those who choose to participate. Whether or not there is a fee greatly depends on the cost to the teacher of providing this opportunity for their students. Renting a venue or paying for the use of equipment may require that a teacher charge a minimal fee for holding Studio Recitals.
Festivals and Competitions
Many teachers provide the opportunity for their students to participate in local state or regional festivals and competitions. Festivals are usually non-competitive while competitions, by nature, require students to compete against one another. Both festivals and competitions usually give students the opportunity to perform for an adjudicator where they receive comments, criticisms and an overall grade or score on their playing. Festivals may or may not offer awards/ribbons for participation and scores while competitions almost always have a prize involved (sometimes monetary) for the highest ranking players.
There is usually a cost associated with all festivals and competitions. Sometimes this cost is included in lesson fees, but most likely it will be an extra fee. It may be an annual fee that all students of a participating teacher’s studio must pay and/or there may be an individual fee for choosing to participate in each festival or competition.
The Master Class is usually reserved for more advanced students and is basically a private lesson given by a “master player” in front of an audience. However, I have offered similar opportunities on a smaller scale to all my students by making this part of the recital experience or by having a smaller group at my home where students have mini-lessons in front of each other. I usually use the latter as an opportunity for students to prepare for a festival or competition.
Master Classes may or may not have a fee. College students often get to participate in Master Classes as part of their college tuition, whereas those not already paying for an education will usually have to pay as a participant and/or an audience member to attend.
Repairs and Maintenance
In order to keep your instrument and bow in good working order, and to avoid extra unnecessary expenses, it is essential to maintain your instrument and get repairs done promptly when needed.
Bows need to be rehaired regularly. The barbs on the horsehair wear off and then the bow is unable to produce a good sound. It also becomes difficult to play. For beginners, you should rehair the bow when a student cannot produce a good sound. As students progress, bows should be rehaired about once a year. Bow rehairs cost between $30-50.
Other maintanance is the responsibility of the owner. You should wipe down your instrument and bow (stick only) regularly with an appropriate cloth to keep rosin from building up. Make sure that you loosen the bow hair after each playing session. Also, be aware of temperature and humidity changes so that you are not leaving your instrument in conditions that will cause the wood to warp and crack. In general, instruments should not be left in the car or any space with an unregulated temperature.
We hope that the violin will never need serious repairs, but there are some repairs that are normal and expected. These repairs include: warped bridges, open seams, worn pegs, and worn fingerboards. Bridges tend to warp easily, even when cared for properly. Depending on your bridge this may need to be done every few years. Open seams are also a common repair and occur often during the change of the seasons. The glue holding instruments together is meant to come apart if the wood expands or contracts too much, too quickly. This allows the instrument to “breath” without causing cracks in the body. Repairing open seams is fairly easy, but you will not want to attempt this yourself unless you have been trained how to do it! Pegs and fingerboards wear out with use and generally need to be reshaped. This happens very infrequently and usually only with advanced students who are playing hard on their instruments several hours each day. There are other repairs that are less common and usually due to some ill use. These include: snapped tail pieces, loose buttons, cracks, broken neck, fallen sound post, etc. Repair costs vary. You will want to be aware and prepared for the common repairs. Keep up on your maintenance and treat your instrument with care to avoide unnecessary repairs!
If you are new to the violin or viola this expository list may seem daunting and “expensive”. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it seems! Expenses are usually spread out over a period of time and as you get more familiar with your instrument it will become second nature to care for it properly and know what to expect when it comes to purchases. Just being aware of the information in this post will put you ahead of most students! Remember also that your teacher is there to help you. Don’t hesitate to ask if you don’t know why an expense is necessary. There’s usually a good answer, and it will make you feel so much better about spending the money when you know what it is!
Emily Williams is the creator of Strategic Strings: An Online Course for Violin and Viola Teachers