The Violinist's Opinion of the Viola

January 20, 2011 at 06:47 AM ·

While listening to a recording of Michael Rabin playing Wieniawski's Concerto no. 1 on Youtube, one comment in particular jumped out at me.

"thank god he didnt waste himself on the viola! haha"

To be honest, I was kind of shocked. Completely ignoring the fact that I play the viola, I would have very much enjoyed a recording of Michael Rabin playing the Telemann Viola Concerto, or the Vieuxtemps Viola Sonata. When I went on to confront this person about his comment, and his opinion of the viola, he responded by saying that I was not worthy of an opinion about music and that because he was a concert violinist, who has played with famous orchestras, he was qualified to make such a comment. I know that at a youth level, violinists tend to have better technique in Orchestras than violists. In the NEC Youth Philharmonic Orchestra however, I know that each musician is just as qualified as the other.

This brings me to my main point. I know there are probably a lot of violists out there, but since this sight is primarily aimed at violinists, I ask you this question.

What do you think of the viola in general; what do you think of the normal violist? Is the average violinist generally a better musician than the average violist? How come the viola repertoire is not more appreciated?


-Thomas Cooper

Replies (53)

January 20, 2011 at 09:13 AM ·

 I had no idea there was such a thing as a "normal violist".

January 20, 2011 at 09:28 AM ·

We didn't start the fire.  Some time ago, composers and musicians chose to shun the viola in preference of the violin.  All the big names in composition favored the violin when composing their best stuff.  Musicians simply followed the calling when choosing between violin and viola.  If you choose the viola, you commit yourself to a life of harmonies and lesser known concertos.  It's not fair.  It didn't have to be this way.  But this is simply the way it turned out.  If you wonder why, my only explanation is rooted in primitive instinct: the squeakier wheel gets the grease.  Babies who cry louder get fed.  Violinists top the audio spectrum and grab the audience's attention.

January 20, 2011 at 01:40 PM ·

When I say "normal violist" I guess I am saying the violists who aren't violinists first. Many top violinists make recordings on the viola. In this case, I am talking about just violists who only play the viola.

January 20, 2011 at 03:11 PM ·

 All the big names in composition favored the violin when composing their best stuff.

Personally I think that Beethoven's quartets rank as his best stuff. One could argue the same thing for Schubert, Haydn, & Mozart. Viola players get to play some great music, but it's true though, that prior to the twentieth century this did not generally include the solo repertoire. But from the last century onwards there's a vast and wonderful repertoire, so I think it's an instrument for those that like newer music.



January 20, 2011 at 03:49 PM ·

It's a wonderful instrument! I love the depth to the lower bass end a viola gives! Listen to recordings of the Guaneri quartet and Michael Tree's playing!

January 20, 2011 at 03:51 PM ·

Michael Rabin playing the Telemann Viola Concerto, or the Vieuxtemps Viola Sonata.

Mozart, Beethoven, many other composers I read when asked to accompany a quartet choose to play the viola!

January 20, 2011 at 04:43 PM ·

Well, first of all, ignore the commenter on Youtube. Learn to laugh at this person, because s/he clearly has some mental imbalances, if, upon hearing Rabin playing Wieniawski, his/her first thought is "wow, the viola is a horrible instrument."

The viola is a great instrument and we need it in our musical world just as much as we need the violin. So there. And yes, it's true that Mozart preferred the viola - I believe so much so that he owned a viola at his death, but not a violin. Someone more knowledgeable can back me up on that one (or not, if it's not true).

January 20, 2011 at 04:44 PM ·

The way you were threated by that guy was so mean!  That all boils down to, you can find stupids in any professions including classical music, md, scientists and phds...  

A really good musician doesn't spit on another instrument and people who play it!  If he does, it's because he lacks confidence in himself and in his abiilities as a professional musician... 

January 20, 2011 at 04:51 PM ·

One only has to look at the standard of playing these days at any audition for any major (or not-quite-major) symphony for the viola to realize that there is no difference in the extremely high level of musicianship and technique from the violin, or any other instrument for that matter.

The repertoire available contributes in large part to the people we hear though, and this is why for a long time there will continue to be more soloists that are singers, pianists, and violinists.

January 20, 2011 at 04:53 PM ·

Thomas, if this "gentleman" is a significantly better violinist than, for starters, Pinchas Zukerman or Ida Kavafian, both of whom "waste their time" playing viola also, his opinion might be worth considering.  Otherwise, he's probably just a jealous, bitter man.

I don't see any true difference in musical ability between Michael Tree, Kim Kashkashian, Roberto Diaz, to name a few, and their violin-playing peers.  One big difference I've noticed between rank-and-file violinists and violists is that the violists, like cellists, are less competitive and less high-strung.

January 20, 2011 at 04:54 PM ·

 I don't think there's any serious malicious intent here--everyone knows that the violist is the butt of the jokes in the orchestral world.  In rock bands, it's the drummer.  Bluegrass bands, it's the banjo player.  It will probably always be that way.

January 20, 2011 at 05:00 PM ·

I love to make jokes about it, but deep down, I want one. I had a 5-string violin that sounded wonderful, and had a great range. If the neck hadn't been too narrow for my big fingers, I would still have it.

January 20, 2011 at 05:11 PM ·

January 20, 2011 at 06:29 PM ·

Coming in completely unbiased as an unwanted data point -- pianist since childhood, no experience in orchestra culture, not a violinist :-) -- I can tell you that I went straight for the viola like a bee to sugar.  Free of any prejudgment, I listened and decided that that was the optimal stringed instrument and the one that made the noise I'd like to have under my ear the most.  Violins sound like people on helium -- a bit like castrati (which they were contemporaneous with).  Pretty, but a bit extreme.  Violas really DO sound like people.  No contest.

There may not be a lot of stuff written explicitly for it, but every tenor or alto aria ever written is PERFECT for it.  And there's some scary stuff out there in Baroque opera, every bit as intimidating as the virtuoso violin stuff.  Senesino knocked out endless 16th note runs that would make a modern singer blanch -- "Furibondo" or "Al lampo dell'armi" would be showstopping on a viola.

*shuts up and lets the violinists talk*

January 20, 2011 at 06:58 PM ·

When most musicians make comments about the viola, they're being facetious...I hope this guy never has to make his living playing weddings, or he'll be in trouble, having irritated the wrong people.

I am not sure there isn't any concrete reason for the traditional imbalance in solo repertoire.  The viola is something of a compromise between acoustics and practicality, isn't it?  It seems to me that the violin is to the viola as the cello is to the double bass, which has historically had similar problems; as large as it is, its sound is often gentle and not very penetrating by itself.  The viola's high register especially has a more nasal sound that is not for everybody, in terms of mass appeal.  Since composers often write for what they have available, it also follows that outstanding violists were perhaps more scarce than some of them would have liked. 

Apparently there has been lots of experimentation (some of it really bizarre-sounding) with the size and shape of the viola.

January 20, 2011 at 07:04 PM ·

 I love viola, and violists -- I married one. 

I don't play the viola, but I'm most grateful for the excellent musicians I know who are violists.

January 20, 2011 at 07:06 PM ·

well, it seems to me there have always been a lot of viola jokes.  they pop up on and right now in the other thread there are couple.  

problem with telling jokes is that you can never be sure who will find it funny and who will find it offensive.  who is telling it without malice to laugh with everyone and  who is telling it with a superiority complex to laugh at others...

don't be too sensitive and move on.  this time the joke is on you and another time it will be on someone else,,,eventually it will be a big wash.  but still,  the guy on youtube telling others he is somebody in classical music is funnier  than all those viola jokes combined. :)   

here is something i came across:  i was told that a person has decided to play viola instead of violin because it is easier to get into a better orchestra.  haha,,,some people are really calculating!

January 20, 2011 at 07:17 PM ·

January 20, 2011 at 07:19 PM ·

 I started off as a violinist and learned the viola as an adult.  I love the sound of the viola as a solo instrument, perhaps more than the violin.  I had never been much interested in playing solo on the violin but for some reason I was more willing to just get out there and play a viola by myself.  There is something about the rich, lower range of the viola that I find to be more expressive of certain emotions and musical ideas.  I have also noticed that rank and file violists tend to be very nice, low-key, down-to-earth people.  Right now though I'm playing almost exclusively violin, because I think that 1st violin orchestral parts are more fun than viola orchestral parts. 

January 20, 2011 at 08:13 PM ·

I started out on the violin because I was ordered to play the violin.  As soon as I could play the viola, I fell in love with it and it very quickly became my first instrument and violin my second.

---Ann Marie

January 20, 2011 at 08:18 PM ·

I apologize, I wasn't being serious when I originally posted, and I hope I didn't offend anyone.  I just didn't think the comments against viola were worth taking seriously at all.  How could you take that seriously?

January 20, 2011 at 09:13 PM ·

Again, from an outsider -- who evidently reneged on her promise to shut up :-) -- the "viola jokes" are really weird and a bit annoying.  I hadn't a clue when I started that this was some sort of "we're kidding ha ha not really" thing.  I figured there were jokes about all the instruments -- duck jokes for oboes, barbecue jokes for timpanists, whatever.  But the persistence of viola jokes is a bit like a foot rash that won't go away.  The viola's not the pretty cheerleader or the buff football player that the violin and cello are.  It's the skinny boy in the drama club or the buff girl who likes ice hockey.  People need to get over it.  From an outsider to orchestra culture, it looks pointless, weird, and a little creepy -- not to mention evidence that humans really will factionalize and go to war over any stupid thing, no matter how trivial.  I don't think that orch types realize how bizarre this looks and sounds like from the outside.

January 20, 2011 at 09:43 PM ·

here is something i came across:  i was told that a person has decided to play viola instead of violin because it is easier to get into a better orchestra.

That's actually a shrewd move, especially if you're not into cut-throat competition: just find a place where there isn't much competition.  When I go to a bluegrass jam, half the people are playing guitar - so there's plenty of room for me and my mandolin.  And if enough good mandolin players show up, then I pull out my fiddle.

I like a good viola joke as much as anyone - but only in fun.  I once picked up a viola and was amazed by the sound of that C string.  And my circle of friends consists only of violinists and cellists - if we're ever going to do string quartets then someone is going to have to take up viola.  It's tempting - but I barely have enough time to get in enough violin practice, let alone learn how to read that crazy clef.

Recently I attended a concert by the West Coast Symphony.  Just for fun they did a rendition of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall".  Partway through, one of the violists stood up.  He had an electronic pickup on his viola that ran through some sort of signal processor, and he proceeded to do quite a nice take on David Gilmour's guitar solo.  So violists can be fun too.

January 20, 2011 at 09:53 PM ·

 come to think of it,,,with all these viola jokes around, i have never seen a violist stand up and ask people to stop it.  it is really not a put-down on a particular choice of instrument or specialization.  i think it is done out of affection, since many of you play both.

another reason why viola players get the shorter end is that rarely do we see viola solos,,,as compared to violin.  some, but not comparable.  so for those of you who live to shine,,,you gravitate toward violin out of vanity, haha.

January 21, 2011 at 03:00 AM ·

 Time for this native violist to chime in ;)

It sounds to me like that commenter has a serious case of C-String envy and is afraid to admit it.  

I absolutely love the viola.  There is nothing quite like its dark chocolate tones resonating through your body to take away all the stress and strain from a day at work.  

Violists are (generally speaking of course) a close knit group even between 'strangers'.  When I was driving up to Tennessee over the holidays, a car pulled up besides me in Louisiana and started honking.  When I looked over, the man driving the car started making moves like he was playing a violin/viola and then pointed to the back of my car and gave me a thumbs up.  (I have a bumper sticker that says 'my viola can beat up your violin').  

We are also very fun-loving and enjoy a good joke.  The Oregon Symphony viola section pulls some 'funnys' even in concerts, from wearing reindeer antlers at a Christmas concert to executing a well-timed (yet subtle) "hey!" after a particularly up-beat and dance-like phrase.  Here is the reindeer antler episode:

I recently started to learn to play violin and was amazed at how much easier it is to play than the viola.  Playing the viola is quite difficult.  It takes much skill and effort to produce clear and rich tones on the thicker strings, not to mention the reach and flexibility required of the left hand/arm.  In comparison, the violin nearly plays itself with little effort. 

Solo viola repertoire, IMHO, isn't as appreciated as much since it isn't as 'flashy' as the violin solo works.  Granted, there are some viola solo pieces that are on-par with violin solos when it comes to dazzling displays of technique, but there aren't that many until you start looking at more modern works.  

The solos you hear most in a symphony are the ones we joke about most:  a single note.  When it happens, more often than not we all stop and ask the conductor to check the score to be sure that yes indeed, that is an intended viola solo :).

January 21, 2011 at 04:05 AM ·

^I have to agree. The viola is harder to play than the violin. It's heavier, it requires a bigger, stronger hand (which can be developed), and it requires a lot more effort to make a beautiful sound. However, having played both, I can say that while the viola is slightly harder, the violin is certainly not a walk in the park. 

January 21, 2011 at 05:52 AM ·

Ignore stupid gootube comments. They are less than meaningless.

January 21, 2011 at 11:31 AM ·

At my last visit to my luthiers in toronto I was waiting for the return of my bow I picked up a viola - a moderate Eastman version - and (I'm a bit embarassed to say) played one for the very first time.  Its hard to express the amazing sensation.  Surprizingly it did not really feel large at all (really its my size - I'm 5'10") and the fingering came totally naturally.  But the sound!!  the rich bass volume of a cello under your chin - what amazing power. 

It was hard to put down - I would love to own one but apart from the expense, I am worried about dissipating my efforts at this time.  I don't have more time to practice - but that raises a question: does also playing the viola complement, hinder or have no effect on learning the violin? 

January 21, 2011 at 02:30 PM ·

 I think most of you miss one significant point--it's well known to all violists (and we make sure it's one of the best-kept secret in the orchestra) that while you all violinists work so hard to play the beautiful melodies that (admittedly) we get a bit jealous of, WE get to sit centrally in the 'band' and hear everything with a better balance than any other section in the orchestra--but we don't say so too often, because then everyone would want to play viola ;)

I can say that, because I do play both instruments in ensemble, about equally often, these days, and the experiences are qualitatively different (and, I suppose, quantitatively different, too, in sheer number of notes/rehearsal...). Most of my colleagues have a strong preference for vln or vla; I happen to be ecumenical, and that makes me really weird, I know.   Both instruments are worthwhile, and only a vested idiot would say otherwise without having experienced both.  Sorry, that may be a bit strong, but hey, that's it!  Sure, there are more violin concerti than viola, but that' not the daily reality for most of us, is it?

I've always figured that people who make the sort of comment that prompted the original post are really, really insecure about something or other.  Doesn't make the comment any 'nicer,' but makes it easier to discount.

January 21, 2011 at 04:02 PM ·

I should mention, I guess, that I have the odd distinction of being accepted by the Hartt violas as an 'honorary.'  They seem to tolerate my jokes. :)

January 21, 2011 at 04:23 PM ·

Janis, if you want to hear the worst viola jokes, go ask a violist.  Many violists seem to collect them. 

Elise, learning viola should, if anything, enhance your violin playing.  It takes awhile to get used to the subtle, but real, differences, and clef dyslexia can be a problem, but all that goes away as you get used to the back-and-forth.  You always seem to be someone who wants to know the whys and hows of what makes things tick, and playing viola, especially in orchestra or chamber music, gives insight into the guts of the music.

January 21, 2011 at 05:01 PM ·

January 22, 2011 at 12:09 PM ·

January 22, 2011 at 02:16 PM ·

Interesting thread.

Note:  I enjoy jokes about all instruments, and have picked up lots of viola jokes.  To me, they are a chance for a joke, not an indictment of the instrument or its players.  The most avid collectors of Aggie jokes are Aggies themselves.

I sit 2nd chair, 2nd violin in our orchestra.  Since there is only one desk at the front of our 2nd section, so my left ear is full of violas.  I like the sound.

Personally, violas sound good, but I have no desire to play one.  For one thing, my hands are really small for an adult male.  Chatting with our viola section leader backstage, I remarked on the size of his 17" viola.  He said he needs it for his big hands.  Comparing our hands, my fingers did not even come to the last joint of his fingers.

Also, I never wanted to have to learn that funny tenor clef.  (Boy, was I surprised when moving up in positions on the cello!)

Now, we seem to be flushing out the solo vs. ensemble crowd.  So yeah, if you want to have a widely-recognized repertoire, go for violin.  But it seems like violists are those who primarily enjoy the interaction of different parts -- especially the inside parts.

I used to sing in a large choir.  I sang baritone, and at one point was commenting on a part to the director.  He said that baritones were crucial -- the baritone section's tonality made the chords.  If that section was flat, it would change a major chord to a minor chord, and ruin everything.

Violas are in a roughly equivalent place in an orchestra.  Although it seems like violas get some boring parts -- enough to say "it's all oompah from where I sit."

To sum it up, I'd say that Viola is a cool instrument, with some interesting orchestral parts.  But if you want solo virtuosity, you'll have to hunt pretty hard to find pieces the public will recognize.


January 22, 2011 at 02:19 PM ·

Which raises the question: why are more violin or cello pieces not transcribed and performed for the viola as solos?  Some would seem to be naturally suited to it - Air on a G string might be a great example (though this is a violinist speaking :) ).

January 22, 2011 at 06:06 PM ·

I'm a little weird as far as feeling ensemble-y.  As a pianist, I've never played in an ensemble of musicians before in my life, which never struck me as oddball until I started hanging around here.  :-)  It might be fun to try it, but it's not a targeted desire for me and I think I can live without it.  And filling in inner harmonies on a viola, while I like the idea, doesn't strike me as nearly as satisfying as doing it on a piano with gobs of notes as opposed to one at a time.  There is definitely a feeling of satisfaction in the idea, though -- like clicking that last piece of a jigsaw puzzle into place.  The players who control the harmonies are the ones who are doing the steering; the melody is just the skin of a piece.  The harmonies are like getting beneath the skin into the muscles, tendons, and bones, the whole structure.

But again, for that sort of stuff -- the inner workings of any piece of music -- I prefer the piano.  It's much more complete and exhaustive.  The viola still strikes me as a solo voice because it's so similar to the human voice.  I guess I'm sort of a feral violist, not having come from orchestra culture.  (And honestly, not really being a violist, yet.  Still a n00b, with a long, long ways to go.)  I never really absorbed any clear idea of what a viola "should" be used for.

January 22, 2011 at 06:59 PM ·

Lionel Tertis transcribed the Elgar Cello Concerto for viola, with Elgar's approval. There has been some discussion why Tertis dropped the C string down to B for the first movement.  I wonder if it had something to do with instrument resonance or the 2-1/2 octave E minor scale in the first movement.  On the cello that scale sends you up to the very end of the fingerboard (the top E is in fact a fraction of an inch beyond the end of the fingerboard on my cello, but is quite manageable). Try the equivalent 2-1/2 octave B minor scale on the E-string of the violin, it makes you wonder how possible it would be on the viola – Tertis played a large viola – so he may have "cheated" by playing that scale at the same sounding pitch as the cello, instead of an octave higher.  Any comments from violists here?

January 22, 2011 at 07:56 PM ·

 I don't know the viola version of the Elgar Concerto but seems hard to believe the C string would be detuned for resonance reasons, those lower notes are already compromised by the body size of the instrument. To me it all seems a bit ridiculous to go transcribing for the viola things written for other instruments. There must be a hundred or so concerti written for viola but unfortunately only a tiny number are routinely played. 

January 23, 2011 at 12:38 AM ·

I think I may have a reasonable solution to Tertis's scordatura in the 1st movement of his viola version of the Elgar, and it has nothing to do with instrument resonance, but with the practicalities of playing the viola in alt. 

If you look at the relevant passage in the cello score (2 bars before Fig 5) you will see that in the first of the two bars the soloist  has the dotted quarter notes B - A - A# in the middle of the A-string, and then the second bar starts at the lower B on the A-string followed by the cadenza-like rapid 2-1/2 octave scale to the third E at the very end of the fingerboard.  I believe Tertis would have realized this wouldn't work on the viola so he detuned his C-string to B (apparently in the performance he may have done this very quickly without anyone noticing) and then started a very dramatic 3-1/2 octave scale on the open B-string, climbing to the second E on the A-string.

Again, any comments from the violists among us?

January 23, 2011 at 05:50 AM ·

Many years ago, a local musician died and there was a story about her in one of our local weeklies.  It was said that she had a tremendous voice and was just as talented a violist.  She was quoted as saying that the viola matched her voice.  My own voice is not usually soprano so that thought really resonated with me.  Last spring I read a lot of discussions about violinists who also play the viola and gave it serious thought.  Then I concluded that my small hands would make it difficult and that the best way to progress at the violin was to use my precious practice time to practice the violin.  But I still wonder if I'm missing something and I envy those who study both.

January 23, 2011 at 06:36 PM ·

Ciao Francesca!

Violas can vary a lot, and you may find a small viola that suits you. My current most successfull model is a 15  1/2 viola, with a 375 string length, that is quite confortable. Don't give up!

January 24, 2011 at 09:31 PM ·

 About the transcription of the Elgar Cello Concerto (and transcriptions in general cello -> viola), the second E on the A string is approaching the practical limit of the viola. The Bartok Viola Concerto has, I think, A (2 octaves above the A string) as its highest note. The instrument is just not as facile up there as the equivalent spot on the cello because of different playing positions.

The Beethoven Op.95 is a good example: the entire viola part only spans two octaves whereas the cello part goes higher in real pitch and has the extra octave underneath (if my memory serves me correctly).

It's fairly safe to say as a generalization that if a concerto works really well as a cello concerto then it's going to work less well as a viola concerto irrespective of whatever tricks one might come up with to make it playable as a transcription.

I guess in the case of the Elgar someone didn't want to miss out on a good tune. There's also the problem of balance with the orchestra. Solo viola parts and the corresponding orchestration have to be carefully written to take this into account. The viola is globally considered to be about -7db from the cell or violin, from what I've read, perhaps that's the traditional design, alternative designs may have bridged that gap somewhat.

January 25, 2011 at 01:00 AM ·

I generally like viola jokes, and I tell them myself.--- but they're a bit like ethnic jokes. If you know the person telling them thinks all/most violists are bad musicians who couldn't cut it on violin, you'd rather not hear the jokes from *them*.

It's not only some violinists, I know a few cello players who think that way, too. (And believe it or not, a rare viola player as well... usually an ex-violinist who thinks he can become the king of the viola world simply by switching.)

Authoritarian people play all sorts of instruments and thrive on stereotypes.


January 25, 2011 at 08:15 AM ·

When I was a viola player I used to tell viola jokes just to show cellists and fiddlers that we didn't care and liked a laugh too. I also used to change jokes to reflect violinists and cellists etc.

One such joke was "what is the similarity between an orchestral leader (concertmaster) and a terrorist?"

"They both try to wreck bowings (Boeings ...)"

(Play on words ...)

Of course there are some very fine viola players out there, so maybe we need some other instrument to become the butt of jokes from now on?


January 25, 2011 at 12:35 PM ·

Peter, if you ever get involved in the fun of Irish music you'll quickly find that the bodhran (a smallish Irish drum) is the main target – with good reason too, because bodhran players with a solid grasp of the music aren't as common as they should be, and a percussion player with cloth ears and little or no understanding of rhythm and meter is lethal in any ensemble.

January 25, 2011 at 03:08 PM ·

The ones with cloth ears and little understanding of rhythm often end up as conductors or course !!

January 25, 2011 at 04:17 PM ·

Personally, I think viola jokes are great. I favorited a viola jokes site.

I believe there is a small amount of truth to them in the youth level. A lot of the time, the violists in youth orchestras are the weakest section. However, I believe that in the higher youth levels to professional, the violists are all good.

January 25, 2011 at 11:25 PM ·

Luis, As you are a viola maker, I don't doubt you and maybe some day...  In my researches I did find the Tertis style of viola that is recommended for smaller-dimensioned people but that would take more tolerance for strange-looking instruments than I have at the moment. ;-)  Elise did have some enticing things to say...


Fran Rizzardi

January 27, 2011 at 03:20 AM ·

Scott Slapin is one fine viola player. check out his website and his youtube channel.

i play both instruments, though violin is my primary, i got more invites playing the viola.

IMO, they are very different technically, at least for me. I really don't get when some says they are similar or at about the same, well not to me.  the viola and its repertoir has gone too far since 17th, 18th century and we are lucky to enjoy some transcribe pieces and great viola player  who really can play out there.

January 27, 2011 at 04:31 AM ·

Is't a violin only a viola made in the correct scale?

January 27, 2011 at 04:54 AM ·

 Well, I was trained by a violist originally in my beginning education on the violin, and I do like the rich sound of the viola, but I find the lower octaves to be a little muddy, and the viola is just irritating to play for me. Also, my pinky is abnormally short, so I can really only adapt to the parameters of the violin. Given the choice though, I still prefer violin. In my honest opinion the viola is far too muddy on the C string, and I prefer the drama of the violin's G. Also, once again due to my abnormally small hands, I much prefer to play in middle/high positions, and so violin is the obvious choice for me.

January 27, 2011 at 06:21 AM ·

I think a lot of viola players may not want to play transcriptions becuase they are "stolen" from other instruments and may want to bring to the forefront the repertoire that is actually well written for the viola.  There are some exceptions, such as the Bach Suites, and the Brahms Sonatas.  

As far as which instrument is eaiser, I think the violin is much more managable, if you compare an exact passage.  Having a playing related injury, I was able to play violin without pain long before I could manage viola again.  After having played viola, especially a large one, you pick up a violin and it feels so light, and the response is so quick and your fingers can be so light, the difference is huge! 

I think everyone should spend time on both instruments.  Playing viola can help strengthen fingers and improve bow pressure, or at least give a different perspective on both. I played viola as a youth, and I wish I had studied violin.  The parts in orchestras are more challenging, the training pieces more comprehensive and the competition stiffer. I also think fractional sized violas sound terrible in general.  I perfer to keep the students on violin until they attain a size to play a 15 1/2 or larger. 

 I remember a time in the middle of a large orchestra performing a Tchiakovsky symphony when I was so carried away by the emotion of it all that I could hardly contain myself (and Tch is not even my fav). The best seat in the house is in the middle of the viola section, for sure.

As far as loudness, my viola is louder than my violin, and the other violinists that I play with. Anyone else have an opinion on that?   



January 27, 2011 at 09:23 AM ·

"As far as loudness, my viola is louder than my violin, and the other violinists that I play with. Anyone else have an opinion on that? "

Of course that depends on the other violinists and how good and projected their sound is.

I find that one has to work a lot harder on the viola to get a big sound, and it won't cut through like a violin.

That isn't to say that there are not a few viola players out there that can get big sounds, such as the viola player (Drucker?) in the Emerson Quartet who has a huge sound and Gerry (Mather?) in the Takacs who can really project and give it welly.

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