The Viola Conundrum, Bronwyn Edwards
August 16, 2012 at 4:38 AM
I have played the violin for 40 years. For about 20 years I have also played the viola, mainly for teaching purposes. What puzzles me is why the current debate about changing from violin to viola, all of a sudden it seems the trend to swap.
Is it the novelty of trying something different, maybe it's the mental challenge of changing between different clefs and trying to master a bigger instrument. Perhaps, as has been suggested before, the players who choose to swap prefer an easier, slower pace and have difficulty with the violins higher grades (although the viola has higher grades also).
There is also the fact that there are not enough violists so demand can also be considered.
Personally I find the viola to be a clumsy instrument to handle. My viola was a difficult instrument to find it is 15", and even that size I find it very cumbersome as I have small hands. I find it hard to play fast passages on the fat strings. The lower pitch is not appealing to me, way too sedate.
I much prefer the violin. It is a quick vibrant instrument with challenging repertoire in the higher grades. I have played both instruments in the orchestra and much prefer the violin, I like the challenge of the super high passages that speed along at a cracking pace. I finger the high bright strings with zeal, and drink in the brightness. I love my violin!
I played only violin for 5 years, then I played both for another 5 years (college) and then I finally stuck with just the viola. But, I wanted to play viola from the beginning. I actually asked for it, but was told that I was too small to play the viola...
I suspect that quite a few people who would be naturally attracted to the viola are, simply, not given the option. If someone likes the sound of the instrument, and doesn't feel "clumsy" about it, why not? It doesn't have to be just for the novelty or the convenience. In your case, you are most obviously a violinist at heart. So, why are you playing the viola, if you obviously don't like it? That is the conundrum I see.
I hear you! I'm not sure what hit the water around here, that we all took it on at the same time.
Speaking as someone who is intrigued but hasn't taken the plunge yet, I don't think it hurt that two excellent and prolific bloggers (namely Karen A. and Emily G.) wrote compelling series of blogs on their forays into the viola world and many people responded with "and it's good for your violin technique!" What sensible violinist or violin student wouldn't at least give that serious thought? And then there's the C string. Some people are drawn to it and how do you know you aren't if you haven't tried it?
Why do you think you joined in, Emily H?
By the way, Bronwyn, I too have small hands and have been put off by warnings that smaller violas just don't have that viola sound. Thanks for you perspective.
My hands aren't exactly large, and I have to play a 15.5" viola to be comfy-ish on the size. However, one of the nice things is that the viola isn't standardized completely like the violin is. It gives you all sorts of sizes and shapes to try before you buy, I have found such differences between a dozen different 15.5" violas, that some of them were completely unplayable, while others were a breeze.
I know that I'd most likely have a bigger sound from a larger instrument, but I'd probably have to play it like a cello! Mine does a fine job, and as long as I focus on proper tone and bow control, the sound is rich and full.
I understand the small hand thing, because I have noticed that to compensate for my mini sized pinkie finger, that I slide my hand up ever so slightly to hit the fourth finger correctly. You get used to it, and it just becomes a part of your style.
Comes down to what you're willing to do for love of your chosen instrument!
Gail, I can relate to your last line. My pinkie is also length-deficient (especially my left ;-( ).
Did you start with viola, or did you discover it after playing violin? I myself started violin as an adult and feel extremely lucky that I did.
There isn't any debate, and I haven't heard anyone say that everyone should switch. If violin is what you enjoy, have at it.
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