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Corey Washbourne

The Beginning

June 19, 2008 at 1:44 PM

'You know, we live in dangerous times,' I began during a lesson a few weeks back. 'Just in my criminal law lecture today, we were discussing the latest crime wave to hit Brisbane. It's terrible. Nowhere is safe, not when anybody could come along and hit you with a drive-by viola recital.' Mike laughed then. How ironic it is now: today I took home a viola to learn for the month when uni isn't making my brain implode.

It seems I can't sit still for the mid-year break. I have to take on more projects, read more books and stay up later, preferably past 2am. And so, after learning violin for nearly one year, the idea came up to try viola and I've seized the opportunity with both hands. The purpose is to improve my violin playing and become 'bilingual' in string instruments.

My first impressions are reasonable to be sure. The viola is physically larger, less responsive, less piercing, mellower, heavier and hard work. You can not be an expressive violinist on viola; the result is a pithy tone or harsh distortion. Having to slow down the bow speed is annoying.

With the viola comes alto clef too. So far, Mike's started me off with some basic pieces, mostly variants of open string notes. There's 20 pieces in alto clef for me to work on for the week from Sheila M. Nelson's 'Right from the Start'. This is fine, except that all open string notes are (un)helpfully given cute names by Ms. Nelson. There's Ann and Dan (A and D string respectively) and Ging George, who wants to fly.

Despite the 1950s cheesiness to the pieces, it's a heck of fun. One piece is called 'Late for School'. Egbert (he's the cute name for E) has lost all his stuff for school. I play along and get a kick out of telling the sod what's what with the help of just 5 notes. New notes and intervals are introduced gradually, so in just twenty pieces, I should be able to comfortably read first position in alto clef.

However, that's not to say keeping alto and treble separate is easy. Sight-reading one piece, I became stuck on a note with a natural sign. 'It's open G,' Mike told me. 'I know that, but my mind is telling me F natural,' I said. There's a particularly colourful term to describe this phenomenon (which can't be mentioned here), and it's always unpleasant when the mind plays tricks on itself.

I've got a month to go in learning this instrument and I hope to keep blogging the experience, possibly for the benefit of other beginner violinists who might want to give viola a go. For now, I can finally understand the bad reputation violists have. How could you possibly take a person seriously when they play open strings while thinking of Ging George?

From Terez Mertes
Posted on June 19, 2008 at 3:36 PM
Love those string names (in a wincing, thank-God-it's-not-my-lesson-book sort of way)!

Fun to hear your impressions of viola vs violin, as well. Thanks for sharing them.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 19, 2008 at 6:21 PM
I learned alto clef by doing Wohlfahrt etudes on the viola (having done them on the violin 25 years previously) and Bach cello suites on the viola (having never done them on a cello). It might have been easier with a book like yours, but I didn't know it existed. I've never met a violist around here who knew about Ging George. But there are the baby, mommy, daddy, and grandpa strings from "Adventures in Violinland"!
From Corey Washbourne
Posted on June 20, 2008 at 2:19 AM
Terez - I know what you mean! My teacher had a devilish look on his face when he told me to concentrate on Ging George for the week. More comparisons of violin v. viola are to come, especially since I'm going to compare my experiences between starting violin and starting viola.

Karen - Man, it sucks that it seems I'll be the only one to know Ging George. I've found some Wohlfart etudes in the back of an All for Strings book, so I'll have a look at it for some alto clef practise. Thanks!

Cheers to both of you for your comments so far!

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