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Fiddling with viola


mcarufe
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Mike: I belong to several celtic groups and I rarely see viola. It can be done, because Bonnie Rideout alternates between her violin and viola. Violas make a gorgeous beefy sound. We had one violist that tried very hard to play in our celtic group, but she ended up switching to fiddle. The problem is that most little fiddle tunes are written just perfectly for the fiddle, but are off the scale for a violist. She tried to rewrite all of our fiddle tunes in her staff, (what is it, alto clef??), but it was just too hard to do that for so many tunes. I guess if you can transpose on the fly, you'd be fine. But site reading will be your biggest obstacle.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
mcarufe

I was wondering how many people fiddle with violas also. I was thinking of getting a viola and was wondering what size to do most violas do violinist play on?

Mike

I've wondered that too, do you just go up to a smaller viola so your left hand doesn't have to change much from violin to viola, or do you go up to a larger size as prescribed by your own size and arm length and then just make the larger adjustments?

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quote:


Originally posted by:
kathyk

[

I've wondered that too, do you just go up to a smaller viola so your left hand doesn't have to change much from violin to viola, or do you go up to a larger size as prescribed by your own size and arm length and then just make the larger adjustments?

IMHO (and in my personal experience) there should be no problem with the left hand even if the voila is ways larger than the violin, provided the posture and motion of the left hand is correct. Remember, when you go up to higher positions on the violin, the distance between first and fourth finger decreases automagically (it should, at least) and increases when you go down. A larger instrument is (at least for me) just an extension of downgoing positions beyond the first (from a mechanical point of view).

Keep your left wrist straight and let the lower part of the first finger continue the straight line and your hand will, without any active participation from your side, expand or contract when you shift up and down.

just my $0.02

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I play both without any real trouble with my left hand, but it takes a few minutes to get my right arm to adjust!

As Crystal said, fiddling on viola is difficult in a group - you'll spend a lot of time out of 1st position, or you'll need to transpose down an octave, where the motes won't "lie" under the fingers as well. But if you're playing for your own amusement, just play everything a fifth down!

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As far as transposing I understand that essentially if you played it just like the fiddle you would be a fifth down and that would not lend it self to tunes that are normaly in many keys(boy that would be a weird harmony if everyone else was in a key a fifth higher. I guess you would autmatically know it yoyu were playing in tune!!). But you can also play an open C just as would a G and an open D just as you would a A and that might be cool. Anyway, I was thinking more of which size to get. Obviously if we play fiddle we are not going to find a viola being too small at 15.5 but we may find it more difficult to stretch fingering into a 17 inch one. I have not had too much experience playing withy different sized violas and I guess that was my main point.

Mike

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Sorry Mike. It really comes down to what you're comfortable with. I've played violas as big as 17" (ouch!), and as small as my current one at a hair over 15". In a way, using a large viola is almost easier, because the increased distance of the left hand reinforces the message that you've change instruments - if you see what I mean. But of course you need to be able to stretch far enough to play in tune comfortably, so it's a balancing act.

A lot of people say bigger is better, in terms of sound (volume AND viola quality), but it's not true. My little viola makes a beautifual and huge sound, but it did cost a lot. I also own another viola, a new Chinese 15.5" which cost a lot less than $1000, and it's amazingly good for the money no complaints about volume or viola quality, just not very subtle. Great for fiddling, not so good for classical which is mu main interest.

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  • 3 months later...

I'm getting rather belatedly to this thread...

I "fiddle" on my viola - primarily for contra dances, but

occasionally in Irish sessions or English Country Dance.  I've

also gone to some swing and blues camps where I played the viola as

well.

I think the viola difficulties can be overcome, although I must

admit it took several years before I was really comfortable.

 I tend to play the tunes (unless they're low) down an octave

from the fiddles - why do all the shifting just to sound like a bad

violin, when I can use the viola's more expressive range?  I

do find that the fingerings are more awkward - I'm always off a

finger from the fiddles, and of course the tunes are in their

customary keys FOR the convenience of the fiddles - but it can be

done.  If a tune's too notey or difficult, I harmonize.

 I've found the viola to work wonderflully well for waltzes

and jigs, maybe less well for notey reels, but that's why God

invented harmonization.

With respect to sight reading - I'm not the best at it, but I've

learned to sight-read an octave down.  The only time it causes

problems is when I need to follow-up immediately with "normally"

notated viola music - sometimes my mental gears don't shift that

fast.

Violas are quite common in English Country Dance and in

Scandinavian music. And in the blues world, Gatemouth

Brown played the viola (he bought it in a pawn shop thinking it was

a fiddle - but he stuck with it thereafter).

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Eternal Student - I just have to thank you for your splendid and useful advice: keeping the lower part of the little finger in line with the straight wrist. Not only does it work for changing positions, it has put my hand in the proper playing position in first. It is like a miracle - it puts my fingers and thumb and hand just where my poor beleageured teacher has been after me to keep them.

I feel I really must thank you - we throw these gems out into cyberspace, never knowing whether they will land anyplace. This one did, and I can't thank you enough. I'm all excited! Thanks, but not enough. Shirley

(spelling edit!)

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