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Corey Washbourne


June 29, 2008 at 4:03 PM

'Too much viola!' was the diagnosis Mike gave me during my violin lesson this week. I had started playing a piece consistently sharp and then said I was worried I was unable to hear the pitches properly. I was lost on the fingerboard.

Starting again slowly, I found A on D and when my first finger homed in on D on A, relief flooded through me as my fears subsided.

At the end of the lesson, the 'no viola' message was repeated. 'But it's a really good warm-up if I play viola before violin,' I protested. No matter, I handed back Mike's viola so there was no possibility of picking it up and playing it before my first recital in two weeks.

I am banned from viola until then!

So, has the purpose of playing viola to improve my violin playing been fulfilled in some respects? I think so.

1. Strength-building: The viola is physically larger and heavier than violin, and requires the bow to sink into the strings to a greater extent to produce a good tone. In effect, having to hold a 16.5" viola for long periods and have more weight sink into the bow seems to improve the strength and endurance of both hands. The result is that the violin feels lighter and effortless to play.

2. Hand stretching and relaxation: Finger spacings are further apart on viola, requiring the hand to stretch further to play notes in first position. First position on violin, in contrast, is a breeze. The fourth finger does not have to strain to reach the note. A side bonus of this effect is that the left hand feels more relaxed and flexible.

3. Shifting: The violin feels much smaller after playing the viola, and so it produces an awareness of the smaller distance between notes on the violin. This helped to make sure I didn't overshoot the shift by a semitone or worse.

4. Fun: Because the violin is a difficult instrument to master, I think I had a tendency as a beginner to fall into treating violin practise and playing as work. Viola, on the other hand, has such a rich and resonant sound that even the simplest pieces are a thrill to play. So, after playing viola for half an hour, it wasn't hard to carry over this enthusiam to violin. Also, it caused me to stop and consider my attitude to violin; what was the point of working hard if one did not pause to enjoy the fruits of one's labours from time to time? I reminded myself that I started violin to be able to play for my own enjoyment and that involves tons of doses of fun.

And the alto clef?

I didn't have too much trouble with the clef, mostly because the material I went through strongly incorporated into my mind the position of the open string notes on the staff. There were occasional times when my hand would move as if I were reading treble clef, but I attribute this more to a lack of concentration!

Despite just a short time playing the viola, I would say it was absolutely worth giving it a go in the first place. The effects on my violin playing were noticeable within a very short period and the viola was extremely fun to play. I know I have a violin recital to prepare, but secretly, I'll be pleased to be able to pick up the viola again after it is finished!

From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on June 29, 2008 at 6:44 PM
My sister had a similar experience when she first started playing both instruments. She said playing viola actually made her a better violinist. I'm taking viola lessons this fall, so I'm curious how that will impact my violin playing.
From Mendy Smith
Posted on June 30, 2008 at 1:38 AM
Why not just switch to the dark side permanently?
From PM Rolf
Posted on June 30, 2008 at 5:09 AM
You made me want to learn the viola now!! I played with it on my orchestra-mate's viola and was very surprised at how deep, warn and lush the sound was on the viola and how the tone sound so much better on it! I started to wonder if I started on the viola, it would be a bit easier to learn the violin!
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 30, 2008 at 1:27 PM
oh no!

I agree with Mendy, maybe you should join the dark side permanently.

But my experience has been that the switching back and forth between the two gets easier with time. You've only been switching for a few weeks. Maybe just view this as a temporary break to solidify those new synapses.

From Donna Clegg
Posted on June 30, 2008 at 4:37 PM
Crossed over to the dark side 8 months ago and don't plan to go back. I love my viola.
From Helen Martin
Posted on June 30, 2008 at 10:26 PM
Ask your teacher about playing Perfect fourths and octaves to re-frame your hand for different instruments.
From putch panis
Posted on July 2, 2008 at 4:49 AM
Your love for the viola makes me seriously think of shifting to the viola, although there are not many viola teachers here. I went around the shops yesterday and saw one (violas are not so available as violins in the shops). I wonder...

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