Who Plays Both Violin and Viola Equally (Quantity Wise), or Almost

Edited: November 15, 2017, 11:02 PM · Hi all, I'm just posting this out of interest, but who plays both violin and viola equally (quantity wise), or almost?
I have heard of a number of professionals who seem like clear hybrid players (e.g Pinchas Zukerman), and a gazillion teachers who teach both equally. However, I've noticed that most people have one as their primary instrument. If you're a pro, do you perform on both equally? I personally would love to play both equally. What are your stories? Thanks.

Replies (23)

Edited: November 15, 2017, 11:24 PM · That's a good question. I went into violin playing fully with the intention of it being a step towards viola playing.

I wanted to play viola, not violin, but couldn't afford a viola. I could however, afford the $99 Mendel vso at my local music store. I did eventually buy a better violin, but once I could afford a Viola my violin ended up in near complete disuse. I pick it up once in awhile to make sure it's still sound or when I want something a little different.

Sometimes I bring it to class to cover a higher part as we are limited with what we have access to at the moment.

I feel like the people who do both must have some special extra-sized heart and are able to love two instruments equally. :P

November 16, 2017, 7:35 AM · My primary instrument (obviously) is violin by an enormous margin, but I can and do double on viola for the occasional gig, and I have found it a very useful skill. I also teach a couple of intermediate viola students on scholarship.
November 16, 2017, 7:42 AM · It's funny. I really consider myself a violinist, but I play both instruments equally now. It's nice to be able to step in where I am needed. Right now I play viola in two groups and violin in two groups. Though honestly, I would never have predicted this situation when I started.
November 16, 2017, 8:39 AM · I think a more equal distribution between the two instruments is more common for freelancing pros, since playing both increases the possible gig opportunities.

Amateurs who play the viola really well probably tend to get asked to play viola more often than violin, due to the relative dearth of excellent violists. My dual-playing friends over the years have tended to end up playing a lot more viola than violin, even if violin is their highest-skill instrument.

I wish I could play both!

November 16, 2017, 9:33 AM · I think it is rare for anyone to play both equally in a professional context. In the freelance world you become known as a violinist or violist and are usually asked to play the instrument you are known for (hopefully your primary instrument), but I think most jump in on their secondary instrument occasionally. If you have a regular quartet etc.. that you fill based on who is available, your distribution may be more equal. I would say that I play 90% of my performance gigs on viola (my primary instrument) and sub in on 2nd violin on occasion. For teaching, though, only about 1/3rd of my 45 students are violists, so I guess I earn income about equally with both instruments, but for performance situations I prefer to play viola.
November 16, 2017, 10:18 AM · I started playing Viola in college and have always done both. I kept secret which one I preferred. For me, as a lower-level pro. in a small city, I get called a little more often to do Viola. I find the technical difficulty of orchestra Viola parts to be similar to Second Violin. I have always had trouble measuring those tiny half-steps on the second half of the violin E-string. I have fewer "accidents" on the Viola; I like the greater inertia, having to fight against the resistance of the instrument, while playing violin seems like a delicate balancing act. For physical reasons I recently switched from a 16" to a 15 1/2 " viola.
November 16, 2017, 10:25 AM · I play both equally badly
November 16, 2017, 10:50 AM · I wouldn't mind learning viola, but I've finally got my small-ish hands adapted to the violin and I fear a viola's extra size would not work out well.
Edited: November 16, 2017, 12:36 PM · Thank you so much for sharing your stories. They are very interesting. I seem to like both violin and viola equally, have thought about playing violin in one orchestra and viola in another, performing solo recitals on both equally, teaching both equally (probably more violinists due to population), and doing whatever comes my way for chamber music and short-term orchestral jobs while finding a balance. I am such a multi-instrumentalist (plays one other instrument besides violin and viola at the same level but won't mention due to privacy) that I feel like they all have to be my primary instruments.
Edited: November 17, 2017, 12:19 AM · I think it all comes down to what you want to focus on. I've played very little solo repertoire on the viola, but have invested a lot of time in chamber music, so everything I do on that instrument stems from the requirements for quartets, quintets, sextets, etc. Teaching and playing chamber music is my primary line of work, so developing and maintaining competency and fluency with the demands of both instruments in that repertoire is my primary concern.

Years ago, I did my graduate recital on clarinet. I put in a lot more time to clarinet during graduate school, but since then have mostly played violin and viola. I don't treat any one in particular as a "primary instrument" but commit enough practice time every day to keep the basics in shape on the ones that I have to appear in public performances with. A lot of the skills are common so it's just a matter of dealing with specific technical challenges.

What I love is coaching student groups in the Mozart, Weber, and Brahms quintets, because I can "get into" the music on every single part (well, I have to play the cello part on viola, but it still works! :).

November 16, 2017, 2:37 PM · I was playing violin when a friend dragged me into a local community orchestra, pushed a viola into my hands, and told me to learn to play it. He insists on playing viola in our impromptu string quartet (he find it harder to switch back and forth than I do), so I play second violin there. And then there's my bluegrass fiddling (although I have brought my viola to a jam and turned a few heads).

It's good to be able to play both. Certainly it gives you a lot more opportunities - if you play violin you might get into local orchestras, but if you play viola they'll welcome you with open arms, if they're not openly begging you to come.

Edited: November 16, 2017, 4:47 PM · Now in my 80s, I probably play violin and viola on an equal level, although during most of my life I played 1st violin parts in orchestral and chamber music. I also play cello and found it very interesting as I moved to viola that some of the great cello works (z.b., Schubert Arpeggione Sonata, Elgar Cello Concerto) were much easier on the viola which I was just starting to play than on the cello which I had actually studied for some years and played for decades.

I think any sight-reading violinist can learn to play viola - but it takes an act of will to gin up the dedication to do it.

Viola is GREAT!!

November 17, 2017, 4:46 PM · Charles Pickler, former principal violist Chicago Symphony, plays both equally well. He was iriginally hired to play in the second violin section with the CSO and often played in other groups as soloist and concertmaster.
November 17, 2017, 5:04 PM · Masao Kawasaki and Sergey Malov comes to mind.

Kawasaki is probably one of a dozen in the world who performs and teaches the Bach cello suites equally as well as the Bach violin partitas & sonatas, along with people like Sigiswald Kuijken, etc...

Edited: November 20, 2017, 3:33 AM · I am a failed violist: my (semi-pro) orchestra prefered another (very good) violist and asked me to play violin. I think I held my viola too high, used vibrato on all four fingers, and played in tune!
I then found myself "in the firsts". All those leger-lines! To start with I copied the highest notes an octave lower with little penciled dots, much to my desk partner's disgust. Apart from the vertigo, the 1st violin parts are often easier than the 2nd. My violin is built like a 14" viola, though.
November 18, 2017, 2:35 PM · The cello was my instrument for orchestral playing for most of my life, but when I took early retirement from work I got interested in the violin as a second instrument. At first the interest was in folk music (Irish/English - that interest is still there) but later, after some years of very good teaching, I discovered the violin to be my main instrument and in orchestra made a successful changeover to it from the cello.

I don't play the cello any more because I found playing the violin in more than one orchestra is demanding of time, and anyway cellists seem to be a lot easier to recruit for amateur orchestras than violinists. And I'll never have to play the Pachelbel Canon cello line again! My cello is now in the very capable hands of my cellist daughter in continental Europe.

I agree with Adrian's comment about 1st violin parts being often easier than the 2nd; that has been my experience too. Actually, the high parts don't worry me, probably because of my time as a cellist.

November 18, 2017, 7:42 PM · I’ve played principal viola, principal second violin, and principal bass in several community orchestras over the last couple of years. I play chamber on all three as well. I dabble on cello.
Edited: November 18, 2017, 8:10 PM · I've only really had lessons on violin. I bought viola because the small orchestras around where I live always are desperate for violists. So for the past few months it's quite possible that I played violin and viola about equally as far as time. I'm not as proficient on the viola as I am on the violin. Partly the issue is that some of the biggest persistent problems that I have on the violin (tension, reaching my elbow underneath, general reach and flexibility, etc.) are only compounded on the viola. However, playing the viola is sort of like warming up in the on-deck circle with a lead donut on your bat. When you put down the viola and take up the violin again, it's like having this weightless little toy on your shoulder, and so easy to play (by comparison).
Edited: November 18, 2017, 9:42 PM · Paul, that’s why the main viola I play is a 15.5 with a thin neck like a violin and thinner bouts only a few mm thicker than a violin, but still needing a viola chinrest clamp. It’s playable to the point of being able to do the two and three parts of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas (& 4 note chords with my normal sized hands) in tune without much of the stretching or cello fingering needed on longer scale instruments. It’s also light and balanced well enough that I rarely use a shoulder rest.
November 18, 2017, 11:13 PM · In terms of fingerings, I think it largely depends on hand size and shape in relation to viola neck size and string length. You must be able to play octaves in first position with ease and comfort, however.
November 19, 2017, 7:22 AM · I met Julian Rachlin here some weeks ago for some viola test drive, he is a darn good violinist/violist (had a Strad violin and a Storioni viola in his double case).

More names: Vengerov, Oistrack, Menuhin.

November 19, 2017, 9:18 AM · I find the viola gives me the better left hand, while the violin refines my bowing.
November 21, 2017, 6:51 AM · Similar for me Adrian. I often play transcriptons of the bach cello suites and violin sonatas & partitas as exercises on each instrument with a different focus to try to get the same musicality. The challenges of each instrument can be enlightening.


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