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rainyann

What size viola are you currently playing?

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My son's viola teacher has told me that it is just about time that my son moves to a bigger viola. Right now his viola is 15 3/4 inches. She told me that I should look for one that is 16 inches.

He is 14 and 5 ft 8 but he is still growing. I can't see just increasing the size by 1/4 inch. He has been able to play a 15 1/2 to 15 3/4 viola since he was about 10 years old. I am curious what size everyone is playing and if you don't mind could you tell me your height so I can get an idea? I know that height is not always an indication that you can be comfortable playing a larger viola.

Tonight at the NY Philharmonic I saw what looked like some fairly small violas. Rebecca Young, who was sitting in first chair tonight, has a monster of a large viola but quite a few of them were considerably smaller.

I am just looking for any of your thoughts if you choose to reply. Thanks.

Renee

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Hmm, no replies. I'll start, I guess.

I am 5'9" tall, and I play a 15.5" viola. However, I only started playing the viola a year ago, so it's probably safe to say I'm not as skilled a player as your son. I'm also 22 years old, and unlike him, I know I'm not going to grow any more. At the time when I purchased my instrument, I thought the smaller viola might be an easier one with which to start.

I also have a little pain in my arms every now and then, which I think may be a touch of tendonitis, and it makes the 15.5" a more comfortable size for me to hold.

Given my height and age, I suppose I could (and some might say "should") play a 16" or larger, but this one feels just fine for now, and it has a nice tone.

I'm not sure what your son's next move should be. I can understand both sides of the issue. For now, maybe sit down with him and discuss his options, and see what he thinks.

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I'm 5'10" with long arms and fingers. I played a 16.5" viola for a while and it was WAY to big. It hurt to hold it, much less play it. I haven't tried a 16, but I am currently quite happy with my 15.5. It feels right and doesn't hurt. I quite like it. I guess the only way to know what works for your son, though, is to have him try the 16 and see what he thinks.

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I play a 14 1/4" which can knock your socks off. I do believe that a 1/4" can make a huge difference but many modern makers are now pushing the envelope and getting a lot more out of less. My experience has been that most old-timers are wary of "small" though. Just for information's sake, Helen Michetschlager has a new website- elen@helenviolinmaker.com Take a look.

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I am playing a 16 1/8 Robert McCluskie viola. I'm 16 and about 5'10" and I guess I'm still growing. Eventually I might get a bigger viola, but my teacher thought this was fine for right now since I have had some shoulder and neck problems. So far I'm really pleased with this viola. I had a Roman Teller viola -- I think it was a 16 1/4, but the neck was thick and the strings weren't properly proportioned. This one is very easy to play and has a great sound, plus it was very nicely made.

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Mother of 14 year old: Your logic makes sense to me that 1/4 inch is not worth trading up for at this point. Your son is probably going to be an average to tall man so he could handle the typical "full size" of 16-16.5 inches. Over 16.5 is usually considered "extra big". At 5'8" I would think that he would be ready for whatever size he is going to end up with.

I'm 6'3" and I play a 16-3/16" viola that has a huge full sound. I have played 17" violas without a problem but of course this one feels better. The maker of my viola (Fairfax Abraham) feels that there is no advantage to going any bigger. He says he notices almost no loss of sound with a 16" but if you go smaller than that, there are compromises to be made. Mine is a Brescian model and has thicker ribs than most, so the resonating box is as big as many larger violas.

Roberto Diaz, principal in Philadelphia, plays a modest sized viola, I'm told, around 16 inches, and I think most symphony musicians are playing on something in the 16 range (Phelps and Young notwithstanding; I don't know how they do it without injury, as much as they play). I can only think of a few orchestral violists of my acquaintance who are playing a 17" instrument on a regular basis.

[This message has been edited by bleeviola (edited 11-25-2001).]

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I am about 5'5 and I play a 16". I have long fingers and arms though so I'm sure that makes a difference. Also I'm (hopefully) still growing.

KG

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Thank you all for your replies. I will have to see what we can find for my son. At this point he has no desire to play for a living so I am not going to go wild looking for an instrument. He is thinking about teaching music theory as a profession.

Brian, yes, both Cynthia and Rebecca do play large violas. Ms. Phelps did not play last night and I was amazed at the size of Ms. Young's viola. It also appeared that a few of the violists were not even using 16 inch instuments. I think there were a few non-regular players sitting in the back. They looked quite young so perhaps they were substitutes, I don't remember seeing them before.

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Hi,

I play a 16 1/8 with very thick ribs. I'm 5'10" with long arms and fingers.

I guess that I'm handling the size and am little more than a beginner unlike your son. I have to say that I am considering a smaller size (15 1/2) because this one feels as though I have an entire queen size mattress under my chin.

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I'm 5ft 7, and am quite hapy with my 15.5 inch viola. When i switched form violin to viola, the transition was a bit difficult but in a few days, I felt fine with it, I am still having trouble when i have to switch right away from viola to violin(back to bck playing), but enough about that. Maybe you could rent a 16 inch for a little bit, and see if your son feels comforatable with it, if after a few days he doesnt feel right, I would assume a 16 inch is too big for him.

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Thanks, summer_breeze, I am not at all worried that a 16 inch is too small. I am wondering if the move up by 1/4 inch is worth it, maybe he should go up just a bit more. We will have to wait to see what we can find in a 16 and up viola.

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Im 17, 5'11"ish...might hit 6'...ya never know. but, i have long arms (i wear a 37/38" sleeve, the average men's long shirt sleeve is around 32/33" or 34/35"). I play a very awkward 16.5" viola by the infamous Pate. in search for my new viola, i dont have a specific size in mind, anything between 15.5 and 17 is just dandy, so long as its comfortable.

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This has been said before but bears repeating: body length is not the only critical factor - of equal significance is the string(fingerboard) length. Accordingly a considerably larger instrument may be more "playable" than one might anticipate(and vice versa). Worth keeping in mind.

Omo.

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Rainyann, you've met my daughter. She is about 5'3", small build, narrow shoulders and isn't likely to grow any taller. She has been playing a 16" since she was about 14, with no problems.

She absolutely insists that she needs a 16" to get the sound she wants, but doesn't have any desire to play anything bigger--ever.

I would think that your son would eventually grow into something between 16" and 17". But then again, what do I know? I don't play!

In your situation, I am not sure that I would go to great lengths (ha ha) to gain a quarter of an inch, when he is likely to want something a bit bigger at some point.

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Hi!

I'm about 5'4, and I'm on a 16" viola. When looking for an instrument, my teacher went as far to press me to try a 16'n'1/2" viola to see if I could handle it. In general, the larger the instrument, the fuller the sound (although, the quality also makes a huge difference, but with our price range at the time, size was of fair consideration.)

My best advice to you and your son is to get whatever size he can handle comfortably - remember, there's always trading up, as instruments kept in good upkeep do not depreciate like cars and other investments.

Take care,

Gamina.

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I just bought a smaller viola (16') over the summer and have been extremely happy with it. I am about 5'11" with not particularly long arms and no more than average hands.

I had been playing on 16 1/2' size German viola for long time, but after playing Mendelssohn's "Elijah" for the second time last year, I started looking for smaller viola, so I can play with less strain on my left hand.

Toscha

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I spoke to my son's orchestra teacher today and mentioned to her that we were looking for another viola. She was surprised and told me to let her know if we were looking to sell his current viola. She said that it is a wonderful viola with a sweet, mellow sound (at least I think that is how she described it). She doesn't think that my son needs to get another one.

Now I am perplexed. I think we will still look and see what we find although I will not rush and just get anything. If there is something nice that my son likes and it is reasonable we will get it. I am really not looking forward to the search.

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I'm playing a 15 1/2 (I'm around 5'10 1/2) and I've had two pieces of advice on whether it's the right size:

1) Dr. Roland Vamos- "go to 16-16 1/2... It's a shame that you're playing such a small instrument when you could handle a larger one. "

2) Mr. David H. Forbes (bow maker)- "the trend in violas is that they're getting smaller... perhaps Dr. Vamos knows best, but violas in general are getting smaller... the technology is better so that they can get more sound out of a smaller instrument with better maneuverability"

I'm looking for a larger instrument, but I have yet to find one (actually, I've found two... but the both belong to Dr. Vamos) that matches my instrument in quality of sound. Good luck.

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I'm about 5'7" and play a 16 3/8" viola (part time only -- I'm primarily a violinist.) I purchased this instrument during a search undertaken specifically to get a smaller viola, but I was surprised by the playability of this one. As others have said, length is not the only factor by far in determining comfort with a viola. Neck dimensions and weight are also very important.

I think your idea that your son should probably try out different instruments beginning at 16" is a smart one; as a growing teenage boy already 5'8", he should be able to play somewhat beyond a 16" viola without difficulty. That he does not plan to pursue viola professionally may actually argue in favor of getting him an instrument now rather than later -- he may do his most concentrated and serious playing in high school, playing that will form the foundation for him as an adult amateur. It would be a good time for him to have what could hopefully be a long-term instrument.

Good luck with your search.

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I have recently studied with a fairly distinguished chamber music specialist. The first time she saw my viola, her disdain, although polite, was obvious. Subsequently, she appeared at a lesson with a support device on her left arm, and explained that she had re-injured herself and was unable to play for a while. At a later lesson, she became frustrated with something I was doing and spontaneously grabbed my viola to demonstrate. She quickly realized that in her hands my viola was doing close to what hers did, and 2 1/2" shorter! Naturally it would hurt her pride to try something smaller, but the difference overall was more emotional than physical.

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Hi! I'm 19 (been playing for 10 1/2 yrs), and play on a 16 1/2" instrument. However, I think, after comparing to a couple other instruments, that the neck is a bit shorter, which helps me negotiate it. Perhaps my arms are long enough, too. I wouldn't go to a smaller instrument, unless it had a bigger and better sound than mine. So you could have your son try a couple of 16"ers, maybe a couple larger, and if he likes it, go for it. Otherwise, I don't see anything wrong with a 15 3/4" instrument (unless it doesn't produce the sound the teacher is looking for). Good luck!

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There is a new wrinkle in the search. I took my son's mezzo violin to the luthier today to have it set-up with its five string tailpiece and I asked if my son could try a 16 1/2 inch viola. I originally did not contemplate going that large but it seems that my son can reach it quite comfortably.

So now I think we will look at violas from 16 to 16 1/2. I originally was going to stop at 16 1/4. Now there should be more instruments to choose from. Oh, joy.

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Rainyann:

I have read this thread with some interest, and decided to chime in with my thoughts.

I assume that you know the "standard" test for determining maximum length: you ought to be able to cradle the scroll in your left hand when the instrument is tucked under your chin. I'm not exactly sure what this "test" proves, but you might have your son try it, for what it is worth.

There are a lot of factors that determine a viola's playability in addition to the length of the instrument: How heavy is the thing? How carefully is the fingerboard beveled? How high are the ribs? And how long is the neck? This last point is an interesting one. I have seen violas with necks that seemed shorter than I would expected from the length of the body. I believe that makers who do this are copying the earliest of the Brescian instruments.

Violas range all over the lot in terms of the dimensions and physical characteristics mentioned above. If your son wants to move up to a larger instrument, make sure that he tries it thoroughly over at least a couple of weeks to see whether he is comfortable with it. You can't make a prediction on that question, in the abstract, based simply on body length.

Contrary to Ann, and some other posters on this thread, I personally believe that bigger is better, everything else being equal, and that the best small instrument will not equal the best large instrument. But some large instruments are much easier to play than others. That is why careful trial is important.

By way of full disclosure, I play a 16 3/4 instrument, with very high ribs that weighs a ton. It is something of a struggle even for me, at 6'3", with long arms. The only saving grace of the instrument is that it sounds like the voice of God. I compensate for the physical problems it creates by playing without a chinrest, which allows me to play for several hours at a stretch without discomfort. [Of course, I look like Quasimodo after those sessions! -- just joking].

Happy hunting.

[This message has been edited by K545 (edited 12-06-2001).]

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K545,

Thanks, yes, I know that you need more than 5 minutes to test a viola's "playability". I am just happy to know that I don't have to automatically rule out a 16 1/2 inch instrument. I was not even going to look that high at first but now know that I don't have to stop at about 16 1/4.

I do appreciate your reply and everyone else's reply to this thread, too!

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