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Cheyne Winterthieme

A Christmas Gift?

December 6, 2012 at 3:14 PM

It was just last year a couple weeks from Christmas that one of my newest violin student's mom called me and said she wanted to get her daughter a violin for Christmas. She was wondering if I would help her. Sure! There are a lot of beginner's violins out there...! We looked though quite a few but she really wanted to get one from Ebay. I didn't think it was such a good idea. Finally she thought she had her mind made up and it seemed like a good choice. We had planned that it would be shipped to my home so it had no chance of being discovered before time. A day later she called me up and announced that she had changed her mind and, with some last minute bidding she had a $100 4/4 violin on its way! I wasn't sure what to expect, but I already had some misgivings. When it arrived, the package was alright, but looking at the instrument I pulled out of the beat up case, I was a bit disappointed. This violin had no chin rest and no bow. And, it felt strange. It just felt different. I went to tune it up and wouldn't you know it- I broke the first string. I couldn't even get close to the E! Now I really didn't know what to think! I hadn't broke a string in a long time and had never had any problem tuning. I went next to cleaning it up. It was pretty dirty. Looking on the inside, I saw it had two tags and then I made my discovery. She'd bought a 3/4 viola! lol. I called her up and we had a good laugh. Now, what to do with it? She wanted me to still try it out and she'd see if her daughter wanted a viola instead. I tried it out and was pleasantly surprised! I loved the feeling of the vibration under my chin and the low notes; it had a very pleasant sound. After playing just a few songs, my right arm was already tired... you try playing a viola with a violin bow and you'll know what I mean! It was enough, though, and I decided that if she didn't want it, I'd buy it from her. Christmas came and went and my student still wanted a violin. So this is how I ended up with a viola. I love playing it and have found it so much easier (for me) to play than the violin. That is, after I got a viola bow and a new chin rest. But playing is a different thing than reading alto clef... If I didn't love my violin so very much, I would be a violist today!

From George Christy
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 8:52 PM
You wrote:"I love playing it and have found it so much easier (for me) to play than the violin."
Why not give the alto clef a try? I just started viola after playing the alto recorder in the treble clef. The alto clef is much easier than it looks!
Take a look at the They have a free trial. Get a viola fingering chart and you're all set to play what you love to play.
Have fun,
From Benedict Gomez
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 9:45 PM
I've never asked anyone who plays both just how much harder violin is than viola. Is it just a tiny little bit harder (due to smaller 1/2-steps) or is there a bigger difference?
From Cheyne Winterthieme
Posted on December 6, 2012 at 10:44 PM
George, My 'violin' teacher is actually a violist himself. He is the only teacher I could find close enough that is at a higher level than I. He did not have much suggestions for reading alto verses treble. I have tried alto, but I still have not had much success with it. I will check out your link, though!
Benedict, I have also played on a friend's 4/4 size viola and had no problem with the larger size. I think the violin takes more precise finger placement. This is what I believe makes the viola easier to play.
From Kit Jennings
Posted on December 7, 2012 at 3:03 PM
I'm always confused by people saying they have a 4/4 or 3/4 viola. What size exactly is that/ Violas are measured in inches as far as I know. A full size viola can be 15-1/2 inches to some and 16 to 17 inches for others.
IMO playing viola is harder because it takes more to get a full sound out of the string and there is less response from the bow. Maybe other aspects are easier, I don't know. I guess it's all in your perspective. Harder or easier is such a relative term.
From Cheyne Winterthieme
Posted on December 7, 2012 at 3:50 PM
Kit, I think you pose an interesting Q. Being primarily a violinist, I know little about viola sizes. All I knew was what I read on the label. Mine does measure the exact same length as my 4/4 violin. As for the bow, it was noticeably different, but when I got my viola bow, it solved the problem for me. I think easier or harder just depends on each individual.
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on December 7, 2012 at 6:24 PM
As a recent violist myself, I'm still working on the alto clef, but it's coming along. I found it helped most to learn where the open strings are on the staff: C under the first ledger line below the staff, G in the bottom space, D in the second space from the top, and A sitting on top of the top line. Then you can interpolate from there: the second space from the bottom is B, the top space is F, and so on.

Find some simple music written for viola - preferably something you already know - and try playing it. My wife plays cello and I had already downloaded a few violin-cello duets. I was able to find some equivalents for viola and cello at

Have fun!

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on December 8, 2012 at 4:29 PM
What an interesting story! But there have been a lot of complaints on that smaller violas don't
sound as good as larger ones. Yet you didn't give that complaint!?
From Cheyne Winterthieme
Posted on December 10, 2012 at 2:32 PM
lol! Francesca, I don't doubt that there have been complaints! No, I don't make the same - I've played on a friend's full size viola and liked mine much better. The tone and sound was just better. But that is only one viola, and doesn't really say much. I'm just content (at least for now) with my 'little' viola.
From Rob Schnautz
Posted on December 10, 2012 at 7:50 PM
Haha, that's a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing! :)

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