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I play violin as my main instrument and recently happened across a very reasonably priced viola which I bought. I love the sound and it has a whole different color/tonal range. Has anyone noticed any positive or negative effects from playing viola in addition to the violin. Does it help or hinder violin playing skills? Thankyou for any input.

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Richard. GREAT!

 I did the same thing about half a year ago. I was really

confused with that confounded alto clef and I had apprehensions

about getting all mixed up with both my violin playing (of several

years) and my viola playing. It didn't happen and all told there

are no ill effects in either direction. I don't feel as though

there are any issues with adjusting finger spacings either. Keep it

up-the quartets will love you-It is difficult to get a viola when


 One small warning-if you are prone to tendonitus

or such, don't practice the viola for long periods at first. I have

rather large hands, but I have had some problems with this

issue-the stretches on the viola don't appear formidable but they

can become quite demanding after an hour or so.

You perhaps are already aware that there are some

differences in nuance between the violin and viola, esp. with

respect to bowing and vibrato. The little book by Menuhin/Primrose

on "The Violin and the Viola" points some of this out.

If you find any interesting practice literature pass it

on. Sadly the viola is slighted in literature and finding melodic

solo material to help learn the staff/fingerings was a challenge .

I really liked the Bach Cello suites transcribed to viola by

Lifschey. I had played them prior on the violin and this was a

great start transfering to the viola.

Good Luck,


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Lymond: Well said. That sounds like a positive if it makes the violin seem easier. Right off the bat, it seems like over time it would make your left hand stronger. In addition, you have to focus more on the bowing to get the larger strings moving and to get the sound to project...in more ways than one, like weight lifting for the violin.

sonnichs: Yes, I'm amazed how it seems like you can pretty easilly intuitively negotiate the larger note spacing. Thanks for the warning about tendonitis....yes I'll go slow. Thanks also for the reading tip. I'll look for it. I'm not sure I'll be much help in the material dept. I play soley by ear and am not classically trained at all. I play mostly improvised music of various styles in groups and with singer/songwriters (where the added tone color will really be effective). Maybe I'll move on to some classical pieces in the future. If I run across any interesting material I'll let you know.

Thanks again to both of you.


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Playing viola will not help your violin playing. It might strain your left hand if you are not careful, but staying if the lower 5 positions it's not too bad.

The real strain of adding viola playing is all in the BRAIN - for those who read music and especially those who sightread. Even that is possible, if you are not too old when you add viola.

Ther a a few mneonic "tricks" for reading alto clef on viola that are related to reading treble clef on violin. In my experience, if you use these tricks you will likely find yourself actually reading alto clef in a fairly short time. For me the problem has come about an hour or two into a steady viola sightreading session, when my brain begins to fatigue and wants to normalise to violin/treble clef again.

But I know you can do these things, I play cello and read its various clefs as easily as I read treble clef on violin - and i play both violin and cello every day. My problem is that I just first tried viola a bit too late in life to have it seem natural, and my 70, or so, life-time hours on viola have included at least 7 or 8 performances over the past 35 years (all bu one in the past 10 years) - so I obviously do not practice it very much - not nearly enough.


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Since most posters have taken a negative tack to the question maybe I could mention a couple of positives:

1. You may find it gives you greater left-hand strength and maneuverability around the fingerboard on returning to the violin.

2. It may also give you greater variety and richness in violin bowing when as you explore the techniques needed for viola.

3. If you begin to play some viola chamber music parts you will end up with a greater appreciation of the inner harmonies and textures of the repetoire.

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I have to agree with Omobono on his 3rd point. I have played all 4 parts in string quartets, and even though there are similarities between 2nd violin, viola, and cello parts in some of the literature, there really is something special about playing them on a VIOLA.

When a string quartet is going well, the violist can really feel in charge of the whole thing, with the deep resonance of the instrument under the chin and the sounds of all the other parts seeming to radiate out from you. It is a more intimate sense than you would get from (even the same part) on a cello, because of the intimacy of the music to your own head and ears.

I think playing the viola gives me more a sense of "playing the whole quartet" than playing any of the other parts.

In summary, while I don't think playing viola helps one play the violin, I do think it is likely to improve your overall musucuanship, and that in that way it will improve one's playing, whatever instrument(s) you play.


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I haven't tried viola yet. But I did get a mandolin about 2 months ago. It has a 14" scale length which is like a small viola. My fingers are pretty short, pinkie (4.7 cm). My index finger is (6 cm), middle finger (6.8 cm) and the distance across my palm is 7.5 cm. So right away I noticed that the scale length was longer and I struggled with it at first.

However I noticed that I do so much appreciate my violin when I switch back to it. For example, I'm learning the Fugue from Bach Solo sonata #1, and before the mandolin I was gritting my teeth on the chords, thinking they are so hard. After the mandolin, where the spacing is widers, I was grateful for the spacing on the violin. It felt easier.

Other thing is that my fingers feel more agile and I can stretch them further. Playing the Kreisler cadenza for Beethoven 1st movement with more confidence.

Because my fingers are short, I could never really move to a larger viola than 14". But then never say never. I found out with the mandolin held in cello position I can stretch from the 1st fret all the way to the 11th fret!

But do try the viola for it's own sake. You might fall in love with it also.

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When I had barely left beginner stage I traded instruments with my son for a week, so that he could do a last orchestra pit gig on violin with a good violin after having sold his. So I was practicing my violin repertoire on viola for a week, using the usual violin fingering. The transition to the wider spacing was instant, fingering was more comfortable because my hand felt less cramped, and I managed one wide interval on viola that I had never managed to quite reach on violin.

When I returned to violin adjusting intonation seemed easier, as if my fingers had found greater facility. I had "fresh" ears and fingers, since I had become resensitized to the novelty of the feeling of strings and a different sound and texture, and that seemed to help me play better. The difficult wide interval had become so easy that I tended to over-reach and play it sharp.

On the negative side, for about 20 minutes I had to frequently adjust my intonation which kept being too sharp, and my bowing was too forceful for the violin. I almost slapped myself in the face with the bow. I had fallen in love with the sonority and the bone-shaking vibration and briefly the violin disappointed because it didn't do the same thing. It had become such a tiny little thing. For some illogical reason it was easier to hold the viola for hours than it was the violin. Had it not been for allowing some uniqueness of instrument within the family, I think I would have switched to viola then and there.

The one disadvantage I've heard about playing both instruments is the need to adjust back and forth: you don't want to bow and finger a violin like a viola. The person who was learning both never practiced both instruments on the same day, so that on violin day, he was playing purely like a violinist with a good feeling in the hand for violin spacing etc. Otherwise intonation and bowing would be spoiled for both instruments.

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There is a sense of fearlessness that I have when I play the viola.

 I attribute it to the fact that the higher register on viola

isn't as high as it is on violin.  I also love when some

passages are written in treble clef, since I am primarily

a violinist. 

 As was said before, you do have to work harder to make a

viola project.  If you switch from viola to violin, your

violin feels much smaller and it takes awhile to adjust.  I

did that during a recital, but I had two things working in my

favor: 1. I had an intermission to warm up the violin and 2. The

viola I was using was pretty small, about 15.5 inches so the

size difference wasn't too bad.  

There isn't as much music written for viola as there is for violin

and some transcribed pieces don't necessarily transfer as well

(especially when you are used to hearing a piece in one key and it

is written in a different key to work for viola).  One last

thing: I had a friend (a violinist) who didn't want

people to know that he could play viola.  When I asked why he

kept it a secret, he said that it is harder to find a violist

for a job than it is to find a violinist.  He said that once

people find out that you play the viola, you will often be asked to

play the viola part in a quartet or in orchestra.  He also

added that viola parts are not fun to play as 1st violin

parts.  I guess he is a violinist at heart.  

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I don't really know why it's a bigger deal for a violinst to play a viola than it is for a tenor sax player to play a soprano sax (let alone also playing clarinet and flute which is often the case). I guess the biggest thing is the clef which would not be a problem if we took a leaf out of wind players books and had a transposing clef.

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There's quite a bit of individual variation. Some people

effortlessly switch back an forth with little consciousness about

differences in technique, but still get a great sound on either

instrument. Others need to think more about how to get a viola to

sound vs the violin. And their are others that just cant do it,

some people can get a great sound one instrument but not the other.

Others do fine actually playing both instruments but have a mental

block on the clef issue. However in general I find that people who

have started out on viola do worse when trying to double on violin

than visa versa.

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Thank you all for the responses. I've had it working and played it for a few days. I like the sound very much as do some of the folks I played it with. It definitely seems like I need to build up my strength a bit but I have been able to adapt and alternate pretty well in the first few days so I have great hope to use it regularly. It does seem that for me, it will improve my violin playing in both left and right hands and adds some versatility to what I do. It is also fun to be playing a larger deeper instrument that you can lean into a bit more. I had an funny and interesting sensation going back to the violin. It seemed tiny and shrill. It also seemed easier to play since I was more "pumped up" from the viola. This is a great experiment. Thank you all again.


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