Violin to Viola: repetoire

June 1, 2010 at 03:46 AM ·

Replies (29)

June 1, 2010 at 04:16 AM ·

 For reading - orchestra excerpts! This is how I became really fluent in alto clef. I always did sight reading in my practice sessions and even a bit at my lessons.

For rep - Bach cello suites or gamba sonatas, Bruch Romance, Marais Old French Dances, Telemann, Stamitz, or Hoffmeister Concerto

Lots of possibilities!

June 1, 2010 at 11:29 AM ·

I understand from your post that you want to "get there" as fast as you can, but would encourage you to work through some method books and then some etudes. There are subtle (and not so subtle) differences in finger spacing & weight, bow speed & weight, shifting distances & vibrato technique when playing viola as compared to violin. Some sources that are loaded with basics but not beginner books are Scales Plus!, Intermediate String Techniques from Highland/Etling,  or String Techniques for Superior Musical Performance by Robert Frost. Sue

June 1, 2010 at 03:09 PM ·

June 2, 2010 at 04:13 AM ·

Going the opposite direction myself recently, I'd recommend looking at the viola Suzuki books and finding pieces that you already know well on violin.  Start with a "lower" numbered books. It will help in you alto-clef  "fluency", as well as serve as a point of reference on the differences of technique on viola. 

Once you gain you viola skills, then start looking at the repertoire available for viola:  Telemann, Bach Cello Suites & da gamba sonatas, and the Mendelsohhn Sonata re a good place to start and would keep you busy for quite some time.

June 2, 2010 at 12:20 PM ·

What I did was look at the Suzuki viola books in my local music store and bought books 4 - 7 (I think that was the last one at the time). It looked like I could start reading through Book 4 and use what I knew of the violin arrangements to acquaint my mind with sight-reading alto clef. Any lower numbered book would have been a waste of time. I pretty much went through the books in one sitting, but at least it set me up for the gig I had to do on viola (a Beethoven quartet). I'm still definitely not a violist! I'm now too old for my separate learnings of reading alto clef to stick in my mind well enough (especially with numerous flats in the key signature).

The first time I played a viola was 35 years ago. If I continued to do it regularly I probably could do it well enough now. But what happened is that I've only played the viola for about 100 hours (or less0 oin my entire life, and each one of those was to practice for a performance (7 or 8 total). I did find that by the time I got to each performance I was actually reading alto clef rather than translating from treble, and by now, when I do pick up a viola (out of the blue) I no longer translate, but do read the clef - it's just not as fast as my automatic reading for violin or cello.

I think that as a high-school student you are a perfect age to become a life-long violist by what you can do this summer - GOOD LUCK!

I agree that reading through some orchestral and chamber music viola parts is also a good next step - you can find many, many on line at IMSLP (Petrucci music library) .


June 2, 2010 at 01:53 PM ·

June 2, 2010 at 03:29 PM ·

When you get a viola, the book I found the most helpful for making the switch was Harvey Whistler's From Violin to Viola.  It starts with the presumption that you are a reasonably competent violinist and goes from there.  It covers reading, shifting, half-position (a concept I still find a little strange, but very useful), etc.  The pieces and etudes in it aren't terribly difficult, which is fine while you are trying to wrestle with tone production, intonation, alto clef, and trying not to drop the big, honking thing!  It helps put all the pieces in place, though.

June 2, 2010 at 05:18 PM ·

June 2, 2010 at 10:05 PM ·

In that price range, your best deal for the money may well be something Chinese.  I have a Snow VA1000, 15 1/2", that I love.  The current price for that particular model is above your projected range, but they have other models, too.  My son has an Eastman 301, 17", that has a deep, lovely sound.  That one, instrument, bow, case, etc., came in a little under where you're at.  I know a few people with Jay Haide violas they love, and those can be around $2500.

This month's issue of Strings, the annual Buyer's Guide, has an article about violas in this price range.  As anyone here will tell you, there's no substitute for playing as many different instruments as you can get your hands on.  Also, look to buy it from someone who will give you a good trade-in if you decide you eventually want a better, bigger, or smaller viola.

Speaking of which, any idea what size you might be looking for?  That's the big issue with violists.

June 3, 2010 at 03:21 AM ·

June 3, 2010 at 11:50 PM ·

The other issue to take into consideration is the size of your hands.  You need to be able to comfortably reach octaves, etc.  Your teacher might have some insight into size.  Otherwise, just start trying them!

June 4, 2010 at 03:13 AM ·

I've played a few Jay-Haide a'lancienne violas and I think they are awsome. They may be a bit more expensive than your top price, but not that much more. You are also going to want a decent bow. At least with a Jay-Haide you should get a decent set of strings to start with.


June 4, 2010 at 01:12 PM ·

I started to learn and read the Alto a year before I started taking lesson for VA. I didn't even touch the instrument, all I want to is to learn to read the cleft , have my mind set on it first. Then when I was taking lessons, I learned to listen to my instruments more, so that I don't get confused if it violins or viola, then everything fall to its places. It's almost  a year now,  having a summer break from it, but I  learned the JC Bach C minor 2nd mvt, and on in the middle of the 1st and 3rd mvt, Bach Cello suits #1, plus the orchestral part since I play at the orchestra. Violin tech can sure help a lot in learning the VA and vice versa, my background on VN, sure help me to progress that fast.

it bring so much joy and i know you know what i'm talking about.

June 4, 2010 at 03:09 PM ·

June 4, 2010 at 03:40 PM ·

I also took up the viola!  I used the Suzuki books (I love that Suzuki has the CDs to listen to).

I purchased a Samuel Shen viola.  I've been very pleased with it all along.

June 4, 2010 at 06:09 PM ·

Corey, you sound like my son's twin!  He's also a rising sophomore, about 6'1", with incredibly long arms and probably the longest fingers I've ever seen.  He started viola about two years ago and loves it.  He's kept up with violin also.  He plays a 17" viola.  If you saw a photo of him with it, it would look like a violin he's starting to outgrow.  With a violin, he looks like me trying to play a 1/8th.  His right elbow is almost behind his back.  You'll probably be able to handle any size, and will be shocked at how comfortable and natural it feels.  Happy shopping!

June 4, 2010 at 08:54 PM ·

June 4, 2010 at 09:57 PM ·

yes, on Alto cleft, mark all the open strings, CGDA, and  it places on the staves, then go from there, always remembering the open strings, that would be your starting point. That's what I did, long before I hold the actual instruments.

June 4, 2010 at 11:06 PM ·

Go to this link- I originally got it from here.  Electronic alto clef flashcards!

Also, learn all the viola jokes you can, and a few violinist jokes as well. 


June 5, 2010 at 12:26 AM ·

Since you are just starting out on a viola, go with a 16" to 16.5".  Instruments much larger than that are much more difficult to sell when you are ready to upgrade to a better instrument. 

June 5, 2010 at 01:51 AM ·

June 5, 2010 at 09:23 PM ·

June 6, 2010 at 09:35 PM ·

 A series I found helpful and enjoyable when I started learning the viola from a violin background was Barbara Barber's "Solos for Young Violists."  I started with Book I, there are some nice, performable pieces that aren't too long or difficult but sound nice and are a good introduction to viola literature.  I have book 6 also, now, and it has "real" viola repertoire such as Clarke's Passacaglia on an Old English Tune.  Also, "Fiddling for Viola" is fun and can give you something to get started on and perform, even early in the switch.  

July 22, 2010 at 02:16 AM ·

July 24, 2010 at 05:46 PM ·

My son is enjoying the Bach cello suites on viola...he has played violin for 10 years, and is giving the viola a spin the summer....

We started with "From Violin to Viola" I see others have mentioned it also. 

July 24, 2010 at 09:12 PM ·

Did I miss the Schubert "Arpeggione Sonata" in the above ? Good slow movement for developing the sound.

Why not impress your teacher and write your own piece ? At  about your age I had composed a suite for unaccompanied viola which served a dual purpose - it helped my playing and eventually  I performed it at my University composers' club. Thund'rous applause of course.

I am rather fond of the C major and E flat Bach 'cello suites.

July 24, 2010 at 10:31 PM ·

July 17, 2013 at 11:05 PM · Go for slow movements to start with. Technique generally means slower bow, more pressure, and it's more obviously on the C-string that you want to develop the characteristic viola sound.

The slow movement of the York Bowen C-minor viola sonata was grade 8 when I was looking at viola grade 8 (I never got to take any exams on viola). It's not a bad movement for learning viola on. Actually, it's not a bad sonata overall - A pianist called Gordon and I performed it at the University Music Club.

July 18, 2013 at 02:57 AM · Bach cello suites are beautiful and challenging enough to get you interested.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine