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Mendy Smith

A Violist's Lesson on Violin

May 23, 2010 at 4:02 AM

Lessons today was an exercise not only in switching between different musical styles, but also of instruments.  This was not the first time I've had lessons on multiple instruments in one session.   Several years ago I took lessons in viola along side with learning to play cello while I was living in Malaysia. Today, I ventured into realm of violin. 

I agreed to perform the Dvorak American quartet with members of my church later this summer on violin.   I've been worried on my violin skills - is my intonation overly "wide", bowing to far over the fingerboard, or sounding too heavy from decades of viola playing, and not to mention the inadvertent key changes from playing on the wrong string?  In short, could I make the transition from viola to violin to do this piece justice?

After packing up the viola and pulling out the violin, I started with a scale to "recalibrate" my hands and arms to the smaller instrument..  It seemed so tiny, almost like a toy rather than a serious "adult sized" instrument.  I then began to play a few select measures of the Lento movement.   The verdict?  I was a natural violinist. 

I thought that there would have been big issues with the transition, but that was not the case.  Decades of viola playing trained me to play "deep" into the string, maximizing the stretch of my left hand, executing small shifts often, and developing a wide vibrato resulted into a rich tone on violin. 

My teacher said that it is often thought that transitioning from violin to viola is easy. , however the opposite is true in some ways. The viola takes much more effort to get a good tone, the left hand is forced to work more to execute the simplest notes than the violin.  What is difficult to manage on viola is surprisingly easy on violin.

No wonder why violin repertoire is much more complex than viola repertoire. 


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on May 23, 2010 at 11:05 AM

 I have that same feeling of playing a "toy" when I come back from viola to violin.  It lasts 10-20 minutes, then goes away.  But I really like the feeling of how much easier vibrato is on the violin after I've been working on viola vibrato.  


From Christina C.
Posted on May 25, 2010 at 8:24 PM

I performed in a chamber music concert with a pro violinist/violist & he insisted that his violin stuff come before his viola stuff because he believes the transition is easier,

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