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Are You Planning to Buy a Violin as a Gift? Read This First!

Updated on October 22, 2017
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Courtney is a violin, viola, cello teacher, and professional violinist from Kansas City, MO. She has been playing the violin since 1992.

Violins are extremely popular right now, more than they were when I was younger. I think YouTube has had a lot to do with that. People all over the world are breaking down the stereotypes of wealthy kids suffering through stern teachers and hours of scales so they can someday screech and scratch their way through enough of a classical violin solo that they can prove to all of mommy and daddy's friends that they are cultured and sophisticated. The violin is a liberating instrument. Its popularity spans a variety of races and cultures. You can play any music you want on the violin and express any feeling without being bound by frets. You can begin at any age, and while it is an expensive and time-consuming hobby, it is also (and always has been) firmly rooted in folk traditions preserved by much less fortunate people than the stereotypes suggest. It seems like everyone wants a violin or knows someone who wants a violin, so one might assume a violin would make a good gift for someone who seems to have everything else. However, there are five really good reasons not to buy a violin as a gift, even if you know the intended recipient really wants one.

1. Expensive Gifts Make People Feel Uncomfortable.

I once worked at a customer service counter in a sporting goods store. A customer brought me a GPS unit, not the kind you put in your car, but a handheld GPS - the kind you take on a hiking trip. The retail price of this particular model was $850. Now, you can get a functional handheld GPS for a lot less than that, so the customer, who had received it as a gift from his girlfriend, planned to exchange the unopened GPS for something about half the price and use the rest to buy his girlfriend something for her or something they could use together, to ease the hurt when he explained to her that he didn't want her to spend that much money on him. My manager was standing behind me as the customer told me that story, and when I brought the item up on the screen, he said, "You plan to marry this girl, right? Because I think she thinks so."

An expensive gift feels like a commitment, and it comes with expectations. No matter how much you love someone or what your salary happens to be, things like expensive electronics, jewelry, cars, and musical instruments are crossing the line if this isn't a lifelong relationship. A violin might be a suitable gift for your spouse or your child, but it's not a suitable gift for someone who isn't family, even if only because the legal paperwork hasn't been filed, yet.

2. Expensive Low-Quality Gifts Make People More Uncomfortable.

It is very unlikely, unless you have money to burn, that you are willing to spend enough to get a brand new violin suitable for a beginner. You might feel that a few hundred dollars is a lot to spend on someone, but it's a few hundred less than you should spend if you actually want a violin that will be comfortable and not require additional repairs and upgrades before it is playable.

If you bought a $10,000 vehicle for someone and they really wanted a $50,000 vehicle, it would be considered rude for them to tell you that, right? However, they won't be satisfied with that $10,000 vehicle, so the gift doesn't make them feel the way a gift ought to make someone feel. Maybe that's seems selfish on the surface when you are just talking about dollar signs, but what if the reason they wanted the more expensive car is because it was better suited to their needs? Perhaps they wanted a vehicle they could use for camping in the mountains, and you got them something that performs best in the city and lacks the space to carry their tent and bike. Now it is more understandable that they wouldn't be pleased with your gift even though you spent a lot of money on it, right?

A violin that you purchase for $300 might seem expensive to you, perhaps more than you are willing to spend, but it probably won't suit the needs of a beginner, regardless of their goals. Assuming it is setup correctly (there will be other problems if not), they will quickly advance beyond what the violin is capable of, and then they will just be frustrated because they won't be able to get it to do what they want it to do.

3. No One Needs a Violin They Aren't Learning To Play

If you are going to learn to drive a car, what is the first thing you do? Do you buy a car, or do you study for the driver's test? If you get the car first, how are you going to test drive it? How are you going to take it home?

If you are going to take a class at your local community college or online, do you register for the class first, or do you go out and buy the textbook? Often, two professors teaching the same class in the same semester will not use the same textbook. You will probably get the textbook before the class, but only after you have registered so you can take the correct section number at the bookstore.

If you are going to cook Thanksgiving dinner or an equally large meal, do you buy the groceries before you choose and read recipes? That's probably going to result in a lot of wasted food or a return trip to the store for some really important ingredients.

Learning to play the violin requires instruction. Yes, you can get some sound out of a violin without training, perhaps even sound you might call music. However, we don't hold the violin the same way we do any other object. The body isn't used to things like the contorted position of the left arm and holding objects with the head and shoulder. The lack of context makes it difficult to tell the difference between discomfort from the new experience and discomfort because you are hurting yourself. Playing the violin without proper training means no one is observing you to make sure you are not developing bad habits that can result in serious, costly, life-altering injuries. Also, if you talk to a violin teacher before you get the violin, you might be saving yourself from a costly mistake that you thought was a bargain.

If you buy a violin for someone who isn't taking lessons and is not in a position to do so, you aren't actually helping them learn to play the instrument because getting the instrument first is the wrong way to go about things. Furthermore, once they begin lessons, they might discover that they don't have what they need, and this might mean buying at least new accessories, if not a completely different instrument. Another possibility is that they will attempt to learn without lessons and fail or that they will never try at all because they are not in a position to pay for lessons. Either way, the recipient of the gift will end up feeling guilty that they are not putting your gift to use, and that does not make for a good gift.

4. Choosing a Violin Is Part of The Experience.

Violin shops are really cool places to visit. They smell like fresh wood and new books. They tend to have wood floors and fixture because it makes violins sound better when clients test them in the shop. Most violin shops are small multi-generational family businesses, and you might get to meet mom, dad, and the kids, perhaps even the family pets. They take you into a back room like you are being invited into their home, and perhaps it is. Then, you may even get a private concert, and they ask about what you need and do their best to provide that for you.

Sometimes, the ideal violin shop experience isn't available because there isn't one locally or because the local shop doesn't provide instruments in a beginner price range, so instead you go to a music store that provides rentals. That's a different sort of experience, but it is still a completely different experience than your typical shopping trip. If you buy a violin for someone else, they don't get to experience that. I rent violins for some of my students who don't want to take the drive to the violin shop, but whenever I can convince them to go, that is my preference because I want my students to have that experience.

Also, children have to be sized for violins. You can't just tell the shop how old and how tall your child is because that is relevant to the length and proportions of the arms and width of the shoulders. Sizing charts are helpful to narrow things down, but the numbers are not perfect. I like to compare it to shoe sizes. You can measure the child's foot, and you can look at how a different shoe of a given size fits, but it's better if they try on the actual shoes you plan to purchase. Likewise, you really should put a violin in the child's hands before you spend any money.

5. Instruments Are Not Good Surprises.

Each of the previous reasons for not buying a violin as a gift can also be used as points in arguing that if you do buy a violin for someone, it shouldn't be a surprise. You need to know what they need, and it is best that they are involved in making the choice. There is another reason, though. You've seen people shake gifts, right? Even when it is secure in the case, it is not a good idea to shake an instrument. It's not a good idea to put anything on top of it, either, which often happens on a gift table or under a Christmas tree. Violins are not supposed to be stored in closets, under beds, in garages or basements, or likely wherever else you generally hide gifts until they are wrapped.

So, What Should You Buy For An Aspiring Violinist?

There are many good options. Here are just a few:

  • A handmade gift certificate with a promise to pay a given amount toward violin lessons or rental, when the time is right.
  • Jewelry or accessories with violin-themed designs.
  • Inspiring music, books, or movies.
  • Concert tickets.

If lessons are already planned to begin in the near future, that opens more options:

  • A manicure set and hand lotion.
  • A music folder.
  • A music stand.
  • A metronome.
  • A gift certificate for a music store or violin shop.

If the future violinist is a child with a good sense of humor, you could even pair their gift with gag gifts for mom and dad, like ear plugs and pain reliever.

All of these are much better options than a violin and still contribute toward learning to play the violin.

© 2017 Courtney Morgan

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