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Violins-vs-Violas


mkinsel
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Can someone tell me what differences there are between violins and violas...? Im a beginning violin student, and Im thinking perhaps what I really want to play is the viola...Is the sound deeper with the viola?? Once you learn the violin, can you play the viola with the same music?

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: Can someone tell me what differences there are between violins and violas...? Im a beginning violin student, and Im thinking perhaps what I really want to play is the viola...Is the sound deeper with the viola?? Once you learn the violin, can you play the viola with the same music?

Yes, the sound is deeper; the viola is tuned a fifth lower than the violin. The size of a viola is a compromise between what the body cavity should be for the tuning and what the average player can handle; this means that it is generally too small for full resonance, and results in a characteristic "muted" sound. Most viola music is written in the Alto Clef (ascending into the Treble Clef), and the repetoire is considerably smaller than that for violin.

Plus, you'll have to put up with viola jokes.

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Basic differences

Size

Violins are smaller, around 13". They are nearly identical in dimensions from one to the next (at least compared to violas).

Violas vary from around 14" up to 18" good size is around 16-17". This is a conflict between bigger = deeper sound vs smaller = easier to play. This can make finding the right case somewhat challenging too.

Tuning

Violins are tuned (high to low) E A D G

Violas are tuned A D G C (one fifth lower than the violin, and a full octave higher than the cello with the same letter string names.) I think a 14" violin with all five strings would be very interesting. Might get an electronic one to fool with that.

Sound

Violins are higher and brighter. They respond more quickly and that accounts for the more flamboyant virtuosity in violin music vs viola music.

Violas are deeper and darker. I would have no problem understanding someone who preferred it. The level of virtuosity on the viola has advanced greatly in this century.

In a recent interview a well known violist former violinist asserted that the viola is chocolate milk vs plain (or even skim?) for the violin, a violin player might get hooked after trying the viola.

Expense

Viola strings are a little more expensive.

Employment opportunites

I would guess that the pool of highly qualified violinists is more than somewhat larger than the pool of highly qualified violists (even beyond the difference in number of openings, being twice as many for quartets and many more in orchestras for the violin) so your job prospects might be better. Serious jobs in this field are highly competitive on any instrument.

In non-professional areas I suspect more groups are looking for a good violist than a good violinist.

Convenience

It might be harder to take your viola on an airplane as carry on luggage than a violin which I have not had trouble with yet.

Get an in town job if you switch to cello or a really good case.

Playing (deep water for me here)

Much the same except that viola notes are a little more widely spaced due to the longer string and due to the heavier strings (no thin steel wire at the top) one must play more "into" the strings meaning more arm weight and pressure (but without pressing harshly just the same) in order to get the full sound.

My violin teacher plays viola primarily for a living and uses his violin bows but there are viola bows which are about the same size but heavier. I recommend starting on your favorite and eventually learning both. Why not? I plan to get a viola eventually, mostly a matter of spare cash and finding a good value.

Jokes

There are at least 10 times as many viola jokes as violin jokes.

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Violas are constructed essentally identical as violins, but larger and heavier. 3/4 Violas can be the same size as a violin, You can experiment if you like it since a violin in good condition (yours) can be strung as a viola without damaging it. But you will not have quite the full body reverberations of the larger viola body. Violas give the fullness to the string section. Usually violas fill out the "meat" and volume of the string section and are played in simpler lines by slower students who cannot excell on the violin. But there are viola vurtusos. You can learn to play them both. Good luck.

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That's a fine description someone has given you of a viola. Yes I play the viola. It's a wonderful instrument. Yes you can go from violin to viola because that's exactly what I did. I ahve been playing the viola for nearly 3 years and I'm in 2 really superb orchestras. It is true that you have to put up with viola jokes but there are jokes about violinists as well . . . . .

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I definately prefer the viola. I love the deep rich sound and to ME the violin sounds screechy, but we all have different opinions! The only thing I dont like about violas are those dumb jokes about them and people that play them. The viola is a truly wonderful instrument!

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