The Importance of Proper Instrument Setup

A Guide from Kennedy Violins

By Joel Kennedy 

This blog is sponsored by NAfME Corporate member Kennedy Violins.

Since 2000, Kennedy Violins has been dedicated to enhancing music education, underscored by our membership in the National Association for Music Education (NAfME). We combine our passion for music with our expertise in high-quality orchestral instruments.

luthier working on violin

But sometimes, even the most dedicated student encounters hurdles in their learning journey that are not due to lack of skill or practice, but because of their instrument setup. That’s why we’re sharing our insights on what to look for when it comes to instrument setup.

Some Important Considerations
in Violin Setup

The Bridge

The bridge, far from being a mere wooden arch, is a carefully crafted component. Its design significantly impacts your instrument’s sound and playability.

violin setup bridge angle

Every bridge should be hand-carved to fit the specific curvature of each instrument. The factors to consider include Thickness, Height, and Arch. The bridge should be of the correct measurements to hold in place due to the string tension.

The Right Angle

The angle of the bridge is key to preserving your instrument’s sound quality. The back of the bridge should be set perpendicular to the face of the instrument at a 90° angle. Meanwhile, the front should slope slightly back when sighted from the side.

Why this Matters: An incorrectly angled bridge can lead to issues such as inconsistent interval locations and difficulties in finger placement.

parts of a string instrument including nut, peg box, and sount post

The Nut

The nut is often overlooked, but its role is vital. Made of ebony, this small piece must be hand-carved to meet the standard string height at the top of the fingerboard. Consider two main factors for the nut:

Spacing: Ensure the notches are evenly spaced.

Groove Depth: Maintain optimal depth to avoid string buzzing or difficulty in fingering the note.

Pegs and the Peg Box: A Perfect Fit

The pegs should fit snugly and be perfectly tapered to function correctly. They should also be at the right distance from the peg box walls, with a special peg compound applied for smooth operation. If the peg box is too shallow, it can result in the strings getting caught, causing tuning issues.

The Sound Post

Located inside the instrument, visible through the f-holes, the sound post may appear insignificant, but it’s anything but. It should be in the perfect spot for your violin to resonate to its full potential. It must be cut precisely to contact both the face and back of the violin fully.

guide for instrument size with girl in yellow top with outstretched arm and different sizes of violins. Copy reading What violin size do I need? Kennedy Violins logo

How to Measure a Child for a Violin

Choosing the right violin size is crucial for a growing child, just like proper instrument setup. Here are some helpful tips for how to measure a student for violin sizes.

Arm Length Method

Have the student extend their left arm straight out, perpendicular to their body.

Measure from the base of the neck to the center of the palm. For help with the measurements for violin and other orchestral instruments you can refer to Kennedy Violins Sizing Guide.

Violin Sizing Chart

  • 14″–15″ arm length: 1/16th-size violin
  • 15″–16″ arm length: 1/10 size violin
  • 16”–18″ arm length: 1/8 size violin
  • 18″–20″ arm length: 1/4 size violin
  • 20”–22” arm length: 1/2 size violin
  • 22″–23″ arm length: 3/4 size violin
  • 23″ and above: 4/4 size violin

Video Resources for Enhanced Learning

In today’s digital age, the availability of online resources can be a huge boon to music education. We at Kennedy Violins understand the importance of visual learning, especially when students are practicing alone at home.

The Kennedy Violins Channel

Our owner and the talented staff at our shop are all string musicians or teachers. We’ve harnessed this wealth of experience and knowledge to produce high-quality educational videos to assist both teachers and students. These videos are freely accessible on our YouTube channel. You can find a wide range of tutorials including:

  • Violin and Viola Tutorials
  • Guitar Tutorials
  • Instrument Maintenance Tutorials
  • Practice Tips

To access these resources, simply visit the Kennedy Violins Channel on YouTube.

YouTube video

Most-Watched Video:
How to Fix Slipping Pegs

One issue that almost every string player will face at some point is the slipping peg. It can be a frustrating problem to deal with, especially for beginners. Our video on how to fix this common issue has become one of our most-watched tutorials. You can watch this incredibly useful video here.

Further Support and Information

Our commitment to supporting music education goes beyond selling quality instruments and offering expert setup. We also have programs specially designed to benefit music education programs. For more information on how Kennedy Violins can be a resource for your program, visit our Instruments for Education page.

Conclusion

luthiers working on string instrumentsIn-house setup by skilled luthiers is a hallmark of Kennedy Violins’ commitment to quality and music education. So, if you or your students are experiencing difficulties with an orchestral instrument, consider the setup as a potential culprit. Proper setup not only eases playability but also enables musicians to perform at their best.

An instrument is not just a tool but an extension of the artist. It needs to be in optimal condition for the artist to fully express themselves. And that’s what we aim for at Kennedy Violins—helping every musician play their best.

About the author:

Joel Kennedy playing violaJoel Kennedy, founder of Kennedy Violins, is a retired professional violinist with over thirty years of experience. A graduate of the Eastman School of Music in New York, he holds a bachelor’s degree in viola performance and has completed graduate studies in education. Mr. Kennedy has performed with orchestras across the United States and internationally, and his students have been admitted to top conservatories. As president of Kennedy Violins, he established the company to provide quality instruments to students nationwide, personally selecting instrument makers and luthiers who meet his exacting standards. Kennedy Violins serves thousands of customers annually, fulfilling the musical dreams of both beginners and professionals.

Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

February 13, 2024

Category

  • Ensembles
  • Standards

Copyright

February 13, 2024. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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