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5 Differences between the Violin and the Viola

Zlata Brouwer

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Published: July 9, 2015 at 8:52 AM [UTC]

The violin and the viola might look so alike, that you might be wondering what the differences are between the two...

In this episode of Violin Lounge TV I explain 5 differences between the violin and the viola:

1) The violin and the viola are tuned differently

The viola is tuned a fifth lower than the violin and an octave higher than the cello. A viola is tuned CGDA and the violin is tuned GDAE. They both have the same G, D and A strings. These strings have the same pitch, but the sound color is a bit different. The violin has got a high E string and the viola has got a low C string. Both instruments have four strings and are tuned in fifths.

2) The color of sound is different

The viola sounds warmer and darker. The violin is more like a soprano sounding bright and clear. Of course this differs per individual instrument. Some violins sound very warm and viola-like. Some viola's sound very violin-like and others more cello-like.

3) Violinists and violists read in different clefs

The violin clef indicates the G. The viola clef reads a seventh lower and indicates a C. In the video I show you what it looks like in sheet music. When you read viola scores as a violinist, every note should be seven tones lower than you are used to.

Don't worry! If you spend some time, it's not so hard to learn to read in a different clef. Pianist must read in two clefs all the time.

4) The role in an orchestra or ensemble is generally different

The violin is often the soprano voice and plays lots of solo's. The viola's role is more of an accompaniment and plays the middle voice. Of course many viola solo's are written. The role of the instrument is different depending on the piece you play.

5) The playing technique is slightly different

It's not so hard to go from violin to viola or the other way round. The playing technique is about 95% the same. It's very handy to play both instruments.

Most of the times a viola is a bit heavier to play than the violin. Bowing is, certainly on the C string, a bit heavier and requires more weight. Also a bigger instrument responds a bit heavier than a smaller instrument.

Just after shooting this video I read a wonderful article in the Strad that advocates that we should all be hybrid players. It's very useful and not so hard to play both the violin and the viola. I really recommend reading it (click here).

Is this video helpful to you? Please let me know in the comments below! If you like it, share it with your friends!



PS: Do you have questions or struggles on violin or viola playing? Post a comment below or send an e-mail to and I might dedicate a Violin Lounge TV episode to answering your question!

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