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DR. S

Don't play Viola First

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I'm not saying it can't be done, I did it as well, but I am absolutely sure that I would be a better instrumentalist, technically, if I had played mostly violin for my first 10 years or so.

In my case, and at least partly because I was a violist, no one made me practice a scale or an etude, or hold the instrumnet of bow properly until I was 18.

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As one who started on viola I offer the following perspective : I rather believe that the first 2-3 years of study can be effective for learning basic techniques (up to 5th position) on either instrument. The principal difference is in perspective as a child or adolescent. I believe that a young violist is rarely (if ever) star-struck with his or her own brilliance as are far too many violin-learners. Too many of the latter want to dash into Paganini without nearly enough experience. Also, violists are more naturally attracted to chamber music and ensemble playing, and learn early the importance of the middle parts which violinists may take years (or even an entire career) to appreciate.

I must admit that I dearly love both instruments and play about 50-50 on each, so am not really prejudiced. I just think that the violin produces far too many egotistical young prima-donnas while violists become more seasoned musicians earlier just by the nature of the instrument's role.

In sum, a young person should play whatever they truly are interested in (even if that should include, [gasp], drums, banjos, or accordions)!

C-V

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My son chose the viola at age 8, 5 years ago because it was "bigger". Over the past few years he has had some second thoughts about his choice, especially while practicing. The violin parts are generally more pleasing than the viola orchestra parts. He chose to also learn to play the violin last year. He can play the violin somewhat but reads the alto cleft with more ease.

I think he is now more settled in his choice. He sees that there is less competition at least in this area for violists. There is also some quite nice music out there for volists, although not as much as a selection as with the violin.

He also has some satisfaction in the orchestra knowing that he is one of a few violists as opposed to one of very many violinists.

[This message has been edited by rainyann (edited 07-28-2000).]

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Dr. S.....

Your argument assumes there is no reason why anyone would want to play viola instead of violin. A viola is not just a big violin. Many folks feel passionate about its voice from the very begining.

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Along the same lines as my Great Violist thread, here is a topic I'd like to hear your opinions on.

I contend there is no reason, and nothing to be gained by starting an average beginner on viola as I was. My reasoning is thus:

Violin is easier to play (i.e. smaller more agile),the student will progress faster on violin. If the student turns out to be talented and dedicated and starts playing in school orchestras and such, then as a violinist they will be challenged at a higher level sooner, while the violas are still playing off beats and quarter notes in first postion. The whole outlook on playing the instrument develops diferently.

As the years go on, this disparity grows and widens the gap between what the violist is expected to be able to do and what the violinist is expected to accomplish.

I further contend that students are started on viola for the convenience of the school orchestra and not for the benefit of the child. Would it not be better to eventually teach - even require the violinists to learn to play viola and take turns playing viola in the school orchestras? Eventually some will come to prefer this instrument and will choose it on their own, but a complete dedication to one or the other should not occur until technique is quite well developed, especially in promising students who seem to be leaning toward career aspirations.

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My wife's experience followed the opposite path-- she knew from the get-go that she wanted to play viola and spent about 2 weeks on violin. Would she have stuck it out and gone to Eastman if she had continued on the violin? Maybe but maybe not. Motivation is at least as important as raw skill or a particular bag of technical tricks.

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Ludwig, it is interesting how true that is. All of my very young (9-12) violists actively chose to play viola. I have one potential transfer who will be entering 8th grade, and he preferred violin until he actually played viola, and now wishes to transfer. There is material available for children's orchestra which has viola parts which are comparable to the first and second violin parts, although it is true that the first part usually carries the melody. Although I speak to my students of the violin, viola, and 'cello as being siblings in the same family, I always point out to them that they are not size clones of their sibs, and that they have special and wonderful characteristics which are individual to themselves. My students do not think of violas as "big violins". I also think a good case can be made for the fact that violins are harder to play than viola, especially for children, since there is less forgiveness for fingerings and intonation when fingers are learning shapes and contact points, and also, there is at least a fighting chance that a child may be exposed to treble clef and if lucky, even bass clef in general music classes, but very little if any chance that there will be exposure to alto clef, or movable clefs (although when I teach general music, I teach the grand staff, and they learn it smile.gif).Therefore, a violin student is more likely to see the clef they play than a viola student. Bottom line though, most children who choose viola have real reasons for choosing it!

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Something else about starting (and sticking) with viola: due to a previously mentioned lack of competition, the aspiring violist has more opportunities to participate in more advanced groups. (Mention that you're a decent violist and the orchestra managers start drooling..) This adds to a violists training in a way that scales or etudes can't.

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Let me tell you how inexorable the connection is for "real" violists to the viola. My big ol' Schroetter is still in the shop, and I got so desperate to play the Bach 'Cello Suites last night that I down-tuned a violin and played it for two hours. Even though it was not like holding a "real" viola, I so needed to play something in viola range and alto clef that I had to do something drastic! Today happens to be my birthday, and I will tell you that viola was my first instrument at the age of 9, and after living through SEVERAL presidents and faintly trying to switch to violin a few times during the last several decades, I'm still here, and still really happy to be playing the oompah viola parts to get to the juicy ones! Violaboy, your point is also an excellent one. Technical study often occurs more naturally when driven by the demands of ensemble playing.

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Okay, Okay. I never meant to say that the viola is 'just' a small violin, however I will stick by my statement that at least technically speaking, there is no reason except in extreme cases that someone cannot play both quite easily (I'm sorry but learning a new clef is a matter of weeks or a few months at most before they don't even notice it as a 'new' clef, the human mind is marvelous at adapting).

I also do not argue with the fact that the viola can certainly be more appealling to many than the violin. My wife far prefers my viola paractice sessions to my violin sessions, though I find the violin far easier to play well, even intonation. And I personally do have an affinity for the sound of the viola and I do approach the instruments in a slightly different way as well going more for sound and sonority on the viola and brilliance on the violin.

The lack of competition in the viola world is a point that attracts many players, but is this necessarily good for an aspiring musician? It is a very competitive world out there for the few good jobs that exist. Many if not most of the violists in major symphonies played violin for much of their development as violinists and switched to viola during college or even during their professional careers. Many 'true' violists as you would put it, cannot compete with this technical prowess that was developed on the violin.

My point is not to dabate the wonderful qualities of the viola or even the fact that many students find they prefer it, but my question is, is it the best thing for them to cut their technical teeth on this instrument. I once read about one of the famous old violists (not Primrose, but I can't recall who at this point)who did all his warm ups and technical practice on the violin and then pulled out the viola for repertoire practice. I think his point was that he needed to feel that technical fluidity and agility of the violin so that he would not allow himself to get bogged down in the relative cumbersomeness of the viola.

I know that my recent foray into playing the violin has definitely improved my viola playing. I am accomplishing things technically on the viola that I did not achieve even in my 'prime' as a professional violist. My mental scope of what is possible has been opened up considerably.

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I think your point about practicing on the violin to improve on the viola is excellent, but the more I think about it, the more I think that there's some other component besides the size difference. This really is something I've never thought about before, and it's really intriguing to me. I had almost thought about starting a thread about less obvious differences between violin and viola. There has to be some difference as well having to do with string tension, because last night when I was playing my pseudo-viola, I had that same wonderful connection with the feeling of the strings that I have when I play a real viola, and don't have when I'm playing a violin, no matter what size. I'm wondering if perhaps the fact that you were not given early technical training has led you to assume that that is a general rule, and I have to assure you that that is not the case. OK, I'm going to do it...look for my new thread!

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