Adults will need a "4/4" or "Full Sized" violin, a bow (preferably with a round stick, also known as "French style"), rosin, and a shoulder rest (though many others are available, a "Kun Collapsible" or "Kun Solo" is usually a good choice for most people.)
Children will most likely need a smaller size violin, here is a helpful link for selecting the right size. Kids will also need a shoulder rest, these come in sizes that are appropriate to the size of the violin.
When buying, how much should I spend?
A good budget for a beginner would be in the range of $175-500, a student with 1-3 years may wish to increase this budget to $500-1000, an intermediate student would benefit from an instrument in the $1000-3000 range.
Students wishing to rent or buy from any location should simply search the internet for the nearest stringed instrument store (search maps with the query "Violin Dealers" or "Musical Instruments.") Violins, at the introductory stage, are somewhat similar, with some variation in the quality of workmanship and materials. It is recommended that you purchase from a violin shop/established music store. If you're just starting out, call shops before you go to ask if they have instruments available in your price range (as some violin shops may focus on semi-pro to professional players.)
Many students have been happy with their purchase from violinslover.com, if you purchase from this website, it's recommended (when selecting options) that you upgrade the bow to their "P1 Professional Carbon Fiber Bow" and also add the "Kun Collapsible" chin rest to your order. If you are buying from any other online source, feel free to be in touch prior to your purchase, and send a link to what you are considering to buy.
If you are enrolling in video chat lessons, using an electric instrument is allowed, however do keep in mind that the teacher will need to be able to hear you, so you'll need some sort of amplification, or direct input to your computer into our chat room.
About electric violins when we are meeting physically, whether or not this is a good choice for the class...once we begin playing, you will not be able to hear yourself over the class without amplification, and this may hinder your progress, and it is preferred that students not be amplified in a physical (non chat room) class.
It is recommended to use a regular acoustic instrument for a few reasons, electric instruments don't respond quite the same way or provide the feedback necessary to assess how your bow is attacking the string or how tone is being created and manipulated—electrics are purposefully designed to eliminate stage feedback and make a stable tone to feed into electronic effects and amplifiers, which makes them by design rather flat in response.
Personally I play 5 string electric, it's one of my favorite instruments because it's fun to make it sound like anything but a violin. The sound of an electric is quite different from an acoustic violin, and it's not necessarily apples and oranges: though electrics have come a long way and the top of the line transducers are good, even a bargain acoustic instrument is going to be more responsive and expressive—so from an academic standpoint an acoustic instrument will provide clearer feedback to you as a student.
There is an added benefit of learning on a standard violin, being able to play acoustic will, in the long run, make your electric playing much better should that be your end goal.
If you're purchasing a violin, please keep in mind that nearly all violins (unless otherwise mentioned by the seller) will be for the left shoulder and bowed with the right arm, so there is little risk of accidentally purchasing a violin for the uncommon arm.
"I am left handed, should I be playing on a violin on the right shoulder?" In my opinion, the short answer is "no" with a bit of reservation—or perhaps a better answer is "not necessarily and not preferably for the long run."
A vast majority of violinists right and left handed alike play with the violin seated on the left shoulder. In rare instances where the left hand may be physically unable to play the violin, the only alternative may be to switch hands—violin in the right hand. I have not encountered any compelling physical arguments with regards to only playing the violin on the left shoulder. Nor for that matter heard any arguments recommending the right shoulder over the left.
As a beginner, there are benefits to playing as most violinists—with the violin on the left shoulder and bowed with the right arm—one will have more readily available choices in instruments and accessories. Though the violin may appear symmetrical, it is not. The bridge, fingerboard, sound post and sound bar will all need to be reversed, re-cut, in essence, remade to turn a left shouldered violin into a right (and almost all violins made are initially designed for the left shoulder.) If you have a larger hand, you may also need a reversal of the tuning pegs to make room for your index finger, these pegs and holes in the peg box are tapered and not at all easily reversible. Most shoulder rests of better quality are designed for the violin on the left shoulder. I have seen instruments for the uncommon arm, especially in budget ranges, that are entirely not set up properly and a detriment to the student. Not having acceptable equipment is of great disadvantage to the student.
In my opinion, violin playing isn't necessarily to be equated with other arm / hand / eye dominance activities such as handwriting, archery or baseball. As a beginner, you will be learning something entirely new to your body to which any dominance issues will most likely be a moot consideration—learning bowing and fingering is going to feel a bit foreign and be a challenge no matter which shoulder you place your violin.
It is recommended that all beginning violinists start with a readily available, left shouldered violin. A right shouldered player will be considered for admission only if one can obtain an acceptable instrument on which to learn prior to enrolling. Right shouldered players will have to accept that these classes will be taught from the perspective of a left shouldered teacher, to the left shouldered student.
"Silent" or practice violins are specially designed not to generate very much audible sound. Though these instruments do have their place when circumstances do not allow you to produce sound (late night practicing for instance), it is not recommended to use such an instrument for primary learning. Practice violins do not produce the same sound qualities as an acoustic instrument, also, once you are in class, you absolutely will not be able to hear yourself in the company of your fellow classmates. It is the strong recommendation that all students wishing to take this course learn on a regular, acoustic instrument. One may purchase a "practice mute" for late night home practice. Essentially, a practice mute does change an acoustic violin into a "silent" violin deadening the sound quite a bit.