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Can Your Child (or You) Start Playing the Viola without Playing the Violin First?

Zlata Brouwer

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Published: August 4, 2015 at 9:20 AM [UTC]

Lots of people think that you have to play violin first, before they can play the viola.

The reasons why they think this are:

  • Viola’s are not available in fractional sizes

  • You need to have some basic skills on the violin before you can start playing the viola

Both statements are not true. I will explain this in a minute...

First I want to point out that the choice of your instrument is crucial for the joy you’ll have (or won’t have) in making music. Some people think that before playing the violin you have to play piano or recorder or have to be able to sing or have to attend a general music class. This can really ruin your motivation for music. Don’t start with an ‘easier’ instrument first.

When you want to play the violin, just start with playing the violin. That’s the best way to learn to play violin :). Sounds logical, does it? All the general music subjects can be weaved into a violin lesson.

When you want to start with viola, get yourself a real viola. For children: Choose a fractional sized viola and not a violin with viola strings on it. It will have the tuning of the viola, but not the typical sound. In the video I show you the difference. You should see them as two different instruments.

There are fractional sized warm and deep sounding viola’s available. Don’t let a teacher or luthier tell you that they don’t exist.

You don’t need basic skills on the violin, when you want to play viola in the end. Just as you don’t need to play other instruments before you start with the violin, you also don’t need to play the violin or other instruments before you start with the viola.

Of course, when you happen to have some basic skills on the violin already, they come in really handy. It’s easy to switch from violin to viola or the other way around.

Choose the instrument that you love. It’s really important.

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!

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on August 7, 2015 at 1:03 AM
Hi, Zlata. I have been enjoying your blogs lately. Regarding this one, it might make more of an impact to actually play the two instruments you showed, to demonstrate
your point. Of course, an even better demonstration would be to put viola strings on the violin and play both, but that sounds like a lot of work. Regardless, your point is a good one and applies in a lot of situations--whatever your child's dream, don't cut corners. It will only crush their motivation. It's also a waste of the parents' money.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on August 8, 2015 at 2:18 AM

I started on the viola at the tender age of 8 and never touched a viola until I was well into my 40's. I started on a 15"size.

The big difference in developing music skills on viola vs. violin is not the sound that is heard alone but in the techniques in producing that sound as well as learning to learn the alto clef at an early age so that reading it is natural without resorting to various techniques to transposing it.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on August 10, 2015 at 4:41 AM
Mendy, I started with piano so learned soprano and bass clefs at nearly the same time. When I took up viola, I read the tricks about transposing and just decided to learn alto clef in isolation. It seemed to me that trying to remember some trick just made it more complicated.

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