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Our Cousin - The Viola

Daniel Broniatowski

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Published: September 15, 2014 at 4:16 PM [UTC]


As you read this, you might be asking yourself, "What the heck is a viola?" - "Did they spell violin wrong?" Could it be a violin that is missing its strings? Or maybe it's what happens when you cross a violin with a tuba? OK - Enough with the viola jokes already!

A viola is an instrument shaped like a violin but slightly larger. Like the violin, the viola is held under the chin. Its sound is lower and is best suited for harmonizing. While the violinist might be the "star of the show", the violist is often the "support network". Of course there are certainly instances and pieces where the roles are reversed, when comparing these two instruments. Yet, by and large, the violist plays the role as the trusty side-kick, always providing a warm and fuzzy backing to the melody. Consequently, the kinds of people who go into viola often tend to also be very nice =).

Here are five reasons to take viola lessons:

1. You love the sound of bowed strings but find that violins tend to sound a bit squeaky in the high register.

2. You have big hands and a larger frame, and find the viola more natural than the violin.

3. You don't like to be in the spotlight but love to be a team-player.

4. You will always be in much greater demand, since violinists are a dime-a-dozen!

5. That C string just makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside! (That's the lowest string which is missing on a violin).

Watch Maestro Musicians Academy viola teacher Rebecca Hallowell talk about this interesting, and perhaps, unusual instrument - complete with a performance demonstration!

Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Maestro Musicians Academy, Greater Boston
Parent tested, Child approved

From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 15, 2014 at 10:52 PM
Thanks for your article. As someone who plays both violin and viola, I suspect that inside every violinist is a violist waiting to come out and vice versa. There are plenty of reasons to play both. They are different but important instruments in any group, requiring different talents and approaches. Any violinist should have at least some familiarity with the viola, and many of the great violinists, e.g., Oistrakh, Menuhin, were also great violists.
Posted on September 16, 2014 at 1:21 AM
The article got something a bit backwards- a violin, or il violino, means "little viola." So a violin is a viola-shaped object. The viola was invented first and the violin then cello were made to compliment it. Back in the earliest days, the 3 sizes of violas (alto or 15", contralto 16-16 1/2", and tenor 17+" violas) may have gotten different parts in the musical score. ...then the violin quickly took over...
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on September 16, 2014 at 7:05 PM
There's another reason to take up viola: someone in a viola-starved orchestra shoves one into your hands and says, "Here - learn how to play this."

Click here for the gory details.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 17, 2014 at 6:21 PM
To continue Adrian's point, the violist in the Shanghai Quartet, Honggang Li, told me that he was originally the second violin. When the original violist quit, they tried hard to find a new violist, without success. It turned out that it was much easier to find a new second violin, so, with a recording date scheduled in five weeks, Honggang offered that he would learn the viola and become their violist. And, so he did, with great success.

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