Learning to play the violin takes a lot of practice, and how beneficial those hours of practice are is directly related to the instrument the student is using. All students should have a violin that is properly sized, and easily played. Struggling to play a violin that is the wrong size, or trying to play an instrument that is not set up properly are two obstacles to learning that can be easily avoided.
Getting the right size violin is not a difficult process, but it can be done only in person. Guessing at the size, or trying to get the right size by describing the student just doesn't work. Violins come in a wide array of sizes, from 1/32 to 4/4, and one size increment can make the difference between having an instrument that is comfortable to play, and having an instrument that fights back during practice. Most younger students start with a violin that is 1/16 or 1/8 in size, and as they grow, they eventually end up using a 4/4 (full-size) violin. The best way to make sure your student is using the correct size violin is to have Shandy fit them for size, and follow her recommendation.
If the student is young, and still growing, expect that the size violin he or she uses will increase several times as they mature.
Outside of borrowing an instrument from a friend or family member, there are two main ways to come up with a violin for your student, buying and renting.
Buying a violin is an investment in the student's future. Purchasing a violin usually happens once the student has grown to the point where the student is using a 4/4 instrument. A student can buy a violin at any time, and in any size, of course, but most parents would prefer to rent a violin during the years the student is growing. (Buying and selling violins as a student grows can be an expensive and impractical process.) Before purchasing a violin, the parent and/or student should discuss a budget for the purchase. Spending more doesn't always translate into getting a better violin, but cost and quality are usually closely related. The student should play several different violins in the range of the family budget, and look for the violin that really speaks to the student. When trying out violins, remember that the strings have as much to do with the sound of the violin as the violin itself. Ask what kind of strings are on the violin, so if you're planning to use different strings from what's already on the violin, realize the sound may change when the other strings are installed. Be sure your violin dealer will let you buy it on approval, so that you have the chance to change strings and hear how it sounds with the strings you prefer. Once a suitable violin has been found, most reputable sellers will have a way of helping the student finance the instrument. If you have rented a violin before deciding to buy (more on this later), you may have 'rental credit' you can use to help pay for the instrument.
Renting a violin is how most students get started. Rental rates are affordable (usually around $25/month), and include regular maintenance of the instrument. For younger students, renting a violin is the most cost-effective way to go. As a student out-grows the violin he or she is currently using, the student can exchange that violin for the next larger size. A reputable violin shop will provide this service at no additional cost. A portion of the rental fee also covers regular maintenance of the violin, and string replacement as needed. The shop where you rent you violin should also provide some form of 'rental credit' toward the purchase of a new violin in the future. Rental credit is allowing the money you've spent on renting a violin to count toward the purchase price of a new violin. A good violin shop will also allow some form of discount for renting for a period longer than a month at a time.
In the Golden Triangle (Starkville, Columbus, and West Point) Backstage Music is a local and reputable violin shop.