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Target Violins

June 30, 2006

I just saw a violin in Target. They were selling it for $99.99…. I’m not sure how I feel about this.

First, the violin is a total piece of crap. The bridge is a joke, and anyone would have a hard time playing it and making it sound half way decent. On the other hand, it makes music more accessible to children and students. If people are buying them it must mean they have some interest and put some value towards learning music. There was also a clarinet, a flute, and a trumpet in the display case. Pretty much the divas of the music world.

What do you think? Is this a good thing, or does it take away from the long tradition of music?

Link: Target Violin

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2006 3:01 pm

    well, it’s now on clearance sale online for $60. I too have mixed feelings. I think music should be accessible, and I think everyone should at least try an instrument. However, I also think it’s a damn shame that some parents might be a $60 piece of crap for their kid, hear that the music never sounds good, and assume it’s the kid’s fault and not the fault of a shoddy instrument. I also seem to remember that I bought my most recent full size for $100 at some shop (then again, this was 11 years ago), and it has always been a good instrument. I think it’s possible for instruments to be accessible, affordable, and decently made.

  2. June 30, 2006 3:26 pm

    It’s a double edged sword; I see both good and bad in it.

    There are some special musicians who can make any instrument sound good. There are those where a Strad (or a Heckel[bassoon]) wouldn’t help. …

    I owned a $100 violin. And 2 flutes, a clarinet, a french horn, another violin (or two) on permanent loan from my highschool and my cheap crappy bassoon.

    I am a bassoonist (sorta, I stopped playing in college due to CT) and a flutist.. I have the ability to pick up almost any wind and play it [i was destined to teach music but thought it was too easy and am now a burnt out computer scientist]. My dream is to play violin or cello. Thus the cheap instrument. It let me at least try. And it didn’t frustrate me.

    Now, my bassoon woes. I outgrew my student instrument quickly and the price of decent instruments is quite steep so I never had the ability to own my own new fox or (old) heckel. I was lucky and the last years I played I could borrow a heckel but.. I find it hard to pick up my instrument now and then.. it’s too cheap.. while i can make it sound ok, the effort involved is so strenuous..

    Now, what did I do with that $100 violin? I sold it for $25 two years ago to a co-worker, for her daughter. Her daughter had a growth spurt and she didn’t want to continue to rent b/c the violins were scratched and pricey (and perhaps not available over the summer) and the cases where standard disgusting school cases.. She also now needed a full size .. and mom just couldn’t swing the rental charges.

    So I sold it.

    And the girl is now practicing more and enjoying it. because it is *HER* violin.

    And her mom is saving for a better one for when she wants/needs it.

    Likewise I remember my first flute. Which has special significance b/c my father gave it to me shortly before he passed away. I improved greatly upon receiving my *own* instrument (and was blessed by a great mentor who gave me a better one the following year when I needed it..)

    I think the main thing is to get children playing and learning — and enjoying it. I think owning their own instrument helps this, and instruments can be very $$.

    While my husband is the better linguist, I believe he isn’t truly literate b/c he can’t read music. I learned the best lessons and had the most opportunities (and lots of travel) through my music..

    anyway, i’ll shut up now. I am not sure i’m answering your question anymore. and I’ll just keep going for hours and hours…
    [warning i’ll be away for the next week and will not be checking email or rss feeds]

  3. June 30, 2006 8:02 pm

    I have spent much of my recent time with children so media-saturated that they can no longer independently imagine anything. All their games are based on this corporate character or that corporate character. They do not deviate from the movie plot.

    Therefore, I heartily endorse a place like Target selling even crappy instruments. Many parents have no realistic way to get their child a decent instrument, regardless of talent or desire. The cost of instruments and lessons makes learning how to create music prohibitively expensive for a huge portion of the population. I assume that these insruments were full sizes, but it’s a start toward making live music more available to more classes of people.

    If more kids were able to participate in music, more music in schools would (possibly) be funded. More kids would learn the discipline and flights of fancy that come from holding your own instrument. Less time would be spent in front of the video game thing. And so on and so on.

    Besides, a cheap violin is a better investment in a kid that might quit day after tomorrow. Once they have proved that they are determined to play, then you buy them the nice violin.

  4. July 1, 2006 7:36 am

    Having been subjected to a crappy instrument in my youth I agree that learning on a substandard instrument isn’t worth the frustration for a child. There are other options for families with little or no extra money. Rentals from a reputable music store are usually an inexpensive alternative. Pawn shops work, they always seem to have discarded flutes and clarinets but you do have to know what you’re looking at. Just recently I bought my son a decent trumpet online for less than a new xbox. (must keep his priorities straight)

    Both of my daughters played an instrument in school. The oldest (in her 30s) still plays the cello. Having a decent instrument was instrumental for both of them sticking with music. (sorry for the pun)

  5. July 1, 2006 1:24 pm

    Hmm. Sort of the Red Heart of the music world, yes?

  6. July 1, 2006 4:00 pm

    Well…I think it’s the same way I feel about seeing the book section in Target when I go (I’m a middle school librarian.) The selection is lacking in quality titles, BUT the books are decent enough and have enough mass-market appeal to get people reading. Maybe Target and others are opening the door a crack…it’s up to us “professionals” to keep ’em interested, huh?

  7. July 2, 2006 3:20 am

    Well I kind of agree with both points of view you propose. But I guess the most important thing is that people are exposed to music. And hopefully the cheaper instruments will lead them to eventually seek out better. I love Kim’s comment though! I had to LOL!! :)

  8. July 5, 2006 7:44 am

    That’s funny – I just noticed the violin on Target.com yesterday myself. They don’t even say what size it is, and apparently there’s only one size available. As if a three-year-old and a ten-year-old would play the same size. And in the picture, the bridge is totally in the wrong place, too far towards the tailpiece.

    When my brother was little, he had a little plastic toy violin that he called his “veela” (viola). He thought it was great. He also had a toy drum and a toy guitar. Then when he was old enough, he started lessons on a real cello (1/8 size). The toys were obviously not meant to be real instruments, but they encouraged him to enjoy music-making.

    So did you actually try out the Target violin? I’ve gotta look and see if there’s one in my local Target.

  9. July 8, 2006 7:48 am

    I am a private teacher of oboe. I see so many substandard…let’s face it…crappy instruments it is unreal. Not only do these kids have problems tuning, they have problems actually playing and of course, they believe it is their fault. I don’t think it is worth the frustration of the student to purchase a substandard instrument. They will never learn how to find a pitch or sound good! How can you emulate a good sound when it is IMPOSSIBLE? There are plenty of used instuments that are in better shape than those violins brand new. There are even rental possibilities. Target should butt out. Just my 2 cents. ;0)

  10. Jodie permalink
    July 9, 2006 10:41 am

    Thanks for the great responses.

    I’ve thought about this more, and I know that if I was teaching a student with one of these violins I would insist they at least research other possibilities. The cost of repairing one of these violins is more than the cost of buying one.

    I have had several students not believe they could play because of the poor instrument they were struggling with. I could definitely see a student/parent being so frustrated with it they would eventually quit.

    There are many options when it comes to playing an instrument. My school orchestra actually provided instruments for children who needed them. As much as I appreciate that this makes it more accessible, I keep going back to the fact that no matter what this instrument is probably unplayable. Especially for a beginner.

  11. December 2, 2006 6:16 am

    While I can’t comment on the altruistic value of Target selling crappy violins I can say this: How often do you encounter strings and woodwinds when shopping for toothpaste? It gave me pause. I stared at the Target violin for a couple minutes. Thought about the Mark O’Connor/Yo-Yo Ma cd I have, having rockstar fantasies of playing fiddle like O’Connor. Remembered the first time I heard live fiddle. I was three. My parents took me to some cheesy Icecapades Extravaganza. Now, this was the late 70’s and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was playing on every radio station. All I remember of that show was this guy in a shiny red lycra suit (the Devil) flying around the ice and playing lightning-fast. While I can’t vouch for the overall aesthetic value of an Icecapades show, I can say that that three year old little girl was absolutely transported.

    Unfortunately, that wonderful moment was followed by years of being forced to learn the trumpet (my father had one in his closet, so that’s what I played, ’cause it was free). I can say that I have neither love nor aptitude for brass instruments. Fortunately, though, suffering though years of braces and humiliation didn’t douse the flame.

    I bought a classical guitar on my 17th birthday. Took lessons in my early 20’s. While I will never play in public, I have found it easy to lose myself for hours with that baby.

    Now, back to the Target violin. Looking at the actual instrument made me think of picking it up. What would it feel like to tuck it under my chin? Wow, the neck is way skinnier than that of my guitar. I bet it would be easier to play with my small hands. Come to think of it, a violin looks much better suited to my small stature than a classical guitar. I’ve found a fiddle teacher and a reputable shop where I can rent a decent instrument. After the holidays, I’ll start lessons. Why not? I’m now in my 30s, and that brings the freedom of not caring about proficiency, just that playing music give me something I can’t get elsewhere. And isn’t that the aim of music in education? Not to produce hundreds of Mark O’Connors, but to introduce a doorway to ourselves?

  12. Rob permalink
    December 14, 2006 8:38 pm

    My wife and I picked up one of the Target violinss for under $50 just for fun. My wife has played the violin professionally off and on for the last 25 years. While it doesn’t compare to her 1890 German violin, she still made it sound really nice. I worked a little on the bridge it actually, according to her, isn’t a bad student violin especially considering it was under $50. However stay away from any brass instrument from China.

  13. Jodie permalink
    December 15, 2006 12:51 am

    I hope that having violins in Target is really a doorway opened for many people, but I do stand firm that trying to play an instrument that you feel like you’re fighting against takes a lot of the fun out of it.

    If you’re a knitter, you understand that quality materials means a much higher quality product and experience. Usually you know this after you’ve knit for awhile, but as soon as you find this out you don’t accept anything less. It’s the same with instruments, or cooking good food. If you are trying to cook a meal that is going to take hours and hours to work on, you would use the best ingredients. Your instrument is your ingredient, and should be the best you can afford to learn on.

    Learning violin or any instrument takes hours of work, if you want to do it well. Even learning the very basics to have a working understanding of it takes a very long time to learn. I do not think you are being fair to yourself if you really want to try to learn an instrument by using a poor quality tool. I would still not advise any student to get a violin from Target.

  14. Gray permalink
    December 27, 2006 6:01 am

    I am a big fan of used instruments and have purchased many for students (I have not taught in more than 12 years, but I have friends who are teachers and I am a sometimes a rehearsal conductor for my daughter’s school.) But used instruments only really help if there is someone responsible and knoelwdgeable enough to help students purchase used instruments.

  15. December 31, 2006 11:25 am

    I’ve read with interest the comments regarding the violins sold at Target. As a pianist who performs and teaches, I’ve been faced with a similar situation for many years. While some teachers of piano refuse to teach students who don’t have a “real” piano at home, I’ve taken the path that any instrument is better than no instrument. When you think of the quality of instruments that many of the great masters practiced on…well, even our worst instruments are sometimes better than what they had. I’ve often seen children fall so in love with being able to make music, any music, that their parents quickly decide on upgrading their “keyboard” to an acoustic and often even go so far as get them a grand. Of course, I also warn the parents at the beginning of lessons (when a child doesn’t have an acoustic at home) that they will most likely outgrow their keyboard very quickly. I ask the parents to agree that, in six months to a year, if the child is progressing, that they will buy the real deal for them.

    For years and years I knitted with red heart. I didn’t know the joy of beautiful fibers but I did know the joy of creating something with my own two hands. Now, I am able to knit with luxury fibers but the original joy of creating hasn’t changed ~ I just pet the yarn more.

    As a pianist, I am often put in the position of playing substandard instruments. However, it’s still an instrument and I still make the effort to play my best on it.

    Should the Target violins encourage parents to encourage their children to make music…I say “bravo”!

  16. Jodie permalink
    January 6, 2007 10:00 pm

    Thanks for continuing to comment on this post. I find it very interesting to hear views. Grey, Violin and used instruments are kind of different than winds. Used doesn’t mean worse or less valuable, but usally better. Violins don’t get worse unless they have damage done to them, and everyday playing and use doesn’t do this. I am all for used instruments, but in the violin world used doesn’t mean cheaper.

    Debbie, I totally agree that these instruments are meant to encourage students to play and make music, but again I think the difference is about the sound of the instrument. Nobody, I really mean nobody, has good tone when they start violin, and it takes a long time to develop it. Now, the target violins may have great tone, I didn’t actually play it, but in my experience, cheap instruments don’t have good tone no matter what. A good motivator to continue for many students is to sound good and enjoy they music they are making. If they are continually fightning agianst their instrument, this just doens’t work.

    If a student was to bring me a violin that I would deem unplayable. I would start talking to the parent about repairs or an upgrade right away. Renting violins is very affordable, and many places have rent to own policies. The key I think is to talk to your teacher before purchasing anything.

    However, all this said, I would never turn down a student who was interested in playing because their violin wasn’t ideal. I really do believe in music education for all and keeping it accessible.

  17. Erica permalink
    January 12, 2007 9:40 am

    I, admittedly, got the bug to play violin a couple of years ago. I ordered one up from ebay (hey, it was purple!) and found myself a teacher and started lessons. I did have to take it in to a real shop and have it worked on. They were nice about it. He made me a bridge, and my teacher actually said it sounded ok – being $50 and from ebay. I chose to purchase it b/c it was going to cost the same as a couple of months of rentals. I figured I’d play at least that long. Time and finances did not allow me to continue, so I had to stop. I enjoyed my time with it, and don’t regret buying it. True, I spent at least as much on upgrades as it cost me, but that’s ok. It was worth it.
    I think making the instruments accessible to everyone is important. I remember being in 5th grade and it was a big deal for my parents to buy me a trumpet. Kinda pricey. Admittedly, I would have been in the orchestra if we weren’t moving out of a large community at that point in my life, and going where the orchestra was not part of the school curriculum.

  18. Jodie permalink
    February 2, 2007 7:15 pm

    I actually have to say that I’ve changed my mind about the Target violins. I now have a student that is using one (just my luck after talking about this so much) and It works well for an introduction to violin. The biggest problem is it has a little bit of hard time staying in tune. Nothing impossible to work with though. However, I’m not sure how long an instrument like this would last. I could see it getting less and less usable as time goes by, but that’s why it’s temporary, right?

  19. March 2, 2009 2:07 pm

    I am a parent of 2 Autistic boys, ages 6 and 3. My youngest walks around with toy swords, sticks, etc., and motions as if he were playing a violin. He LOVES to watch the Celtic Woman DVD and he loves drums, too. My problem is that I am looking for a durable product, (he likes to bang/bump/throw things), that he may try out…..before I drop a bunch of money on a “good violin” that he may break quickly. Any suggestions?
    Thanks!

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